Los Angeles event retraces redress and looks to future

LOS ANGELES – The Southern California Nikkei community celebrated the 25th anniversary of its historic redress victory, passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 — which provided a presidential apology and monetary reparations to 82,000-plus surviving Japanese Americans and Japanese Latin Americans who were incarcerated and those otherwise affected by Executive Order 9066 — during this year’s Day of Remembrance program Feb. 16, at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo.

The annual Day of Remembrance, which commemorates President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Feb. 19, 1942 signing of Executive Order 9066, which authorized the ethnic cleansing of all Nikkei residents from the West Coast and their subsequent incarceration in American concentration camps, was a collaborative effort of Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress, the Japanese American Citizens League-Pacific Southwest District, the Manzanar Committee and JANM.

Greg Kimura, JANM’s chief executive officer, told the audience of more than 350 that as a child he attended a Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians hearing in his native Anchorage. “There were about 100 families from Alaska that were removed and put into concentration camps. It was the first time I heard my grandparents speaking and testifying about that horrific experience, and they never stopped talking about it, it gave them voice.”

A panel of three community activists discussed key issues related to the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Panel moderator and Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey stated, “Today, we want to reflect on how this all came about. What were some of the challenges, how did it impact our community, and what unfinished business remains before us?”

CWRIC Was the Key
Richard Katsuda, NCRR co-chair and longtime grassroots activist, said his motivation to fight for redress came in 1978, when he went on an early Tule Lake pilgrimage. “That turned my life completely around. It was an entire weekend of talking and bonding with former inmates … After talking to them, their emotions filled me up and I knew I had to dedicate myself to fight for redress.”

The CWRIC was the key because its recommendation became the official conclusion of the federal government in providing guidelines for the Civil Liberties Act, Katsuda recalled. “NCRR felt that monetary compensation had to be a part of redress and we called for $25,000 for each individual. We felt it was too easy for the government to say ‘I’m sorry’ without some teeth behind it. We felt that if we made reparations a precedent, then the government would be deterred from similar acts in the future.”

At the time, NCRR was criticized for making the push for monetary compensation, he recollected. “But you have to wonder, if we had not made that push in the hearings, what would have been the Commission’s recommendations and the provisions of the CLA.”

The redress movement has had a tremendous empowering effect in bringing back dignity to the people, Katsuda declared. “I worked with Issei in San Jose and I felt compelled to bring them to testify at the hearings. We must remember that the Issei suffered terribly before and during the war … They were prohibited from becoming naturalized U.S. citizens, they couldn’t own land and were severely isolated. During World War II, their rightful place as the authority of the community was totally subverted as many Issei leaders were rounded up and placed in Department of Justice internment camps, and the Nisei of the JACL were anointed by the government as the new leaders.”

Katsuda approached Umeno Fujino, who was “tiny but super feisty with a heavily raspy voice,” and asked whether she would speak before the Commission. “Fujino-san said in Japanese that it was a long time ago,” he recalled. “Then I said, ‘Fujino-san, kodomo no tame ni,’ you need to do it for the sake of your children, your grandchildren.’ She thought for a moment, and said, ‘That’s right, huh.’ Then looked up and said, ‘OK.’

“Five Issei were transported by the Yu-Ai-Kai van to the hearings in San Francisco,” he remembered. “The atmosphere in the van was intense and quiet. Here you are going to testify before the government that had done so much to ruin your lives. But at the hearing, they were magnificent. After the hearing, they were laughing and singing, so happy that they had done it. They had finally taken the guilt and shame they had felt for 40 years and placed it properly on the shoulders of the U.S. government. The hearings were incredible … The atmosphere in the room was like nothing else I’ve ever experienced.”

When the Civil Liberties Act was enacted, many in the community believed that the redress campaign was over, Katsuda said. “But it took another fight to win actual appropriations for implementation of CLA, and finally the former inmates were able to receive their reparations.”

Then, NCRR began to hear of people being denied redress, he added. “We held meetings to help people and worked with lawyers from the Japanese American Bar Association to file claims and petitions with the Office of Redress Administration … Throughout the ‘90s we worked hard, and together with the JABA lawyers, we were successful in winning redress in several categories of redress denial.”

There still remained the fight to secure redress for Japanese Latin Americans, although the Campaign for Justice for JLAs did secure reparations of $5,000 for each individual in 1998, Katsuda continued. “At this time, we’re working to achieve monetary compensation equal to what Japanese Americans received. I won’t say it’s dead, but we still haven’t been able to achieve redress equity. Certainly redress is not over, as long as the ‘No-Nos,’ renunciants and draft resisters are still stigmatized as bad guys, disloyal and troublemakers. Our community still needs much healing over this issue.”

How much did the Civil Liberties Act help after 9/11? Not much at all, according to Katsuda. “Our community, knowing the pain and suffering during World War II, spoke out against the racial profiling of Arab and Muslim Americans and South Asians. But a large proportion of the general American public thought it was OK to engage in racial profiling of Muslim and Arab Americans … Again, we saw race prejudice and war hysteria. Then we saw our political leadership engaging in Guantanamo Bay, torture, wiretapping and on and on. Even the banner of military necessity was raised with the National Defense Authorization Act. That law says the president can do what he deems a necessity to protect national security, including detaining American citizens indefinitely without trial. So we’re really not removed at all from the World War II rationale for the Japanese American incarceration.”

So what can regular folks do? “We the people must ultimately take responsibility for our government,” Katsuda expounded. “To make this democracy work, we must own our democracy to make it work.”

Vet’s Story Appeal to Reagan
Rose Ochi, Manzanar Committee founding member, who was involved with the JACL’s redress campaign because of her relations with the leadership of the House Judiciary Committee, got Chairman Peter Rodino to choose Barney Frank to shepherd the bill in the House of Representatives. After the bill passed on the House side, she went to Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, a personal friend of Norm Mineta, and as the minority whip, he helped round up the needed Senate votes.

After the bill had advanced to the White House and because of uncertainty over what the administration would do, Ochi sent President Ronald Reagan a 1945 newspaper clipping reporting his presentation of a medal to the parents of Sgt. Kazuo Masuda of Santa Ana for his heroism with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. “It seemed to have done the trick,” she remembered. “The veterans’ story appealed to the president.”

Ochi praised the influence of two women “who should be the source of inspiration” in the redress movement — Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga and Sue Embrey.

Herzig-Yoshinaga went through all the National Archives “until she found what I call the ‘smoking gun,’ the lack of military necessity,” Ochi noted. “That information was very important for the coram nobis lawsuit and also for the CWRIC findings about the lack of military necessity (for the wartime expulsion and incarceration of Nikkei). People like Aiko should be heralded.”

Embrey was incarcerated at Manzanar, and as a school teacher was very concerned about the lack of educational programs that discussed this wartime incarceration experience, Ochi said. “Sue began teaching her fellow teachers. Then she organized the pilgrimages to Manzanar that have now grown to where we have thousands of people coming, so that the story continues.”

Limitations to the Civil Liberties Act
Mitch Maki, co-author of “Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress,” added, “The story that needs to be told about the redress movement is that we as a community came together, we as a community found our voice. And you know how it all ended. We did in fact get recognized.”

There were certainly limitations to the Civil Liberties Act, Maki pointed out. “One of the problems with the redress bill was that it was not inclusive of everyone affected by Executive Order 9066. Certainly the Japanese Latin Americans come to mind. These individuals were taken from their homes in Central and South America and brought to this country illegally and incarcerated in the same camps.”

Another issue that concerned a lot of people about the Civil Liberties Act was that eligible recipients had to be alive on Aug. 10, 1988, in order to get the apology and eventually get the $20,000 payment, the California State Dominguez Hills administrator pointed out. “If you died any time before Aug. 10, 1988, you would get nothing, not even the apology. One reason the government did that was for the tremendous fiscal saving — they figured that half the people had died already. There was also a more sinister reason — it prevented setting a precedent of providing redress payments to people no longer alive. The group they were thinking primarily about was African Americans and slaves.”

The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 really serves as a moral precedent to redress a wrong of the past, but it doesn’t serve necessarily as a legislative precedent, Maki said. “The reality is that no piece of legislation protects us in the future. It is only our vigilance that protects us in the future.”

REMEMBERING REDRESS — Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (center) stands with event emcees, Soji Kashiwagi and Stephanie Nitahara to present a resolution from the State Assembly.

REMEMBERING REDRESS — Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (center) stands with event emcees, Soji Kashiwagi and Stephanie Nitahara to present a resolution from the State Assembly.

There needs to be representation in Congress, and there needs to be representation in state government so that this will never happen again, Maki said. “We need to elect people like this guy sitting in the front row, Al Muratsuchi. We need to send people like Al, who understands the story, and understands the need to protect civil liberties for all individuals.”

Make Democracy Inclusive
Guest speaker Anan Ameri, executive director of the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Mich., thanked the people who supported the Arab American community — the Japanese American community, civil rights activists, American Civil Liberties Union and Sen. Daniel Inouye and others. “They stood by us and said they will not allow this to happen again. That really saved us a lot of pain, a lot of agony and a lot of discrimination.”

Ameri lauded the Japanese American community for its commitment to civil rights. “Our job is to protect our democracy, to make this democracy more inclusive,” she stated. “And today, I really think the issue is one of immigrants … When the economy is bad, we have to find some reason why it’s bad, and it’s always the immigrants (that are blamed). Unless we stand up together and say this will never happen again, it will happen.”

Ameri was in Los Angeles to help open JANM’s new exhibit, “Patriots & Peacemakers: Arab Americans in Service to Our Country,” that opened Feb. 16. This exhibit honors Arab Americans who have served this country in the U.S. Armed Forces, the Peace Corps and the diplomatic corps.

Students from the University of Southern California’s Nikkei Association, Brandon Uchimura and April Nishinaka, presented a video recalling the major events of the redress movement — including the Commission hearings — that led to the signing of the Civil Liberties Act.

Co-emcee Stephanie Nitahara, regional director of the JACL Pacific Southwest District, stated that the 1981 CWRIC hearings “was a watershed event for our community and the beginning of a truly grassroots movement that led the community to winning redress with the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

“This was the first time that so many Issei and Nisei shared their stories with anger and sadness,” she said. “It was difficult and painful, but at the same it liberated the individuals and galvanized the rest of the community to speak out and demand redress. The video reminds us that there were many who were opposed to redress, even in our own community, and the campaign was not easy. It took uniting our own community and reaching out to the American public who knew little about the camps.”

State Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, representing the Torrance area, announced that he would introduce a resolution on the Assembly floor to declare Feb. 19 the Day of Remembrance for the entire state of California. “This is a tradition that I will continue from some of my predecessors, including Assemblymember George Nakano, Assemblymember Warren Furutani. I will continue to make sure that the state of California continues to commemorate Feb. 19 as the Day of Remembrance.”

According to Soji Kashiwagi, co-emcee and executive producer of the Grateful Crane Ensemble, attorney Dale Minami, lead counsel of the coram nobis legal team that worked to overturn the convictions of Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi and Minoru Yasui, called the NDAA “a terrifying parallel to the incarceration of Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II,” and added, “These potential infringements on the constitutional rights of citizens and residents dooms us to repeat history and subverts what should have been lessons learned from the Japanese American wartime imprisonment.”

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