San Jose Day of Remembrance focuses on civil liberties and war


A young candle holder takes part in San Jose’s Day of Remembrance Candlelight Procession through San Jose’s Japantown. photo by Andy Frazer

SAN JOSE — More than 200 people attended the 34th annual “Day of Remembrance” event, presented by the Nihonmachi Outreach Committee, Feb. 16 at the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin. The event, titled “Civil Liberties and War,” commemorated the signing of Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942, which led to the incarceration of some 120,000 persons of Japanese descent during World War II. In addition, the program observed the 70th anniversary of Korematsu v. United States. Fred Korematsu refused to comply with the U.S. government order that led to the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans, which resulted in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case.

A young candle holder takes part in San Jose’s Day of Remembrance Candlelight Procession through San Jose’s Japantown. photo by Andy Frazer
A young candle holder takes part in San Jose’s Day of Remembrance Candlelight Procession through San Jose’s Japantown. photo by Andy Frazer

Guest speakers included Dale Minami, the lead attorney on the legal team that overturned the conviction of Korematsu; Rep. Mike Honda of the 17th Congressional District of California; and Japanese American Museum of San Jose board member Joe Yasutake. In addition, Sara Jaka of the South Bay Islamic Association spoke about her experiences. A candlelight procession through Japantown concluded the event.

Reiko Nakayama of the Nihonmachi Outreach Committee said, “The signing of Executive Order 9066 was the culmination of anti-miscegenation laws. Feb. 19, 1942 is a day that will live in infamy. When Japanese Americans were forced from their homes, it was a clear violation of their constitutional rights.”

The Rev. Hajime Yamamoto of the Wesley United Methodist Church  added that the event was designed to educate others about the Nikkei whose civil liberties were taken away.

“It is important to protect civil liberties. We need to pass this down to the next generation,” he said.

Attorney Minami spoke about the historical significance of the case of Korematsu v. United States. He said, “I’m glad to be able to honor Fred Korematsu’s courageous stand against the United States.”

In November of 1983, Minami and his legal team argued that Korematsu’s conviction should be overturned.

“Our goal was to vindicate a man who stood up to the U.S. government. No Japanese Americans were charged with a crime of sabotage or espionage. Our (legal) team wanted to correct the historical record. There was no military justification. We were able to present evidence of misconduct. We proved that the Department of Justice destroyed evidence favorable to Japanese Americans,” Minami said.

“It was based on racial stereotypes. All the evidence of initial racial arguments were destroyed. They destroyed evidence that Japanese Americans needed to be incarcerated. None of that evidence saw the light of day in the Supreme Court. It is appropriate for us to remember the extent that led us to that day. Careers were destroyed and dreams broken,” Minami said.

He added that the difficult conditions in the concentration camps took their toll on Japanese Americans.

“We remember the barbed wire, the horrible food, and the long lines just to use the bathroom,” he said.

In addition, Minami said that Japanese Americans were widely viewed as disloyal and untrustworthy.

He said, “Japanese Americans were branded as traitors, spies, and saboteurs. We should never forget what happened to Japanese Americans.”

He added, “We need to remember those extraordinary citizens who participated in the march toward justice, such as Fred Korematsu, who journeyed to Washington to lobby legislators. And Norm Mineta,” he said.

“In the midst of the redress movement, we began Korematsu v. United States. There was no reason to intern Fred Korematsu and 120,000 Japanese Americans. Fred argued in an elegant and eloquent way that he hoped this would never happen again. The judge said that the government deliberately lied and that the decision to incarcerate was tinged with racism. The judge said that the government must protect all citizens,” he said.

In addition, Minami said that it is important to connect the experience of Japanese Americans to other groups.

“We must tie our story to those of other marginalized people. We must build bridges to one another,” he said.

“We must tell the story of Japanese Americans and Muslims. Justice is not self-executing. We cannot rely on institutions to project us,” Minami said.

“In 1942, very few people dissented from the notion that Japanese Americans should be incarcerated. We should remember that it’s our political birthright to dissent. Let us remember and celebrate the tragedies and triumphs,” he said.

Guest speaker Yasutake discussed his experiences in the Department of Justice Camp at Crystal City, Texas. He talked about his father, an interpreter for the U.S. government’s immigration department, who was arrested following the Pearl Harbor attack. Yasutake and his mother subsequently were incarcerated in Crystal City.

Yasutake said that it is important that the story of the incarceration of  Japanese Americans be remembered, especially in light of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“Since 9/11, we’ve been hearing about prejudice against Arab Americans. It reminds us that we must remain vigilant against racism to ensure that civil liberties remain strong in the future,” he said.

REAFFIRMING CIVIL LIBERTIES ­—  Sara Jaka of the South Bay Islamic Association speaks about the persecution Muslims face in post-9/11 America. photo by Andy Frazer
REAFFIRMING CIVIL LIBERTIES ­— Sara Jaka of the South Bay Islamic Association speaks about the persecution Muslims face in post-9/11 America. photo by Andy Frazer

Sara Jaka of the South Bay Islamic Association said that more than a decade after 9/11, Muslims are still experiencing discrimination.

She said, “We still have communities being marginalized. (The year) after 9/11, hate crimes (against Muslims) rose 1,600 percent.”

She said that prejudice against Muslims is rampant and that hate crimes continue to occur throughout the nation.

“Given the uncertainties we live in today, the cloud of fear hangs over us,” Jaka said.

For instance, on Jan. 28, a mosque in Manteca, Calif. was defaced with racial epithets and pork products littered the ground. In addition, a mosque was destroyed in the Midwest by a suspected arsonist.

“These were acts of hate against people who are different,” said Jaka, adding that a recent Super Bowl ad that featured children singing “America the Beautiful” in different languages sparked controversy.

She said, “I like to think that we take a proactive rather than a reactive stance. It becomes incumbent on us to support our brothers and sisters of different faiths and cultures. We should maintain good relations with our neighbors. Be a good neighbor. This is the starting point for maintaining good relations.”

Jaka said that being connected with others is crucial to breaking down racial and cultural barriers. “We need to engage with others of different backgrounds.”

Jaka said that the United States is a melting pot of different races and cultures. “The face of America is not white, black, Hispanic, or Asian. It’s a patchwork quilt.”

Honda said that Japanese Americans have sought to support Muslims. “Since 9/11, the Nikkei community has been standing shoulder to shoulder with the Muslim community.”

“Whenever an incident comes up, we need to say something. We should know better,” he said, adding that there have been more attacks on Constitutional rights since 9/11.

Honda put the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans into historical perspective by talking about the Alien and Sedition Acts, which the Federalist-controlled Congress passed and U.S. President
John Adams signed in 1798. The acts allowed the president to imprison or deport aliens considered “dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States.” Honda said that under this act, the president can detain, jail, deport, or intern anyone without due process of law. Honda added that the laws remain in effect.

He explained that under the Alien and Sedition Acts, the government “incarcerated and took people away from their homes and held them without due process” during World War II.

Honda said that it is imperative that people be aware and informed about their Constitutional rights in order to protect their civil liberties.

Honda said that the Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act, warrantless searches, and monitoring of citizens pose a threat to Americans’ civil liberties, which are protected under the First Amendment.

He said, “This is the best country in the world. Whether you are an immigrant, citizen, or non-citizen, you are protected by the Constitution.”

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