SPEAKING OUT FOR JUSTICE: Landmark CWRIC hearings led to JA redress: Testimonies to the L.A. Commission on the Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians hearings now available on DVD


SPEAKING OUT — A panel of representatives of the National Coalition for Redress / Reparations San Diego chapter speak at the Commission on the Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians hearings in August 1981 at the State Building in Los Angeles. photo by Roy Nakano

SPEAKING OUT — A panel of representatives of the National Coalition for Redress / Reparations San Diego chapter speak at the Commission on the Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians hearings in August 1981 at the State Building in Los Angeles. photo by Roy Nakano

LOS ANGELES — Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress and Visual Communications announced the release of a DVD documenting the portion of the Commission on the Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians hearings held in Los Angeles in 1981. The announcement was made during a program Dec. 2 at the Japanese American National Museum’s Tateuchi Democracy Forum in Little Tokyo.

Thirty-six years ago, the CWRIC heard the testimonies from Japanese Americans across the nation who spoke out about their detention in concentration camps during World War II. Recognizing the historic nature of the hearings, NCRR (formerly known as the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations) and VC collaborated to videotape the Los Angeles hearings.

The co-production, “Speak Out for Justice,” presents historic testimonies of 153 Nikkei former inmates, their family members and community activists at the Los Angeles hearings, where many witnesses spoke about their wartime concentration camp experiences for the first time.

The 120 people who attended the program saw video clips of the hearings, heard from individuals who testified and also from grassroots organizers who discussed the impact the hearings had on the community, on the redress campaign, and their relevance today.

The program was moderated by noted author Naomi Hirahara and included former VC photographer Duane Kubo, Harry Kawahara of the Japanese American Citizens League, and NCRR members Jim Matsuoka and Sumi Seki.

Panel Examined Justifications
Established in 1980, the bipartisan nine-member CWRIC panel was mandated by Congress to examine the justifications for Executive Order 9066, which led to the exclusion and incarceration of all West Coast residents of Japanese ancestry, and to recommend appropriate remedies. There were 11 hearings held from July to December 1981, with more than 750 witnesses, in 10 U.S. cities and population centers: Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, New York City and Cambridge, Mass., as well as Anchorage, Unalaska (Aleutian Islands) and St. Paul (Pribilof Islands) in Alaska.

Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga assisted Special Counsel Angus MacBeth and the CWRIC in carrying out extensive research from the National Archives and other documents related to the topic.

In December 1982, the Commission issued a report, “Personal Justice Denied,” which concluded that the U.S. government policy of exclusion, removal and detention of all West Coast residents of Japanese ancestry, as well as the Aleuts — with no evidence of espionage or sabotage and no military necessity — was the result of “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.”

The CWRIC recommended that Congress offer a public apology, appropriate funding for educational purposes, and award reparations of $20,000 to each of the surviving persons of Japanese ancestry incarcerated during World War II. The Commission also recommended that each surviving Aleut forcibly relocated following Japan’s invasion of their homelands be paid $5,000.

The commission’s findings resulted in the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and aided the coram nobis cases of Fred Korematsu, Minoru Yasui and Gordon Hirabayashi, leading to their wartime convictions being overturned.

Treated as Second Class
Clips from the hearings showed Jim Matsuoka pounding the table when acting chair Judge William Marutani attempted to hurry his testimony. Declaring he wouldn’t be rushed or silenced, the Manzanar inmate recalled receiving an old repainted toy as a Christmas gift from a non-Nikkei man who was “clearly embarrassed” at giving a child a broken toy. After the man left, Matsuoka said he threw it in the trash can. “To me, the toy symbolizes how we as a minority are treated, as second class.”

June Kizu, representing NCRR, stated to the panel, “Emotional and sociological damages, three years of people’s lives, and violation of constitutional rights are tremendous losses,” and asked for “at least $25,000” in compensation for individuals.

Sumi Seki had testified at the hearings that her brother was arrested by the authorities for leaving the five-mile restricted zone for Nikkei, and the family didn’t see him again until they were sent to the Santa Anita Assembly Center, located northeast of downtown Los Angeles, where Seki’s brother again escaped and was not seen until he was later inducted into the U.S. Army.

Spectators jeered when Sen. S.I. Hayakawa, who stated previously that demands for monetary reparations “make my flesh crawl with shame and embarrassment,” testified at the hearings that people in the concentration camps led “trouble-free and relatively happy lives” because of the “Japanese cultural trait of gaman (to endure with patience and dignity any misfortunes and injustices, especially those about which nothing can be done).”

Justifying his remarks suggesting many camp residents were happy, Hayakawa added, “How else can one account for the fact that … graduates of the camp high schools … have been holding their 10th, 20th and 30th anniversary reunions. How else can one account for the artistic output of these amateur artists, who, having time on their hands, turned out little masterpieces.”

Powerful Message
During a panel discussion following the screening of the Los Angeles hearings, Harry Kawahara related that three months before the hearings, the JACL and NCRR conducted training sessions in Little Tokyo. When it came time to testify, the witnesses “were very anxious and nervous… Their hands were trembling, their voices cracked, and some of them broke down in tears, but they delivered a very powerful message.”

Sumi Seki, remembering the hearings, said, “I was so scared when I had to testify. I’ll never do that again …. I think evacuation was a terrible memory for us.”

NCRR emphasized that “it was the regular people whose voices needed to be heard, and a lot of them were Japanese-speaking Issei,” Evelyn Yoshimura recalled. “The Issei were the adults trying to hold their families together after being incarcerated … Yasuko Sakamoto, a social worker born and raised in Japan … took it upon herself to make sure there were translators and that the testimony of Japanese-speaking people was part of the mix.”

Matsuoka reported that trying to get Nisei to speak out in public “was like pulling teeth,” and explained that with about three weeks to go, NCRR had only eight people willing to testify. But, all of a sudden, interest in the hearings intensified and a total of 153 people testified over the three days of hearings.

The intensity carried over to a Gardena, Calif. meeting, Matsuoka related. Lillian Baker, the outspoken enemy of redress who had disrupted the L.A. hearings, “stands up in the middle of it all and says emotionally, ‘My husband went to the Pacific and never came back.’

“I couldn’t help myself, and I said, ‘If I was your husband I wouldn’t come back either.’”

Truly a Miracle
The impact of the hearings was that Japanese Americans “learned about the power of collective action,” stated Kawahara, who had “serious doubts” about gaining reparations because President Ronald Reagan was opposed to redress.

The activists pushed on and contacted a wide circle of supporters outside of the Nikkei community, Kawahara continued. “We tried to rally the support of people to endorse and approve the Redress Movement. And, incredibly, it worked out well. The actual passing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 was truly a miracle.”

The Commission hearings mobilized young Japanese Americans, Kawahara commented. “They got more interested and engaged in the political process by being part of the redress effort … You see them at many different governmental levels now. That’s a very positive result of the hearings.”

Kathy Masaoka of NCRR added that the hearings helped the redress campaign because the video was taken to colleges, churches and community groups. “That was such a valuable resource that people could learn about our experiences.”

The Redress Movement received support from other racial minorities, Yoshimura related. Gilbert Sanchez, a Chicano activist, delivered a “very moving testimony at the hearings.”

Black groups supporting the Nikkei redress included an organization seeking African American redress, the Black Congressional Caucus, Rep. Ron Dellums, and especially Rep. Mervyn Dymally, who had introduced an earlier redress bill in Congress.

Otonashii to Yakamashii
The Little Tokyo program also screened a video clip of UCLA Professor Yuji Ichioka at the hearings exclaiming, “When I heard about the hearings … I dismissed it with contempt. I changed my mind because I heard what the Nisei were saying, and that affected me very personally. The Nisei, Sansei and Issei had given their testimony unembellished. It’s a straightforward and devastating indictment of our government and our society. To me it’s a collective catharsis … From here on out, we will gaman no more … We have demonstrated that we are a courageous people. Yes, we have been quiet, otonashii, but no more. We have become the opposite, yakamashii (noisy)!”

A compilation DVD of 22 testifiers is being sold at JANM for $25. The complete 13 DVDs of all the L.A. hearings is $250 for individuals and $500 for institutions. The DVDs will have Japanese subtitles. For more information, contact NCRR at ncrrla@yahoo.com.

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