RABBIT RAMBLINGS: Remembering ‘miracle worker’ Herzig Yoshinaga’s relentless hunt for truth

bioline_Chizu OmoriI am very saddened by the death of a dear friend, Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga. Of course, it wasn’t a total surprise, since she was in her 90s and had been ill, and at that age, it could happen at anytime. But losing friends and close ones is always hard. She was a wonderful and exceptional person in so many ways, and I was extremely lucky to have known her. So much in life is accidental, and it was a stroke of good fortune that I met her and her husband Jack Herzig way back when the redress movement was taking shape and our community was gearing up for the fight of our lifetimes.

I was living in Seattle and had joined the group that was forcefully and aggressively organizing for redress. Again, I think I was lucky to be in Seattle because we had a Congressman, Mike Lowry, who introduced the first redress bill in Congress. He believed it was the right thing to do, and continued to support the effort in Congress. This enabled the Seattle JA community to think that it was a serious effort that would at least get a hearing in Congress.

When the call came for volunteers to participate in the class action suit by the National Council for Japanese American Redress — being organized by William Hohri in Chicago — seeking representatives from different regions of the country, well, as you can imagine, no one wanted to volunteer. Cherry Kinoshita asked me to put my name on the suit, and I reluctantly agreed. That little act got me involved in this marvelous, complicated lawsuit, which eventually reached the Supreme Court.

During that time, I met Aiko and Jack, and many others who were the big actors in all of the drives for justice for us American Japanese who had been incarcerated during World War II. First, there was the legislation before Congress, then the lawsuit spelling out the violations of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution when we were incarcerated, and then the battle to overturn the Hirabayashi, Yasui and Korematsu decisions.

They were interconnected, and Aiko and Jack and Peter Irons were the researchers who built the cases. Then an army of people worked to push on all fronts, and amazingly, two of the efforts were successful. It was miraculous, but a great deal of work went into these victories, and Aiko was certainly one of the miracle workers. I believe that Aiko and Michi Nishiura Weglyn were movers of mountains, individuals who set out to expose the wrongdoing by the government, starting with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Secretary of War Henry Stimson, along with many military men.

Aiko first helped me with research when I asked her if she could send me a copy of the so-called “loyalty questionnaire.” Although I had known about it for a long time, I had not seen an actual form, and a study group wanted to find out more about this document. Aiko not only sent me copies of several filled out questionnaires, she also included many other government documents, which had to do with the policies of administering and grading them and how the policy of segregation came about. Seeing these documents had the effect of scales falling from my eyes, and I got hooked on the value of deep research, looking at the actual papers and messages sent while these events were happening. Diving into the archives became a goal in our research for making our documentary, “Rabbit in the Moon.”

I could see where Aiko and Jack got so interested in these archival searches. The paper trails led to real discoveries, “conversations on paper,” the formation of policy, etc., giving us insights about the workings of our government. There is a thrill in looking at basic, primary documents.

These searches can get us about as close to the truth and the reality of events as we can get, it seemed to me. And so, Aiko amassed a huge trove of papers that have been the basis for many research projects, and also aids in how to find information. She knew the archivists and the places in the archives where certain types of papers could be located. The value of her work lies in the fact that she was so knowledgeable about the history that she could spot the important pieces. Who else would have recognized the last remaining copy of DeWitt’s Final Report? Her documents have been donated to the University of California, Los Angeles, and one of these days, they will be available to the public so that we all can look at them.

Basically, Aiko was on a hunt for the truth. How was it possible that the government could sweep up approximately 120,000 people and put them into concentration camps?

Chizu Omori, of Oakland, is co-producer of the award-winning film “Rabbit in the Moon.” She can  be reached at chizuomori@gmail.com. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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