Researcher Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga, who played a critical role in JA redress, dies

Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga on March 6, 2010 at the Katy Geissert Civic Center Library in Torrance. photo by Martha Nakagawa

Aiko “Louise” Herzig Yoshinaga, a researcher and activist who played a pivotal role in the national Japanese American Redress Movement, passed away peacefully on July 18, 2018. She would have turned 94 on Aug. 5.

Herzig Yoshinaga was born in Sacramento, Calif. but grew up in Los Angeles. She was the fifth of six children, born to Sanji “Paul” and Shigeru Kinuwaki Yoshinaga of Kumamoto Prefecture.

From early on, she showed a talent for the arts, and her parents, although they struggled to make ends meet, allowed her to take dance and piano lessons.

Wartime Incarceration
She was a senior at Los Angeles High when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. In February 1942, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, forcing people of Japanese descent into U.S.-style concentration camps, and shortly before Herzig Yoshinaga was to be incarcerated, she recalled that the school principal called in the 15 Nisei in her graduating class and told them, “You all don’t deserve to get your high school diplomas because your people bombed Pearl Harbor.”

Herzig Yoshinaga ended up eloping with her Nisei boyfriend, Jacob Miyazaki, so she would end up in the Manzanar concentration camp with him. At Manzanar, she lied about her age, got married and gave birth to her first child. Her own family was sent to the Santa Anita racetracks before being shipped to the Jerome and Rohwer concentration camps in Arkansas.

When Herzig Yoshinaga learned that her father was very ill in Jerome, she was granted permission to transfer to the camp, but the camp administrator did not allow her husband to accompany her because he was not considered an immediate family member.

Herzig Yoshinaga’s journey from Southern California to Arkansas was not pleasant. The train was occupied mostly by U.S. soldiers, who did not offer her a seat. As a result, she sat on her suitcase, while she carried her newborn baby in one hand.

Ten days after Herzig Yoshinaga arrived in Jerome, her father passed away.

When the Jerome camp closed, the family was transferred to the Rohwer camp.

Her older sister, who was born in Japan and thus not a U.S. citizen, was not incarcerated in a camp because, at the time, she was living in New York, which was not a “military exclusion zone.” However, the older sister was not permitted to attend the father’s funeral in Jerome.

Once the war was over, Herzig Yoshinaga first went to Denver with her daughter before returning to Southern California. Her husband had been drafted into the U.S. Army and was serving overseas.

In Los Angeles, Herzig Yoshinaga’s in-laws watched her daughter while she worked part-time and went to school to become a steno typist. She was turned down for employment several times due to her ethnicity, and at the same time, her marriage started to fall apart and ended in divorce.

She then moved to New York where her widowed mother and four siblings lived. She found employment with a nonprofit health organization while her mother looked after her daughter.

Activist in New York
In New York, she met and married another Nisei, David S. Abe, who was in the U.S. Army. She moved with her second husband to Japan, where he worked as part of the Occupational Forces.

In Japan, Herzig Yoshinaga had two more children. However, this marriage also ended in divorce, and Herzig Yoshinaga found herself back in New York as a single mother of three young children.

She found work as a clerical worker and focused on raising her children. She also enrolled in night school and received her high school diploma from George Washington High School in New York at the age of 25.

During the 1960s, she was a choir member of the Japanese American United Church in Manhattan, where she met Tak Iijima, who invited her to attend an Asian Americans for Action meeting. This organization had been formed in 1969 by two women, Shizuko “Minn” Matsuda and Kazu Iijima. Among other well-known members was Yuri Kochiyama (Mary Nakahara).

Herzig Yoshinaga was blown away by her first AAA meeting. She was excited to be among a group of progressive thinking people, mostly Nisei women, who were committed to fighting for human and civil rights for all people. She overcame her fear of publicly protesting and joined in the AAA marches, particularly against nuclear testing and the Vietnam War.

Around this time, she also found employment with Jazzmobile, a Harlem-based nonprofit group. Well-known jazz musicians, such as Dizzy Gillespie and Herbie Hancock, traveled on a truck through Harlem or the inner-city of Washington, D.C. during the summer to introduce children to music.

At Jazzmobile, Herzig Yoshinaga learned first hand the daily racism that African Americans faced.

After three years with Jazzmobile, Herzig Yoshinaga found employment as a clerk for the board of the United Church for Homeland Ministries of the United Church of Christ. She was disappointed when the church board voted not to divest from South Africa, which was still under apartheid.

During this time, she reconnected with John “Jack” Alois Herzig, a New Jersey-born American of German Irish descent, who had served as a paratrooper during the war. The two had met in Japan, but at the time, they had been married to different people.

Herzig Yoshinaga ended up marrying a third time, and in 1978, she moved with Jack to Washington, D.C., where Jack worked. By this time, Herzig Yoshinaga’s three children were all adults, and since Jack’s executive salary was enough to support the two of them, Herzig Yoshinaga found herself with free time.

Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga and late husband Jack Herzig. photo courtesy of Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga

Jack, who had been discharged from the U.S. Army as a lieutenant colonel, was outraged when he learned about the experiences of the Japanese Americans on the West Coast during the war. He was angry that the U.S. government had denied its own citizens freedom and democracy at home, while soldiers such as himself and his friends had put their lives on the line, fighting for those very principles overseas.

The Birth of a Researcher
Earlier in 1976, Michi Nishiura Weglyn had published her book, “Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America’s Concentration Camps,” which had been an eye opener for Herzig Yoshinaga and had sparked her desire to visit the National Archives to learn what the government had on her family.

Soon, Herzig Yoshinaga found herself spending her days at the National Archives, doing hours of independent research as she came to the realization that the camp experience encompassed the larger issue of racial discrimination and government misconduct.

In 1979, the National Council for Japanese American Redress was formed in an effort to organize a national movement to obtain redress for Japanese Americans who had been incarcerated in camp. It was spearheaded by William Hohri of Chicago.

Aiko and Jack agreed to be NCJAR’s Washington, D.C. representatives. The Herzigs lobbied on behalf of NCJAR, and Aiko took on the enormous responsibility of providing evidentiary material for the class action lawsuit that sued the U.S. government for $27 billion for injuries suffered during the wartime exclusion and incarceration of Japanese Americans. The Herzigs also introduced Hohri to an appropriate Washington, D.C. law firm to take on this task.

At the same time the Herzigs were assisting NCJAR, the government created the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians in 1980. The CWRIC was tasked with studying the mass eviction and imprisonment of Japanese Americans on the West Coast during World War II.

Herzig Yoshinaga was hired to be CWRIC’s sole research associate through the recommendation of several people, including Weglyn and Rose Matsui Ochi, who had served on President Jimmy Carter’s Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy.

During her research, Herzig Yoshinaga came upon documents that indicated that in 1943, the government had ordered the destruction of all 10 copies of Gen. John DeWitt’s original “Final Report.” The War Department had ordered a revision because the original “Final Report” indicated that it had been racial bigotry, rather than military necessity, that had put into motion the mass removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans.

Herzig Yoshinaga further discovered documents indicating that officials were having a difficult time locating the 10th copy, and she wondered if the 10th had ever been destroyed. It had not.

Herzig Yoshinaga discovered the 10th copy, which provided solid proof that there had been no military necessity to imprison more than 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry into camps and deprive them of their constitutional rights.

This discovery, coupled with the thousands of documents that Herzig Yoshinaga provided to the CWRIC and the more than 750 testimonies heard before the CWRIC became the basis of “Personal Justice Denied,” published in two volumes in 1982 and 1983.

In “Personal Justice Denied,” the CWRIC concluded that the mass removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II was not based on military necessity but that “these decisions were race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.”

The CWRIC’s findings and recommendations laid the groundwork for the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which offered an apology and individual monetary compensation, and the establishment of a public education fund.

In addition, Herzig Yoshinaga’s discovery of the surviving tenth copy of the “Final Report” and documents uncovered by law professor Peter Irons helped to re-open the wartime Supreme Court cases of Minoru Yasui, Gordon Hirabayashi and Fred Korematsu. The petition to re-open the three cases were filed in 1983, under the writ of error coram nobis, which can only be used if new evidence is uncovered after a defendant had been convicted and had served their time.

The first case to be heard was the Korematsu case, which resulted in a victory with the conviction being vacated in 1983 but not overturned.

Only the Supreme Court can overturn their own rulings, and the Korematsu case, as well as the Yasui and Hirabayashi cases, had been filed in the respective U.S. district courts, where the original cases had been heard during the war.

More recently, however, on June 26, the Supreme Court upheld President Trump’s travel ban but overturned the 1944 Korematsu decision.

Yasui’s conviction was also vacated but he filed an appeal to have the government admit to misconduct. Yasui passed away before a decision was made.

In the Hirabayashi case, both Aiko and Jack gave critical testimonies that helped vacate Hirabayashi’s conviction of defying the eviction and curfew orders.

Although the Redress Movement gained momentum from the support from various organizations such as the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations and the Japanese American Citizens League, Herzig Yoshinaga was at the center of critical research needed by NCJAR, the CWRIC and the coram nobis legal team — all of which heavily influenced the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, the redress bill.

Even after the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, Aiko and Jack continued to give generously of their time and expertise to the public.

They counseled hundreds of people on how to access information from the National Archives, read numerous manuscript drafts, acted as consultants to various projects, and made presentations at various universities.

When the Department of Justice formed the Office of Redress Administration to administer reparations to eligible Japanese Americans under the redress bill, the ORA’s director, Robert “Bob” Bratt, personally visited the Herzigs’ home, requesting their help.

The Herzigs were mainly asked to help in the special verification cases, which were the difficult ORA cases. The Herzigs went through the tedious task of combing through hundreds of documents ranging from prisons, orphanages, mental institutions, railroad companies to the military.

The Herzigs were also consultants to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History’s Japanese American exhibit, titled, “A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and the U.S. Constitution.”

The Herzigs are currently referenced in the newest NMAH Japanese American exhibit titled, “Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and World War II.” This exhibit has been extended to Jan. 6, 2019.

During the 1980s, the Herzig joined in the marches, demanding that the U.S. divest from South Africa, which was under apartheid rule. At one protest rally, the Herzigs were arrested with Amy Carter, the daughter of President Jimmy Carter.

In 1989, Herzig Yoshinaga finally received her high school diploma from Los Angeles High, after then-Los Angeles Unified School District Board member Warren Furutani arranged to have a special ceremony for the Nisei class of 1942, which had been denied their diplomas from Los Angeles High School.

Furutani, who is also Herzig Yoshinaga’s son-in-law, was later elected to the California state Assembly, where he passed a bill permitting California universities to confer honorary degrees to all Japanese Americans whose education had been interrupted due to the war.

During the late 1990s, protest erupted over inscriptions to be included on the Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II, located in Washington, D.C. The Herzigs unsuccessfully spearheaded a petition drive that requested the removal of a quote from wartime Japanese American Citizens League leader Mike Masaoka on the monument. Among the individuals and organizations that signed the petition included Club 100, which is comprised of veterans from the 100th Battalion and their descendants.

Other projects the Herzig assisted on included helping the Military Intelligence Service veterans compile a list of Nisei who had been enrolled at the MIS Language School. They also helped the 442nd Regimental Combat Team veterans, and for starters, the Herzigs sent the Go For Broke organization some 23,000 names when the group began compiling names for a monument in Los Angeles.

In 2012, Herzig Yoshinaga assisted the UCLA Asian American Studies Center process and organize the massive 242 boxes of evidentiary documents that she and her husband had donated to the university. The Herzig papers are now available to the public.

She also authored the publication, “Words Can Lie or Clarify: Terminology of the World War II Incarceration of Japanese Americans” which discusses the need to stop using euphemisms to describe the camp experience and to use correct language.

In 2011, she co-authored with Marjorie Lee at UCLA, “Speaking Out for Personal Justice,” which are summaries of the testimonies given before the CWRIC. This publication was funded through the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund and the UCLA Asian American Studies Center.

She is survived by son, David L. Abe; daughters, Lisa Abe (Warren) Furutani and Gerrie Lani Miyazaki; grandchildren, Laurence Toshiro Moore, Sei Malik (Traci) and Joey Tadashi Furutani, Lea Mariko (Grant) Krogmann, Kimberly Tamiko and David Tadashi Abe; great-grandchildren, Kiyomi Pizarro and Harlee Takemi Furutani; brother, John Tsugio (Lucienne) Yoshinaga and sister-in-law, Reiko Yoshinaga; also many relatives.

A celebration of life will be held Sept 2 from 1 p.m., at the Japanese American National Museum, 100 North Central Ave. in Los Angeles.

For memorial donations, make checks out to David Abe and mail to: L. Furutani, 1482 West 185th St., Gardena, CA 90248.

People also have the option to donate to the Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga Legacy Project at:

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