By GWEN MURANAKA
RAFU ENGLISH EDITOR
On Jan. 30, 2011, the birthday of Fred Korematsu, the legacy of the Nisei civil rights icon will be celebrated on California’s first Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution. The legislation was signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzennegger on Sept. 25. On Thursday, his family were among those gathered for a celebration held at the Japanese American National Museum.
“He enjoyed birthdays, we’d have the family all together. Birthday cake was a big thing, he loved celebrations because it meant the family was going to be together,” recalled his daughter, Karen Korematsu.
“He would be surprised and very humble, he would know that this is about more than him,” she said.
His wife, Kathryn, and members of the coram nobis team, Dale Minami, Don Tamaki and Judge Dennis Hayashi were among those who gathered for the occasion. Assemblymember Warren Furutani (D-South Los Angeles), who sponsored the bill, said Korematsu represented what one person can do, comparing Korematsu’s stand against internment to Rosa Parks and the lone man who stood in front of the Chinese tanks at Tiananmen Square.
“When you have ordinary people do extraordinary things, what you have manifest is a thing called democracy,” said Furutani.
Furutani also referred to debate within the Rafu Shimpo over the term “concentration camp.” He noted that “concentration camp” is used in a bronze plaque placed at Manzanar in the 1970s.
“What this is all about is, it’s an educational process that sometimes is a little hard-edged. Sometimes the truth is that way,” said Furutani.
Korematsu was a welder in Oakland when he defied the military orders that led to the forced removal and incarceration of 110,000 Japanese Americans in 1942. He took his challenge to the military orders to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1944, upheld his conviction on the ground that the removal of Japanese Americans was justified by “military necessity.”
After four decades of having to live with a “disloyalty” conviction on his record that limited him from securing full-time work, Korematsu filed suit to reopen his case on proof that the government, when arguing his case during the war, had suppressed, altered, and destroyed material evidence that contradicted the government’s claim of military necessity.
In 1984-25 years ago-the Federal District Court for the northern District of California granted his petition for a writ of coram nobis (a notice of error) and vacated his conviction.
Minami, who was lead counsel for the Korematsu team, said Korematsu stood up to fight not just for himself but for others.
“He had the strength to fight, for Fred it was simple: I am an American, I deserve to be treated as an American,” Said Minami.
That Korematsu now has a day in his honor, also originated in the efforts of individuals. Retired Judge Lillian Lim of the San Diego Superior Courts, explained that she got the idea for a Korematsu Day four years ago while teaching a class on race, and realizing how little her law students knew about cases.
“I was jogging on a course with a lawyer and venting about the ignorance of my students about the Korematsu cases,” said Lim. “My Filipino American dad would not share much about his experience of the war, but one thing he did share how unfairly his fellow Americans who were Japanese were treated.”
A committee was formed, including Susan Woo and David Kawamoto, who brought Korematsu Day to the attention of Assemblymember Marty Block (D-San Diego), who cosponsored the bill with Furutani.
A fundraising effort is now underway to develop K-12 curriculum for Korematsu Day. Among the activities recommended on that day are to teach about his life and the injustice of the 1944 Supreme Court decision and to examine its implications today for other communities.
There are also plans for a large celebration in Northern California on Sunday, Jan. 30, which will include a screening of the 2000 documentary “Fred Korematsu: Of Civil Rights and Wrongs.” Ling Woo Liu, director of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education, said the institute’s goal is to raise $50,000 by January to distribute curriculum material to schools. The Korematsu Institute has also launched a logo contest for high school and college students to commemorate his legacy, with the winner to receive a $500 Apple Store gift certificate.
“We are gathering materials and developing materials where we see holes, come January we plan to ship kits to classes,” said Liu.
For information on the Korematsu Institute, call (415) 848-7727 or e-mail [email protected]