By YUKIO KAWARATANI
I am Yukio Kawaratani, a former Japanese American internee.
The World War II concentration camp experience was the darkest time in Japanese American history. It was also a black mark on America.
All 120,000 of us suffered. With the short notice to evacuate, our family sacrificed home, possessions and farm at a major loss. We were crushed, as we could only take what we could carry.
We were herded like cattle on to trains to 10 American concentration camps. Guarded by soldiers with rifles and bayonets, we went like sheep, putting up no resistance. How could we?
Our family consisted of young adults and children. We were American citizens born and raised in the U.S.A. Our parents, like all Asians, were prohibited from becoming American citizens by discriminatory laws passed by Congress.
Fred Korematsu challenged Executive Order 9066 by refusing to be interned on the basis that it was unconstitutional. It violated the 5th and 14th Amendments of the Constitution: No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law or the equal protection of the laws.
Korematsu challenged the government — all the way to the Supreme Court. The court’s opinion held that the need to protect against espionage outweighed Korematsu’s individual rights and the rights of all Americans of Japanese descent.
After being incarcerated for nearly four years, at 14 years of age, I felt like a marked ex-con. Most of us became the quiet, compliant hyphenated Americans. We became a model minority because we never complained. But it came with psychological scars. I did not feel or compete as a full American for nearly 30 years.
Korematsu’s conviction was overturned 40 years later by a federal judge because the government had knowingly withheld information that Japanese Americans were not a threat.
Regretting that the internment was wrong, Congress in the 1980s, through Republican President Reagan, officially apologized to each internee and paid reparations. In 1998, Democratic President Clinton presented Korematsu with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Fred Korematsu is a hero and a symbol for all Americans to honor. He stood up against a government wrong, and the still continuing legal concept that our government can suspend civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and take action against any group or organization of people on the premise of military necessity.
I urge the Pasadena City Council to pass a resolution honoring Fred Korematsu, a great American patriot.
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