DOR Program to Explore Defending Civil Liberties

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Robin Toma

The 2012 Day of Remembrance program will explore the theme “70 Years After E.O. 9066: Defending Our Civil Liberties” with a commemorative ceremony, keynote speaker Robin Toma of the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission, and a stage performance piece featuring voices from the Nikkei and Muslim American communities.

Day of Remembrance is set for Saturday, Feb. 18, beginning at 2 p.m. at the Japanese American National Museum and is being organized by Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress (NCRR), the Pacific Southwest District of the Japanese American Citizens League (PSW-JACL) and JANM.

The Day of Remembrance commemorates the signing of Executive Order 9066 by President Franklin Roosevelt on Feb. 19, 1942. It led to the unconstitutional forced removal of thousands of Americans of Japanese ancestry from their homes on the West Coast and parts of Hawaii by the U.S. government. Over 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry were falsely incarcerated and every Japanese American unfairly carried the stigma of disloyalty.

The initial Day of Remembrance events, beginning in Seattle, were organized in Japanese American communities throughout the country in the 1970s and 1980s to promote grassroots redress campaigns that culminated with the signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. DOR events have continued as both a reminder of the illegal forced removal of a group of American citizens during a crisis and as an opportunity to galvanize support for current civil rights and human rights issues.

In marking the 70th anniversary of the signing of E.O. 9066, the 2012 Day of Remembrance program will include the naming of all the different concentration and detention camps used to incarcerate Japanese Americans during World War II. The performance presentation, organized by Traci Kato-Kiriyama, will bring out the first-person voices of Nikkei who lived through this period of overt discrimination and Muslim Americans, who continue to deal with different levels of harassment and prejudice since 9/11.

This year’s program will also note the passing of the Gordon Hirabayashi. As a college student living in the Seattle area during the war, Hirabayashi deliberately defied the government’s curfew and orders of exclusion as a matter of conscience. His conviction was appealed to the Supreme Court, but like the other coram nobis defendants, Minoru Yasui and Fred Korematsu, he lost his appeal. It was only in the 1980s that the all three cases were revived and Hirabayashi’s convictions were vacated. Hirabayashi passed away on Jan. 2.

Toma, who was first appointed to the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission in 2000, was the lead attorney in a suit brought by 2,200 Japanese Latin Americans who were forcibly expelled from their countries in South America and then unfairly held prisoners by the U.S. government during World War II. A staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California for seven years, Toma will discuss the state of civil liberties today with a historical perspective.

One of the major concerns for this year’s event will be the recent passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which President Obama signed into law at the end of 2011. This act permits the president to detain any U.S. citizen, at home or abroad, under suspicion of posing a “terrorist” threat; the citizen can be detained indefinitely, until the threat is perceived to have passed, and without trial or hearings. It harkens back to World War II when people of Japanese ancestry were held without trial and without charge indefinitely.

Obama stated, “I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists.”

The organizing committee for Day of Remembrance in Los Angeles is composed of representatives from NCRR, PSW-JACL and JANM along with other interested individuals. This program is free and open to the public. For more information, contact NCRR at (213) 284-0336; JACL at (213) 626-4471; or JANM at (213) 625-0414.

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