Rafu Staff Report
PASADENA — The Pasadena Unified School District’s seven-member board passed a resolution March 27 to commemorate Fred Korematsu Day every year.
The PUSD joins a growing number of school districts and city governments that have passed such resolutions since California established Jan. 30 as Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution in September 2010. The Pasadena City Council passed a resolution last year, as did the South Pasadena Unified School District board earlier this year.
The civil rights icon was born on Jan. 30, 1919. Since his passing on March 30, 2005, schools in his native Oakland and in nearby San Leandro, where he lived for many years, have been named after him.
Adam Wolfson, PUSD director of communications, opened discussion of the resolution after the school board recognized March 31 as Cesar Chavez Day. “I think it’s quite nice that we’re able to honor both of these civil rights leaders on the same night, but next year we’ll do it a little closer to Fred Korematsu Day,” he said.
Wendy Anderson, organizer of the Cherry Blossom Festival of Southern California, thanked school board member Ramon Miramontes for supporting the resolution. Anderson was also involved in the City of Pasadena’s Fred Korematsu Day commemoration in January, which Miramontes attended.
“During World War II, Fred Korematsu, an ordinary American citizen, felt it was wrong for the government to force a group of Americans to relocation camps without evidence, without trial, and without due process, with many of them losing their property and some of them their lives,” Anderson explained. “He went to prison for defying this order. At the time his acts stood for the community of Americans of Japanese descent, and today he is considered a civil rights hero to all American citizens.”
The resolution encourages schools and teachers in the district to observe Fred Korematsu Day each school year “by utilizing instructional materials, including those created by the Japanese American legal community and the Fred Korematsu Institute; as well as those available through the Japanese American National Museum.”
In addition, the resolution is intended to be “an entry point for additional curriculum to educate the PUSD’s students about the significant contributions of diverse citizens,” including Japanese Americans, African Americans and Native Americans who served during World War II.
A Pasadena native who attended Andrew Jackson Elementary, Washington Junior High, John Muir High School and Pasadena City College, Anderson recalled, “As with many of my generation, our parents kept their camp issues and internment a secret. We weren’t brought up knowing about it … With some of my friends, to this day they have no idea what happened with their families in the camps. And it wasn’t until I got into high school at John Muir that I found out about Manzanar, where both of my parents and their families were interned …
“I was eager to share my knowledge because it was such a revelation … and I shared it with the class. Was I ever shocked when everybody turned against me, called me Benedict Arnold, said the United States would never do anything like this … I was kind of ostracized for a bit. But luckily the Los Angeles Times in their Metro section had a full-page article about Manzanar with a picture, and I saw my aunts in the picture. So I was able to bring that to the classroom.”
Patricia Kinaga, a Pasadena resident whose family was interned, announced the Japanese American Bar Association of Southern California’s support for the resolution. “As an attorney, I have to say that Fred Korematsu’s case is extremely important,” she said. “He was only 22 when he decided to defy the military orders and was convicted. He took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court and he lost. Forty years later, there was evidence uncovered that the entire incarceration was not justified by military necessity. He took it to federal district court and he won.”
Michelle White, president of ACLU Pasadena-Foothills Chapter, said the resolution “is part of what we’re all about.” She noted, “In Feb. 2 of this year, Fred Korematsu’s 1940s photograph was presented as part of a permanent civil rights exhibit entitled ‘Struggle for Justice’ at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, and he became the first Asian American featured in such an exhibit.”
Patty Nagano, also a product of Pasadena schools, represented Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress and Visual Communications. “We developed this resource called ‘Stand Up for Justice,’” she said. “It’s a story about Ralph Lazo … who stood up for the Japanese Americans during World War II. He was a Latino living in East L.A. who had many Japanese Americans as his friends. When they went, he went along with them …
“We have a 30-minute docudrama about him made especially for high school and middle school. It’s standard-based and everything else that goes along with that. It was created by teachers … We give a workshop on how to use the material, which also contains material on Fred Korematsu. So we’re very proud of this and we’re wanting to be able to set up some workshops within the district.”
Superintendent Jon Gundry assured Nagano that “we indeed have this curriculum already and it is already being incorporated into our secondary curriculum.”
Linda Wah, a member of the Pasadena City College Board of Trustees and the PCC president’s Asian American Advisory Committee, announced that a Korematsu Day resolution will be considered by her board on April 4. “I hope that we see the great support that we’re seeing tonight … I just wanted to thank you all for your progressive leadership … You guys got the jump on us, but thank you.”
Pasadena resident Marvin Schachter said the Korematsu and Chavez resolutions, along with the Trayvon Martin case, brought back memories: “I was a high school student 75 years ago. I remember collecting petitions for the passage of an anti-lynching bill … In the 10 years of the 1930s, every year two or three — never less than two — African Americans were lynched. The bill was never passed by Congress. Southern senators killed the bill in the Senate every single year. It took 30 more years before the civil rights acts of the 1960s were passed …
“It seems to me that the opportunity we have, the opportunity to learn from the past … is an enormous opportunity for us to continue the necessary struggle to create a movement and a consciousness … for justice and equality in our society. And I hope and expect that the Pasadena School District can set a model for schools all over the state, perhaps everywhere in the country.”
The motion passed without debate.
Board Vice President Ed Honowitz urged everyone to visit the Manzanar National Historic Site in order to get a better understanding of the internment.
Board President Renatta Cooper said the resolution was a good idea “because if we don’t talk about these things, we can’t prevent them from happening again.”
She recalled learning about the internment when she was in high school. “I asked my parents, ‘What did they do?’ My question made my parents very uncomfortable … I asked them, ‘How could you do nothing? Didn’t you know they’d come after us next?’ (Cooper is African American.)
“They both kind of hemmed and hawed, and my father said, ‘In those days, when the government told you something was necessary, you tended to believe it.’ In all the idealism of my youth, I said I was certainly glad those days had passed.”