SENIOR MOMENTS: The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and a Defiant Act of Integrity

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By PHIL SHIGEKUNI

This year both JANM and JACL, at their respective conventions, are celebrating the 25-year anniversary of the signing of the redress bill by President Reagan on Aug. 10, 1988.

We as a community should celebrate. It was an event that came after a lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated people. Our late beloved Sen. Inouye, in addition to spearheading the campaign, was critical in getting the money appropriated for the redress payments.

To gain redress, JACL, from the beginning, has done all it could do to promote a positive image of who we are. We are long-suffering people, going into camp to prove our loyalty, and even offering our sons to fight and even die for a country that had imprisoned us and our families.

While JACL has been successful in promoting this image of Japanese Americans over the years, the tragedy in doing this has been the damage done to those who deviated from this image.

I refer, of course, to the 18,000 incarcerated in Tule Lake. Negative or qualified answers to the cruel and insensitive loyalty questions resulted in being segregated into Tule Lake. Those so segregated were branded by other JAs as disloyal. This stigma remains to this day.

Tragically, the shame felt by those so labeled was transmitted to the Sanseis, as evidenced by Nisei parents concealing the fact of their being in Tule Lake.

I have always been curious as to why a Nisei would give an answer to the questions that s/he knew would seriously disrupt their family. I won’t go into all the many reasons for their answers, but the answers I get from those I know go something like: “After being forced from my home and put into camp, I was really insulted I should be asked such  questions.” “I was really mad that we should be treated this way.”

Rather than allowing our government to define the Tule Lakers as disloyal, we need to look at them as courageous people having dignity and honor.  Putting them into concentration camps was bad enough, but then forcing them to answer the loyalty questionnaire was yet another indignity. It was their opportunity to honestly express what they were feeling. I would call it a defiant act of integrity.

In another column I will discuss the matter of those who renounced their citizenship. When I first read about how this came about, I found it hard to believe our government would resort to such measures to gain its ends.

JACL’s behavior during this time is a matter I would have us look at together. Twenty-five years have passed since the signing of the redress bill. I believe it is an appropriate time for JACL to honestly face and make amends for its treatment of the renunciants.

Phil Shigekuni writes from San Fernando Valley and can be contacted at [email protected] The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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