HONOLULU — The State of Hawaii celebrated Fred Korematsu Day on Jan. 30, which would have been the civil rights icon’s 94th birthday.
In the morning and afternoon, “Of Civil Wrongs and Rights” was screened at the USS Arizona Memorial Theater for schoolchildren and the general public. The film documents Korematsu’s legal battle with the U.S. government, which spanned 40 years, over the constitutionality of the wartime internment of Japanese Americans.
His daughter, Karen Korematsu, co-founder of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education in San Francisco, appeared at both the daytime events and an evening program at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii. She has been carrying on her father’s legacy since his passing in 2005.
Speakers at the evening event included:
– Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie and State Sen. Will Espero;
– Carole Hayashino, president and executive director of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, who served as emcee;
– Nicole Verdadero, a Waialua High and Intermediate School student who in spring 2012 wrote a letter to the governor requesting a Fred Korematsu Day in Hawaii;
– Punahou High School student Matt Shimura, who screened his award-winning film “The Constitution and the Camps: Due Process and the Japanese American Internment”;
– Helene Minehara, whose family lost their Oahu home after the forced evacuation in Pu’uloa;
– University of Hawaii at Manoa Law School student Randall Watt;
– Eric Yamamoto, Fred T. Korematsu Professor of Law and Social Justice at the William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawaii at Manoa, and a member of Korematsu’s legal team in the 1980s;
– Attorney William Kaneko, former national vice president of the Japanese American Citizens League;
– Ted Tsukiyama, a veteran of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and a member of the Varsity Victory Volunteers, University of Hawaii undergraduates who served as a manual labor support group for the Army in 1942;
– Ashley Kaiao Obrey of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., which advocates for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders;
– Dina Shek of the Medical Legal Partnership for Children in Hawaii, which supports the rights of Micronesians and other immigrant groups.
More screenings of “Of Civil Wrongs and Rights,” including Q&A with Karen Korematsu, were held on Jan. 31.
In October 2011, Mary Chun, a social studies teacher at Waialua High and Intermediate School, attended a Korematsu teacher’s workshop at Aliiolani Hale, sponsored by the Judiciary History Center, the Hawaii State Bar Association Civic Education Committee, the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and the Hawaii Department of Education, Social Studies Program. She was particularly touched and inspired by a presentation given by Karen Korematsu.
The Saturday workshop was followed by a second component, also held at Aliiolani Hale. This component featured a video conference, broadcasts to DOE schools throughout the state, in which former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neil Katyal spoke to a a group of students in Hawaiis Supreme Courtroom about Korematsu v. the United States as well as Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.
When Chun returned to her classroom, she and her students talked about the need for a Fred Korematsu Day in Hawaii. Her students were moved by his young age (23) when he defied the internment order, and by the many injustices he faced throughout his life. Chun created a lesson plan to encourage her students to get involved in a present-day action.
In February 2012, 40 students mailed letters to Abercrombie, encouraging him to establish a Fred Korematsu Day in Hawaii. To their surprise, the governor answered their request on May 6, 2012 by issuing a proclamation declaring Jan. 30, 2013 as Fred Korematsu Day in Hawaii.
“This shows the power of grassroots organizing,” says Chun. “It shows that youth have the power to touch many people.”
The Fred Korematsu Day Hawaii Committee was launched during an initial planning meeting on June 8, 2012. The committee has expanded to include: Bob Buss, Mary Chun, Bev Creamer, Rosanna Fukuda, Carrie Fuller, Carole Hayashino, Judge Don Horowitz, David Kawamoto, Karen Korematsu, Judge Lillian Lim, Ling Woo Liu, Trisha Nakamura, Ruth Oh, Matt Shimura, Geoff Sogi, Tina Wang, Sharon Webb and Eric Yamamoto.
The inaugural Fred Korematsu Day Hawaii events are sponsored by: Hawaii Fred Korematsu Day Committee; World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument; Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii; University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law; Fred Korematsu Professor of Law and Social Justice; Judiciary History Center; American Immigration Council; Japanese American Citizens League; Hawaii Council for the Humanities; Hawaii Department of Education, Social Studies Program; Hawaii State Bar Association, Civic Education Committee; Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education; Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality (Seattle University Law School); University of Hawaii Center for Oral History; Sons and Daughters of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team; 442nd Veterans Club; Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project (Seattle); and the American Jewish Committee.
For information on Korematsu events and curriculum, visit www.korematsuinstitute.org.
Photos courtesy of Hawaii Governor’s Office