SENIOR MOMENTS: Fred Korematsu Day


(First published in
The Rafu Shimpo on June 25, 2011.)


Thanks to the dedicated work of a team of attorneys led by Dale Minami, January 30 has been designated as Fred Korematsu Day.  Also, credit Assemblyman Warren Furutani for the writing and passage of the legislation.

Because the late Fred Korematsu’s conviction was vacated, our government can no longer use his conviction as justification for our internment.

In the course of his trial, something Fred Korematsu said captured my attention: He was told by his attorneys that his case could be settled if he would accept a pardon from the government. After spending many years fighting his case, Fred’s reply was something to the effect of: I don’t need to be pardoned by the government. Instead, the government should be asking if I would be willing to pardon them for all they have put me through.

For me, this feisty statement captured the essence of what his battle was all about.

This defiant attitude was clearly more American than Japanese.  Which brings me to another matter related to a clash between American and Japanese values. Shame in Japanese culture is a very powerful force influencing our behavior.

In recent years I have become concerned about the conflict that arises when a family is challenged to deal with differences in sexual orientation within the family. I am referring not only to homosexuality, but also those who are of one sex, but feel they, truly, are of the opposite sex—transgendered.

The conflict comes about when parents discover their child is one of the above. Can we continue to love our child, or do we reject him/her because of the shame we would feel if our friends or the rest of our extended family should find out?

As much as I differ politically with Dick Cheney, I greatly respect him for the public support he has given to his lesbian daughter.

Because of biases passed down from our cultural past I can understand the initial shame a family might feel discovering their child is gay/lesbian/transgender. However,  I cannot understand how that family could allow that shame to overcome the love they feel for that child to the point of rejection.

Getting back to Fred Korematsu. During WWII when Fred was finally captured and put into Topaz, he was shunned by the other inmates there. How shameful, to take a stand that was out of step with the other JAs who cooperated with the government and went to camp.  But, after all these years, on Fred’s birthday, we can celebrate his victory.  It was the government’s shame, not Fred’s!

Behavioral science has shown, conclusively, that sexual orientation is “hard-wired,” not a choice. Consider this: Why would anyone choose to be sexually different and have to face the rejection and discrimination it would bring about?

Depending of how the difference in sexual orientation affects the child’s appearance and behavior, the child might be subject to name-calling and bullying at school. In addition, studies have shown the suicide rate among LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) persons is three to four times higher than the general population.

I would place shame on a family that would reject a child for a condition over which the child has no control. Instead of rejection, that child especially, is in desperate need of love and protection from that family.

President Obama has signed into law a measure that reverses “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in our military forces.  I believe the time has come for us to do likewise in our Japanese American–Asian American families. Total acceptance of LGBT persons can be a liberating experience for them as well as the rest of our community. The process will not be easy, but I am convinced it will result in a a happier, more humane community.


Phil Shigekuni can be contacted via email. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.



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