WASHINGTON — The leaders of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) issued the following statements on Jan. 6 in response to the death of civil rights leader Gordon Hirabayashi on Jan. 2 at age 93.
Rep. Judy Chu (D-El Monte), chair: “Gordon Hirabayashi’s passing marks a sad loss for our community and country. At a time when Japanese Americans were suffering from discrimination and internment at the hands of their own government, he stood up to challenge an unjust law and took his case all the way to the Supreme Court. It wasn’t until decades later that justice was finally served, and that was only as a result of his tireless efforts and unflinching faith in the protections of the U.S. Constitution.
“Every generation needs someone like Dr. Hirabayashi. He was a great American, and he will be missed.”
Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose), chair emeritus: “Gordon Hirabayashi’s dedication to the most cherished principles of American democracy created an iconic moment in the history of the civil rights movement. Gordon’s defiance of the incarceration of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans is an indelible reminder that we must never let ‘war hysteria, racial prejudice and a failure of political leadership’ derail the continuing mission of America – to live as one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
“Gordon’s legacy is a lodestar for every American – inspiring us to work tirelessly to forge a more perfect union.”
Months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hirabayashi purposefully defied a curfew targeting citizens of Japanese ancestry, refused a directive to report to an internment camp, and was later jailed.
His case was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled against him and upheld the government’s argument that such restrictions were necessary.
He later spent a year in federal prison for refusing to complete a form to enter the armed forces that required Japanese Americans to renounce any allegiance to the emperor of Japan. He argued that the prompt was discriminatory because it implied that Japanese Americans were loyal to a foreign power when other Americans were not required to make similar pledges.
In the 1980s, his case was reopened and he was cleared of his past convictions. This victory was a contributing factor to Congress’ passage of legislation providing redress and an apology for Japanese American internees.
Hirabayashi stated that his case was not a Japanese American issue, but “an American case, with principles that affect the fundamental human rights of all Americans.”
CAPAC is composed of members of Congress of Asian and Pacific Islander descent and members who have a strong dedication to promoting the well-being of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. It has been addressing the needs of the AAPI community in all areas of American life since it was founded in 1994.