By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
The 25th anniversary of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 (CLA), which provided an apology and redress payments for Japanese Americans incarcerated by the government during World War II, was the focus of the 2013 Day of Remembrance event, held Feb. 16 at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo.
With “Our Struggle, Our Perseverance, Our Commitment” as the theme, speakers urged the Japanese American community to look at the redress victory not as the end of a campaign but as part of an ongoing fight for civil rights.
The program began on a solemn note as George Abe of Kinnara Taiko played the shakuhachi. Video excerpts from the Los Angeles hearings of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC), held in 1981, were shown.
JANM President/CEO Dr. Greg Kimura said, “Watching that video brought back memories. I was 11 or 12 years old, and we got the day off from school to go to the CWRIC hearings in the Federal Building in Anchorage, Alaska, where about 100 families, including mine, were removed and put into concentration camps. I brought my 11-year-old son today here as well to hear part of that story.
“It is the first time I recall my grandparents, who testified, speaking about that horrific experience. Thankfully, they never stopped talking about it.”
Kimura invited attendees to visit JANM’s new exhibition, “Patriots and Peacemakers,” from the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Mich., which “tells a very important and parallel story of our community’s experience.”
The emcees were Stephanie Nitahara, regional director of the JACL Pacific Southwest District, and Soji Kashiwagi, executive producer of the Grateful Crane Ensemble and a member of the Pasadena Human Relations Commission.
Nitahara noted that the hearings were “a watershed event for our community and the beginning of a truly grassroots movement that led to the community winning redress.”
Hearings were held across the country in 10 cities. Visual Communications and Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress (NCRR) videotaped the Los Angeles testimonies, Nitahara said, but “unfortunately, most of the other hearings were not preserved on film.”
For the remembrance ceremony, everyone was given tags similar to those Japanese Americans wore when they were shipped off to camp. Each tag had the name of one of the camps. All former incarcerees were asked to stand first; others were asked to stand when the names of their “assigned” camps were called.
In addition to the 10 War Relocation Authority “relocation centers,” the emcees read the names of 26 Justice Department internment camps and two citizen isolation centers. When everyone was standing, a moment of silence was observed.
An “In Memoriam” video listed community leaders who died over the past year, including Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii). An excerpt from his speech at a JANM conference in Arkansas in 2004 was shown: “The mission we began many years ago is still going on … I think it would be wrong for us to just turn our backs on that and say, ‘We had our battle, we did okay.’ Well, if it could happen to us, it can happen to any other group … Yesterday it was the Japanese. Today it’s the Arab. Tomorrow, who knows?”
Representing Yonsei and Gosei who organize Day of Remembrance programs on college campuses, April Nishinaka of USC’s Nikkei Association gave a multimedia presentation titled “Looking Back and Moving Forward,” which covered the wartime experience and the redress movement.
Although the redress bill was a victory, she said, “the success was not complete. The psychological damage from living in camps could not be undone by an apology, and personal property that had been left behind or sold could not be replaced by $20,000 … Many gave up their connections to Japanese culture … traditions slowly faded away …
“The current generation, mostly Yonsei, strives to return to and reclaim our Japanese culture. We have made a commitment to our future and made a commitment to our past. We will remember our past struggles, we will learn about how we persevered, and we will educate others … I’m making a commitment to remember our past because I wouldn’t be where or who I am without it. I’m here, and I will not be denied as my grandparents and great-grandparents were denied.”
Legacy of CLA
A panel on the impact and legacy of the CLA was moderated by Bruce Embrey, co-chair of the Manzanar Committee and son of the late Sue Kunitomi Embrey, one of the founders of the Manzanar Pilgrimage.
Panelist Richard Katsuda, a founding member of NCRR (originally known as National Coalition for Redress/Reparations) and a core member of the Tule Lake Committee, recalled that his first Tule Lake Pilgrimage in 1978 changed his life. There he met a Nisei veteran and former internee who deliberately mispronounced his own last name and lived in a small town in Oregon, separated from the Nikkei community. “You could feel the emotions that were filling up inside of him … I knew I had to dedicate myself to fight for redress for what our government had done to my community.”
Working with seniors at Yu-Ai Kai in San Jose, Katsuda saw first-hand that “the redress movement had a tremendously powerful effect on transforming the community and bringing back a measure of dignity.” He helped persuade five Issei to go to the San Francisco hearings and testify “for the sake of your children, your grandchildren,” and was gratified that despite their initial hesitation, “they were magnificent. In Japanese they boldly told their stories. It was a tremendous moment.”
When the CLA was enacted, Katsuda said, “there were celebrations and rejoicing that we had won redress. It was great. But I think complacency set in, a kind of resting on laurels, because people thought the job was done.”
But there was another fight to get appropriations for the payments, and more fights on behalf of those denied redress, such as Japanese Latin Americans who were forcibly brought to the U.S. and interned, he said.
The limitations of the CLA were apparent during the wave of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment after 9/11, Katsuda said. “Our community, knowing the pain and suffering during World War II, spoke out against any scapegoating or profiling of Arab or Muslim or South Asian Americans. But a large proportion of the general American public thought it was okay to engage in racial profiling.”
People are still being deprived of due process, he said, urging the audience to “make sure that our government is accountable … in upholding civil liberties.”
Panelist Rose Ochi served as an assistant attorney general during the Clinton Administration and was played a role in establishing the Manzanar National Historic Site. Involved in the redress campaign as a member of JACL and as an individual, she recalled talking with key legislators about moving the redress bill forward.
On the House side, she said, Rep. Peter Rodino (D-N.J.), chair of the Judiciary Committee, decided to have a congressman from a “safe district” — someone who was assured of re-election — shepherd the bill. That person was Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).
On the Senate side, Ochi met with Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and learned that he was a friend of Rep. Norman Mineta (D-San Jose); they met as Boy Scouts when Mineta was interned at Heart Mountain and Simpson was living in a nearby town. Simpson helped round up Republican votes.
A personal connection was part of President Ronald Reagan’s decision to sign the CLA, Ochi added. He was reminded that shortly after the war, as an Army captain, he had eulogized Kazuo Masuda, an Orange County Nisei who was killed in action while serving with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. “The veterans’ story appealed to our president,” she said.
While redress brought “personal healing” for many families, Ochi commented, “What remains is community healing … We have a lot of residual issues that we still need to resolve,” such as the debate over terminology referring to the camps, and “no-nos” and renunciants being labeled as disloyal.
Ochi singled out two heroes. “Aiko Herzig came from a clerical background. She just went through all the National Archives until she could find what I call the smoking gun, the lack of military necessity. That information was of course very important for the coram nobis lawsuits and also for the wartime commission findings …
“Sue Embrey was a schoolteacher. She was interned at Manzanar and she was very concerned about the lack of educational programs that discussed this wartime experience … She organized the pilgrimages that have now grown to where we have thousands of people coming, young people, so the story continues.”
Panelist Mitchell Maki is vice provost of academic affairs at CSU Domiguez Hills and lead author of “Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress.” He noted that in the 1970s, the community was not united: one group said, “Let it go. We’re doing better now. We don’t want to remember.” Another said, “What happened to us was wrong … but there’s no way we’re going to get money,” and within that group were some who said, “Don’t insult me. Don’t put a price tag on my civil liberties.” A third group said, “We want an apology, we want redress payments, and we want them in the form of individual as well as group payments.’”
Part of the redress story is how “we as a community came together … found our voice to say we were wronged, and we need to be recognized for that wrong,” he said.
One flaw in the CLA, according to Maki, was that “you had to be alive on Aug. 10, 1988 in order to get the apology and eventually get the $20,000 payment. If you were alive on Aug. 11, you would be fine. If you died after that, your family would get the money. But if you had died any time before Aug. 10, 1988, you would get nothing, not even the apology …
“Part of the reason they did that was for the tremendous fiscal savings that would create because they figured about half the people had died already … But there was a more sinister reason … it prevented the setting of a precedent of providing redress payments for people who were no longer alive, and the group that they were thinking primarily about were African Americans (who were seeking reparations for slavery) …
“The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 serves as a moral precedent for redressing the wrongs of the past, but it doesn’t necessarily serve as a legislative precedent. The reality is that no piece of legislation protects us in the future. It is only our vigilance that protects us in the future, and that I think is the message we need to continue to say to our young people.”
Arab American Perspective
Dr. Anan Ameri, founder of the Arab American National Museum, a Palestinian American scholar and activist, was the special guest speaker. She said that the support Arab Americans received from Japanese Americans after 9/11 “started a very long and very good relationship.”
Over the past decade, Ameri said, “the Arab American community went through a very hard time … It was harder for some than others. If you are third- or fourth-generation … and you look fair in color and you don’t have an accent, it was much easier for you. If you are a newer immigrant and you have an accent and you have darker skin … it was harder … Many were arrested … If it was not for other people who stood by us, things would have been much worse.”
Ameri thanked groups like JANM and individuals like Sen. Inouye. “I myself have been invited to … three (JANM) national conferences, one here in L.A., one in Arkansas and the last one in Colorado, and I’ve been to all of them. I was always impressed by this community and its commitment to civil rights, that ‘what happened to us should not happen again,’ and I really hope that my community … will also understand this lesson. It’s not about us, it’s not about you … It’s about our country, making it truly democratic and inclusive.”
Ameri was presented with a photo of a peace gathering held in front of JANM to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) brought a copy of a Day of Remembrance resolution that he planned to introduce on the Assembly floor on Feb. 19. “I am a product of the redress movement,” he said. “I was a Berkeley student activist in the 1980s. I graduated from Berkeley in 1988 when the redress bill passed. To this day I believe that the redress movement is … one of the greatest stories of how regular people can get involved in the political process and make a difference and change the world …
“We have an obligation and a responsibility to make sure that other communities and their civil rights and civil liberties are not violated … We need to keep on teaching our children and our grandchildren that there’s more to life than just the Lakers and basketball.”
Kashiwagi issued a call to action. “The National Defense Authorization Act or NDAA was passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Obama on Jan. 2 … Under provisions added to the NDAA in 2012 and continued in 2013, it gives the president authorization to order the U.S. military to pick up and detain U.S. citizens indefinitely without charge or trial for mere suspicions of ties to terrorism.
“Last year, President Obama signed on to this with serious reservations, saying he would not enforce this particular provision. This year, however, he made no such statement, and we all know what that means — what happened to our community could happen to another community again, even though the president is fully aware of the serious breach to our Constitution’s 5th Amendment — all in the name of national security …
“A new question to ask ourselves is this: What can we do to stop it? In honor of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents who endured and suffered through three-plus years in camp, this is the question we need to answer, before it’s too late.”
The program closed with special thanks to Carrie Morita of Carrie’s Community Caterers for 14 years of organizing a reception after each Day of Remembrance program.