Fred Korematsu Day in Michigan

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From left: Mary Kamidoi, Frances Kai Hwa Wang, Ling Woo Liu, Ron Aramaki, Roland Hwang, Dr. Daniel Krichbaum. (Photo courtesy of Roland Hwang)

TROY, Mich. — Fred Korematsu Day was observed in Michigan for the first time on Jan. 30.

The event took place at Troy High School. The principal, Mark Dziatczak, welcomed the speakers, along with approximately 100 Troy High students.

Dr. Daniel Krichbaum, director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, presented the governor’s certificate of recognition for Korematsu. The presentation was followed by a panel discussion featuring:

• Roland Hwang, lecturer for Asian Pacific Islander American history and law at the University of Michigan, and secretary of the Michigan Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission;

• Ling Woo Liu, director of the San Francisco-based Fred T. Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education;

• Ron Aramaki, lecturer for Asian Pacific Islander American history and law at the University of Michigan;

• Mary Kamidoi, treasurer of American Citizens for Justice and former internee at the Rohwer internment camp in Arkansas;

• Frances Kai Hwa Wang, lecturer for Asian Pacific Islander American history and law at the University of Michigan.

The state proclamation, signed by Gov. Rick Snyder and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, reads as follows:

“The State of Michigan is pleased to join the Michigan Asian Pacific American Advisory Commission in recognizing the late Fred Korematsu.

“Fred Toyosaburo Korematsu was born in Oakland, Calif. on Jan. 30, 1919 as the third of four sons to Japanese immigrant parents; he was one of many American citizens of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast during World War Ii.

“Following the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order authorizing the U.S. military to require all Americans of Japanese ancestry be placed in internment camps.

“Fred Korematsu is famously known for his arrest at the age of 23, on May 30, 1942, and conviction on Sept. 8, 1942, for defying the government’s order to be moved to internment camps; he appealed his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme court, and in the December 1944 landmark decision of Korematsu v. United States, the high court ruled against him.

“Nearly 40 years later, on Nov. 10, 1983, Fred Korematsu’s conviction was formally vacated by the U.S. District Court of Northern California, an action considered to be a pivotal moment in civil rights history; throughout the rest of his life, Fred Korematsu remained an activist, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

“Now, therefore, on behalf of the Great Lakes State, we join with the Michigan Asian Pacific American Advisory Commission as they honor the legacy of Fred Korematsu and recognize his many contributions to America’s civil rights movement.”

That evening, the documentary “Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story” was screened at University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor with Liu as guest speaker. The Asian Pacific American Law Students Association sponsored the event.

While in Michigan, Liu also visited a memorial to 27-year-old Vincent Chin, whose 1982 beating death in Highland Park triggered a nationwide movement in the Asian American community against hate crimes. American Citizens for Justice was formed in the Detroit area to pursue civil rights charges against the two killers, who had been let off with probation and fines. The crime occurred during a period of intense anti-Japanese sentiment among American autoworkers, and this is believed to have been a factor in the attack.

Although the killers ultimately did not serve any jail time, the case raised public awareness about anti-Asian violence and united many Asian American groups across ethnic and geographical lines. Dedicated by the State Bar of Michigan and the Michigan Asian Pacific American Bar Association in 2009 and located in Madison Heights, the monument recognizes the Chin case as a “Michigan Legal Milestone.”

Ling Woo Liu visits a monument commemorating the Vincent Chin case.

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