SENIOR MOMENTS: Fred Korematsu Day in San Francisco

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By PHIL SHIGEKUNI

Rafu staff writer, J.K. Yamamoto, I see, visited his old home of San Francisco to report on the huge (500) turnout for the third Korematsu Day.

Chinese, Filipinos and Japanese were honored. The JA heroes covered the waterfront —  from the renunciants and draft resisters to WWII veterans.  Included with Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi, and Min Yasui, I was pleased to see the names of Mitsuye Endo and Yuri Kochiyama.

According Mike Masaoka’s autobiography, in 1943 Mitsuye Endo filed a writ of habeas corpus, demanding an answer to why we were being imprisoned. In responding to this writ, the Supreme Court’s attempt to determine loyalty resulted in their asking the War Relocation Authority for help. Their response was the infamous loyalty questionnaire, which was forced on everyone over 17. Waiting for the final decision about her captivity, Mitsuye was among the last to leave camp. She resettled in Chicago.

Yuri Kochiyama’s activism took her to Harlem. She was one of very few JAs to align herself with the African American struggles. I believe their slogan, “Black Is Beautiful,” awakened many in the Asian community to take pride in their ethnic identities. “Black Power” was the phrase I remember from that era.

Malcolm X, an articulate strong man, scared a lot of white people. The way I viewed it at the time, considering Malcolm X’s militancy, Martin Luther King with his non-violent approach was made more appealing to the white majority. Kochiyama’s friendship with Malcolm X somehow gave me a sense of empowerment. At age 91, I am glad she is still around to receive this recognition.

While I recognize the San Francisco Fred Korematsu Day was put on to recognize Asian American heroes, I wish in the future we can expand our sights to give credit to non-Asians who have benefited our community.

Wayne Collins was one such person. Most older Nisei know about how he labored sacrificially to regain the citizenship of thousands of Nisei and Kibei after they had renounced it at the end of the war. Perhaps in a future column I will reveal the racist acts of our government that precipitated the renunciants’ decisions. Prior to helping to regain their citizenship, Collins went to court to win back their citizenship after it was renounced.

Tule Lake scholar Barbara Takei describes in her book “Tule Lake, Revisited” how the court’s decision to allow the renunciants to regain their citizenship came while the boats were loaded to ship them to Japan. It must have been quite a scene. I hope someday, someone makes a movie/DVD telling the story of this remarkable man.

A name that I have heard recently in connection with Wayne Collins is attorney Tex Nakamura. Tex worked with Wayne Collins in restoring citizenship to the renunciants. Martha Nakagawa, formerly of The Rafu, interviewed Tex a few years ago. Until recently, he had a law office in Little Tokyo. Martha and I are trying to locate Tex to get his story once more. I’ll keep you posted on this.

Phil Shigekuni writes from San Fernando Valley and can be contacted at [email protected] The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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