SALEM, Ore. — On March 28 – Minoru Yasui Day in Oregon – the new documentary film “Never Give Up! Minoru Yasui and the Fight for Justice (Part One)” will premiere at the Grand Theater, 191 High St. NE in Salem, Ore.
Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the program will start with an energizing performance by Portland Taiko. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown will introduce the film, which runs about 55 minutes, and a panel discussion and question-and-answer session will follow the screening. Admission is free with a suggested $5 donation to the Salem Progressive Film Series, which is sponsoring the premiere as a special event.
“Never Give Up!” tells the story of Oregonian civil rights leader Minoru Yasui, son of immigrant parents from Japan – his childhood in the farming community of Hood River in the early 1900s; his education at the University of Oregon in Eugene in the 1930s; and his legal challenge of the discriminatory military orders in Portland on March 28, 1942 – exactly 75 years before the premiere of the film.
Historical photographs, documents and film footage trace the process that over 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry underwent as the U.S. government registered, restricted and removed entire families from their homes on the West Coast and imprisoned them first in temporary detention centers like the International Livestock Exposition center in North Portland, and then in more permanent War Relocation Authority concentration camps like Minidoka in Idaho.
The film also follows Yasui’s legal case as he languished in solitary confinement at the Multnomah County Jail awaiting his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court while his family was split up.
The FBI arrested his father Masuo and shipped him off to a number of different U.S. Department of Justice prisoner-of-war camps. His mother Shidzuyo and younger siblings Homer and Yuka (who are interviewed in the film) were sent from Hood River to the Pinedale Assembly Center, then the Tule Lake concentration camp in California.
His sister Michi escaped the forced relocation by violating travel restrictions and fleeing from Eugene, where she was about to graduate from the university, to Denver, outside of the exclusion zone established by the U.S. military
After Yasui lost his case at the U.S. Supreme Court and was released from the Multnomah County Jail only to be re-imprisoned at Minidoka, he continued his work with the community and the Japanese American Citizens League, a patriotic civic organization that he had helped to establish in Oregon in the 1930s.
The film depicts his position with regard to the controversial “loyalty questionnaire” administered in the U.S. concentration camps, along with the heartbreakingly difficult decisions that many young Japanese American men were forced to make when the military draft was re-instituted.
Says Holly Yasui, Minoru Yasui’s youngest daughter and co-director of the film: “The circumstances and consequences of the Japanese American experience during World War II are chillingly relevant today as the federal government calls for a Muslim registry and has imposed travel restrictions upon persons based solely upon their national origin. In my father’s name, I have joined in amicus briefs being filed in the federal courts opposing Executive Order 13769, and I will continue to speak out against additional discriminatory regulations which the government has wrongly ‘justified’ by the illegal and immoral treatment of Japanese Americans in the 1940s.”
Holly Yasui started production of the film in 2013 as part of a project to honor her father on his centennial – he would have turned 100 years old in 2016. The Min Yasui Tribute project, co-founded by Yasui and Peggy Nagae, Minoru Yasui’s lead attorney in 1983 when he re-opened his wartime legal case, resulted in the posthumous awarding of a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 and the designation of March 28, the day he initiated his constitutional legal test case, as Minoru Yasui Day in Oregon in perpetuity by unanimous vote of the State Legislature in 2016.
Holly Yasui and her film co-director Will Doolittle, encouraged by actor/activist George Takei, who narrates the film, decided to release Part One of the film in 2017 in order to contribute to the reflections upon the Japanese American World War II experiences during this 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, and to provide materials for the discussion of the current civil and human rights under fire by the new federal administration.
“Never Give Up!” will be made available to educational institutions and community groups that wish to screen, discuss and study the issues it raises. Concurrently with the completion of the second part of the film, covering Minoru Yasui’s postwar life and ongoing defense of the human and civil rights of all people, Holly Yasui is working on a study guide and teacher workshops using Part One of the film, including a middle-school curriculum developed by Hood River Middle School teacher Sarah Segal and the Oregon Nikkei Endowment.
The film (Part One) will be screened in Hood River on April 2 at the Columbia Center for the Arts and April 3 at the Hood River Middle School. It will then travel to Colorado for a community screening in support of the Coalition for an Inclusive Colorado in Denver on April 8. It will return to Oregon as a selection of the DisOrient Film Festival in Eugene on April 21-22. On July 29, it will premiere in the Los Angeles area at the Japanese American National Museum.
The filmmakers hope that “Never Give Up!” will contribute to the ongoing discussions of human and civil rights issues that are arising from new and emerging federal, state and local policies regarding immigrants, racial and religious profiling, and due process of law. As Minoru Yasui himself says at the end of the film:
“From the standpoint of history I think I’d like to have the American people realize that when you subjugate, when you suppress or oppress any group of people, you are really derogating the rights of all people because if you could do it to the least of us, then you can indeed do it to all of us.
“I should be just as eager to defend your rights as I am my own because your rights impinge upon mine. If they take away your rights, they could take away mine, so I will fight to preserve yours.
“If there is suffering or pain that is unfairly imposed upon anyone, it’s my duty, it’s your duty to try to alleviate it because that’s the way in which we gain a better life for all of us.”