SENIOR MOMENTS: Notable Japanese American Women

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By PHIL SHIGEKUNI

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was indeed a remarkable woman who, upon her death, got the recognition she deserved. This caused me to remember a few JA women who have made important contributions to our community and have not gotten the recognition they deserve.

On Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7, 1941, Mitsuye Endo was working for the Department of Motor Vehicles in California. After being fired, she and her family were sent to Tule Lake. Mitsue filed a habeas corpus suit that eventually went to the Supreme Court.

At one point in the process she was given a release from Tule Lake, but was not allowed return to the West Coast. To continue her case, she chose to transfer to the camp at Topaz, Utah, where she remained until it closed. In December 1944, the Supreme Court finally decided she was “concededly loyal” and allowed her, along with all other Japanese Americans, to return to the West Coast.

For the initiative she took, along with her dogged determination, we need to recognize and honor Mitsuye Endo.

Two years ago, to commemorate her passing, the family of Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga held a memorial celebration of her life at the Japanese American National Museum in L.A.   Along with her role as a loving mother, Aiko devoted many hours to JA national organizations including, most notably, the Commission on the Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) in Washington, D.C. CWRIC was the government’s panel organized to conduct hearings in ten cities throughout the country.

Aiko spent countless hours at the National Archives in Washington examining wartime records. Her most significant discovery were papers that revealed actions taken by the government to alter and hide evidence that would exonerate men such as Min Yasui, Gordon Hirabayashi and Fred Korematsu. Distinguished attorney and author Peter Irons, who attended Aiko’s gathering, worked with attorney Dale Minami and others to gain justice for these men. They were each eventually awarded the Medal of Freedom from three presidents.

We need to recognize and honor Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga.

In 1976, Michi Nishiura Weglyn published “Years of Infamy.” (In reference to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who declared Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7, a “Day of Infamy,” and who subsequently issued Executive Order 9066, banishing us into concentration camps.) Her book was important in that it was written by someone who had been one of the victims and was thoroughly documented. Then too, it came out prior to JACL’s redress resolution in 1978, raising awareness of the issue. Also, Michi told the tragic story of the 2,000+ Peruvians and other South American Japanese who were kidnapped and shipped to concentration camps in the U.S.

Michi was a talented costume designer working on TV’s “The Perry Como Show.” She received an award for costume design from a national organization. Michi was married to Walter Weglyn, a German Jew who escaped from a Nazi concentration camp.

We need to recognize and honor Michi Weglyn.

Grayce Uyehara was an unheralded hero for redress. Karl Nobuyuki, who served as our San Fernando Valley JACL chapter president over 20

ago, was JACL’s national director in the ’80s, when redress was the top issue. He enthusiastically praised Grayce’s tireless efforts in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

I read an inspiring interview of Grayce by Densho at a post-redress conference in 1997 at UCLA. After JACL passed the resolution for redress, Grayce, upon the request of Sen. Daniel Inouye, took on the role of unpaid lobbyist. Large sums of money had to be raised to get the word out to our community and the rest of the country, Grace successfully did this and contributed her own money in the process. Simultaneously, she worked seven days a week to inform our community and connect with members of Congress on behalf of redress.

We need to recognize and honor Grayce Uyehara.

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

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