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2015 Day of Remembrance
Women Warriors

• Day of Remembrance 2015 took place on February 15 at the Chicago History Museum to commemorate the signing of Executive Order 9066. Signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19th, 1942, it gave the U.S. Army the authority to remove civilians from the military zones that led to the forced removal and incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans during WWII.

• This year, the annual event focused on “Women Warriors” from incarceration to redress and beyond. Guest speaker Peggy A. Nagae, who was the lead attorney for Minoru Yasui in reopening his WWII Supreme Court case, discussed gender issues both in the Japanese American (JA) community and their home country, the U.S.
• Nagae, the third generation of JA, asked the audience, “How many JA women leaders can you name?” and invited Sharon Harada to read a Japanese proverb in a screen “Koketsu ni irazunba koji wo ezu. (Nothing ventured, nothing gained)”.

• About 400 Nisei (second generation of JA) women joined the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) in February 1943, a month after Nisei men were accepted to join the U.S. Army.
• A former WACs commander said, “The JAs were in a terrible position; their whole families were in concentration camps. And… not only that, but these women had to fight the Japanese male macho, if I can use the word macho with the JAs. So for (these women) to come into military was a double-barreled thing.”

• Mitsuye Endo’s Case

• Nagae questioned why her case hasn’t been known as much as Korematsu, Hirabayashi, or Yasui’s case. All of those woman and men fought for their civil rights and won. Mitsuye Endo was a long-time resident of Chicago until her death in 2006.

• In 1920, Mitsuye was born in Sacramento and worked as a clerk for the California Department of Motor Vehicles in Sacramento prior to WWII, but was dismissed from the position early in 1942, after the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941.
• James Purcell, attorney of American Civil Liberties Union, saw Mitsuye Endo as an ideal test case because her parents never returned to Japan, she didn’t speak or write Japanese, and her brother had been drafted into the US Army in 1941 before the Pearl Harbor attack.
• Mitsuye was only 22 years old at that time, and Nagae said that her courage was exceptional.

• Purcell filed habeas corpus in San Francisco for Mitsuye’s release from the Tule Lake concentration camp in July 1942. Judge Michael J. Roche stalled the release of his decision for a year and dismissed it without explanation. Purcell appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court in August 1943, and in April 1944 Judge William Denman sent the case to the U.S. Supreme Court rather than issuing a ruling himself. By this time, Mitsuye was moved to Topaz. The War Relocation Authority (WRA) offered to release her from camp if she agreed not to return to the West Coast in an effort to halt the case, but Endo refused it and remained in the camp for two years to ensure legal standing for habeas relief.

• The Supreme Court’s decision was handed down a day after President Roosevelt officially declared on December 17, 1944 that loyal JAs were permitted to return to the West Coast starting in 1945.
• The unanimous opinion ruling in Endo’s favor was written by Justice William O. Douglas with Justice Frank Murphy and Owen Roberts. The Court addressed, “In reaching that conclusion (Endo should be freed), we do not come to the underlying constitutional issues which have been argued… We conclude that, whatever power the War Relocation Authority may have to detail other classes of citizens, it has no authority to subject citizens who are concededly loyal to its leave procedure.” ( quoted from Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ex_parte_Endo)

• The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) admired Mitsuye Endo saying, “What the Endo case did was prompt the government to make a decision earlier than it might have about closing down the camps.”

• After the War, Mitsuye came to Chicago and was hired as a stenographer in Mayor’s office. She married and raised three children. She was quiet and took no part in redress movement, which sought official apology from the U.S. Government and compensation for illegal detention of JAs during the WWII. President Reagan signed the “Civil Liberties Act” in 1988, and the U.S. Government officially apologized and paid redress for JAs.

• Mitsuye’s daughter heard about her mother’s story for the first time when she was in her 20s. Mitsuye was very calm about her case and did not talk about many details.

• Peggy Nagae asked the audience why she didn’t speak out. Some JAs responded her question saying, “She was a woman,” “Because of the JA community, women are not supposed to speak out,” and “It’s a man’s world.”
• When Nagae asked if the JA community has changed in Chicago, the audience ambiguously giggled after a short silence.
• However, they did remember JA woman leaders in their community.
• Chiye Tomihiro was president of Chicago JACL from 1977 to 1978 and chaired Chicago’s Redress Committee.
• Kiyo Yoshimura worked as a social worker for 33 years and fought for women’s and minority’s rights in her whole life. She said, “The constitution is a piece of paper. But if you don’t live by it, it doesn’t mean a thing.”
• Alice Esaki worked part time in JACL Midwest office during the Redress movement and volunteered countless hours for it.
• Tsune Nakagawa managed Sen. Charles Percy’s office in Chicago and set up meetings with the Senator to gain his support for the Redress movement.
• Judge Sandra Otaka was appointed as a Cook County judge and was only the second Asian American to be elected to the position. She tirelessly worked for fundamental fairness for diverse communities. Her sudden death in 2009 made her greatly missed.

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• After the event, Nagae responded to Chicago Shimpo’s interview.

• Q: Is being attorney the best way to take leadership?
• Nagae: I think that is one position from which one takes leadership. I hated to go to law school, but it was a good credential, especially for women of color where we need credentials more than other people. I practiced law for 15 years and then I moved on to take up consulting after that.

• Q: How did you act to take leadership?
• Nagae: I think I did that by going to law school and becoming a trial attorney. That was one of hardest things that I did because I was shy growing up. But while being a trial attorney, and if I were not assertive, you were not going to be my client.
• I was a cheerleader for seven years from 7th grade to freshman in college, and that experience is a part of being a leader.
• I think you do it because you have a mission or vision to want to help other people. I talked about the women here. I think they saw larger vision and worked toward the vision. I think that is important for leadership.

• Q: Have you faced gender discrimination?
• Nagae: Oh, sure. When I started practice in law, I was seen only as a woman of color in a court system doing criminal defense in Oregon. Many people and many lawyers wouldn’t know what I was doing. One time Governor of the state of Oregon said to me, “You are JA and you are not really minority. You don’t have any problem. You are a model minority.” That was from the Governor of the state.
• As a woman litigator, I was undervalued or devalued because I was woman of color. The stereotype of Asian women is nice and submissive, but you can’t do that being an effective trial lawyer. But if you were too aggressive, you are called … bitch.

• Q: How did you fight back?
• Nagae: It took me many years to internally feel good about myself, and to know about having that value. It’s an internal process before an external process. And from there, I was able to say I do have value. I do have a voice. I do believe in justice.
• My mother told me at one point to quit the law school, get a job, and learn how to cook. It’s hard to go against your parents. I was going to go against parental wishes and some community norms.

• Q: What was your turning point?
• Nagae: I had an African American mentor, Dean Derrick A. Bell, Jr. He was the first African American dean of the University of Oregon School of Law, and the first tenured African American Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He said one time, “If you stop being a nice JA girl, come out with your power. People will remember who you were.” And I did that.
• I was on a panel, and he was keynote speaker. On the panel, a JA male attorney said, “I don’t really look at race and gender. I just hire the most qualified.” I turned him and said, “That was bullshit.” People look at me and the first thing they see is my race and my gender, and my profession starts after that.
• The Dean came up to me and said, “It sounds like you teach at law school. I’d like you to send me your resume.” I didn’t, but two month later he wrote me and said, “I have an assistant dean position open and I’d like you to apply for it.” I applied for it. We were the only African American dean and Asian American assistant dean in the country at that time.
• At the same time, Mr. Minoru Yasui was my client. He was a remarkable person and a great client because he was Nisei, and I am Sansei. So I’m his daughter’s age, but he was really respectful for whatever I suggested. So it was quite a relationship.

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• 2015 Day of Remembrance was organized by DOR Committee: Joy Bulen, Mary Doi, Sharon Harada, Sharon Hidaka, Karen Kanemoto, Jean Mishima, Bob Mita, Joyce Morimoto, Christine Munteanu, Megan Nakano, Mike Takada, Sandra Yamate, Kiyo Yoshimura, Bill Yoshino


Squadron of Nisei Women's Army Corps
(Photo: from Nagae's presentation)



Mitsuye Endo
(Photo: from Nagae's presentation)


Peggy A. Nagae


The audience at 2015 Day of Remembrance