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Day of Remembrance: Let Us Pledge That the Laws Do Not Fall Silent Again

• 2016 Day of Remembrance was held on February 21 at the Chicago History Museum to commemorate the signing of Executive Order 9066, which gave the U.S. Army the authority to remove 120,000 Japanese Americans from military zones. The Order was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, consequently 120,000 Japanese Americans (JAs) were incarcerated in 10 concentration camps in deserted areas across the U.S.

• After posting of colors by Chicago Nisei Post 1183, MCs Rebecca Ozaki and Anna Takada spoke about the background of Day of Remembrance. Ryan Sasaki read a removal poster issued by the Western Defense Command and Fourth Army Wartime Civil Control Administration. It said, “Pursuant to the provisions of Civilian Exclusion Order No. 34, this Headquarter, dated May 3, 1942, all persons of Japanese ancestry, both alien and no-alien, will be evacuated by 12 o’clock noon, O.W.T., Sunday May 9, 1942.”

• Mona Noriego, Commissioner of the Chicago Commission on Human Rights read a Mayoral Proclamation, followed by a teaser trailer screening of “Right of Passage” by Janice Tanaka.

• Special guest was Mitchell T. Maki, Vice Provost of Student Academic Success at California State University and the lead author of “Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress.” He spoke about a detailed case study of the passage of the 1988 Civil Liberties Act that realized a formal apology from the U.S. President, payments of $20,000 as redress for individual survivors of incarcerated JAs, and a $15 million fund for the JA community.
• Maki said, “The incarceration of JAs, subsequent redress movement is not only a great JA story, it is a great American story.”

• He named some people who made it possible to pass the Civil Liberties Act.
• A teenager who watched the Pearl Harbor attacks by the Japanese Imperial Navy on December 7, 1941, was the late Senator Daniel Inouye, who went on to serve with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and lost his right arm in combat. He was elected to the House of Representatives. Two years later, he was elected as a U.S. Senator and served in the Senate for nearly 50 years. He was instrumental in securing funding for the Civil Liberties Act.

• A 10-year-old boy, who was denied bringing his baseball bat to ride on a train, was Norman Mineta. The train took him and his family to an unknown place, and they were put behind barbed wire in Heart Mountain, Wyoming. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1974 and took a leading role for the redress movement in the House.

• A six-year-old African American boy, who saw a huge truck taking his JA friend away from his home, was Ron Dellums. He was elected to the House of Representatives from Oakland, California and said that he never forgot the vision of fear. He gave a compassionate plea on the House floor on September 17, 1988 when the Liberties Act was being debated.

• A young white man who returned home from Air Force service in the South Pacific was Jim Wright. He read an article of Korematsu’s case and learned what happened to JAs during WWII. He said, “This is wrong. This is not what I was fighting for.” He was the House Speaker from 1987 to 1989 and was a leading advocate for passing the Civil Liberty Act.

• The 442nd veteran Spark Matsunaga was elected as a U.S. Senator from Hawaii in 1976. Bob Matsui was elected to the House of Representatives in 1978 from the Sacramento area. Matsui was a six-month-old when his family was sent to a concentration camp in Tule Lake.

• The concentration camps were closed between 1945 and 1947. Each JA was given $25 and one-way-train-ticket to go somewhere to reestablish their lives. There was prevailing feeling of shame among JAs, so they didn’t share the wartime experiences with their children.

• In the 1970s, there were basically three different ideas to deal with the JA experiences.
• The first one was “Let it go.”
• The second was requiring a clean apology, but no monetary reparation. They said, “Don’t put a price on my civil liberty.”
• The third one was a formal apology and monetary reparations. Actually, JAs lost their properties, jobs, farms, and chances to move their lives forward. They thought that money needed to be attached to make a sincere apology.

• JAs took the third option and went forward. A commission was created with nine commissioners across the U.S. All 750 witnesses told their stories at hearings. Kiyoshi Tsunoda was a dentist and received medical training. He was put in charge of taking care of patients in his camp. His first patient was a young dehydrated infant. Without adequate medical supplies, all he could do was hold the infant in his hands until the baby died. Tsunoda unusually cried at the hearing, and his testimony gave courage to other JAs to speak out.
• The witnesses were mostly Issei and Nisei. For the Sansei, the hearings were the first opportunity to learn the JA experiences in wartime.

• The commission issued findings in 1983 saying that the camps were wrong, and that the internment was results of wartime hysteria, prejudice, and failure of political leadership.
• The commission also recommended that JAs be given an apology, $20,000 individual payments, and a community trust fund.

• Another group activity occurred. The National Council for Japanese American Redress was formed mainly by the people in Seattle. The group filed a lawsuit about 22 violations of constitutional legal rights that JAs have been subjected to. Maki said that the lawsuit clearly articulated the wrongs done to the JA community.

• On the House floor, the Civil Liberties Act was passed on September 17, 1987 and brought to the Senate. The Act was passed the Senate on April 20, 1988.
• One more hurdle was to get President Ronald Regan’s signature. Many people both inside and outside of the JA community thought the conservative President wouldn’t sign the bill. JA leaders decided to bring a story to move his heart.
• Sergeant Kazuo Masuda was killed in a battle in Italy just two weeks after he had answered an interview, saying, “Only way that my family can have a chance in America is by fighting in the U.S. Army.”
• His parents tried to bury him in a local cemetery; however, the cemetery denied it.
• Army officers had a medal ceremony for Sergeant Masuda and his family, and a young captain, whose name was Ronald Regan, was asked to speak. Regan spoke, “Blood that has soaked into the sands is all of one color. America stands unique in the world, the only country not founded on race, but on a way – an ideal. Mr. and Mrs. Masuda, one member of American family to another for what your son Kazuo did.”
• President Regan remembered the family.
• On August 10, 1988, President Regan signed the Civil Liberties Act.

• Mitchell Maki said, “The story of redress reflects the strength of our nation, the ability for our nation to look back at violations in a measured way.”
• He also referred to the words of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who recently passed away. Scalia said that Korematsu decision was wrong, but you are kidding yourself if you think it will never happen again. “In a time of war, the laws fall silent,” he continued.

• At the end of the speech, Maki said, “As we come together here today, let us pledge not only to remember what happened to our community, but pledge that the laws do not fall silent.”

The audience gathered at the Chicago History Museum where 2016 Day of Remembrance took place

Speaker Mitchell T. Maki

A voting scene of the 1988 Civil Liberties Act