Lessons From Japanese American Internment Can Be Taught At Any Time

The following is a letter from Karen Korematsu, Co-Founder of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute For Civil Rights and Education. It was intended to be read during the 42nd Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, held on April 30, 2011, where her father was honored. However, the letter was not received in time. As such, we are publishing it here.

April 30, 2011

Manzanar Pilgrimage

Dear Teachers, Students and Community Members,

On Sunday, January 30, 2011, we celebrated California’s first Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution. This is the first statewide day to be named after an Asian American in United States History.

Last year, Assemblymember Warren Furutani of the 55th District, and also founder of the Manzanar Pilgrimage, introduced legislative bill AB 1775 that established this special day. He carried it through the Assembly and Senate with unanimous votes and Governor Schwarzenegger signed the bill.

For those of you who do not know, my father, Fred T. Korematsu, had the famous U.S. Supreme Court case, Korematsu v. United States that challenged the 1942 military orders to incarcerate anyone of Japanese ancestry during World War II. My father was born in Oakland, California, and was an American in every sense of the word. He learned about the U.S. Constitution in high school, knew his rights and thought the forced removal orders were unconstitutional, as the Japanese Americans never were charged with a crime, had no public hearings and deprived of due process. For various reasons my father refused to report. Ultimately, he was arrested and convicted of defying the government’s orders.

In 1982, Professor Peter Irons, a legal historian and attorney, and Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga along with her husband, uncovered the hidden evidence that proved there was no military necessity for anyone of Japanese descent to be put in the 10+ concentration camps throughout the U.S. On that basis my father’s case was reopened and his conviction was overturned in the U.S. District Court of Northern California in 1983. It was a pivotal moment in civil rights history.

My father felt that in order for something like the incarceration not to happen again to another ethnic group because “they looked like the enemy,” education would be key. He crisscrossed the United States speaking to universities, law schools and organizations about his fight for justice for all.

In 1998, my father received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, this nation’s highest civilian honor from President Clinton. After 9/11, my father continued to speak out about the dangers of racial profiling and suspicious acts in the name of “National Security.”

My father passed away in 2005, but his legacy carries on in his name of three California public schools: Korematsu Discovery Academy, East Oakland; Korematsu Elementary, Davis; Korematsu Campus at San Leandro High School plus the Korematsu Center for Law and Equality at Seattle Law School and the Korematsu Institute in San Francisco.

I’m sorry that I can’t be with you, and I’m envious of your exciting journey to Manzanar, as I have not made this trip but plan to do so soon. My hope for all of you, after this pilgrimage, is that you will take what you have learned and teach and tell the stories about this dark period of our history. My father’s birthday is January 30, and Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution will be celebrated on that date in perpetuity. However the lessons can be taught any time of the year and not only are they about my father’s fight for justice but also about the 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans that were persecuted, as their stories need to be told. The past needs to be related to the relevancy of the issues we face today in this country and we need to be persistent in teaching the lessons of history so that the children of today and tomorrow can make the right decisions that will safeguard our country.

Remember, Fred Korematsu was one man that made a difference, Stood Up For What is Right and said “When You See Something Wrong, Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up!”

Karen Korematsu, Co-Founder
Fred T. Korematsu Institute For Civil Rights and Education
At The Asian Law Caucus

The views expressed in this story are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.

LEAD PHOTO courtesy the Korematsu Institute.

Creative Commons License The Manzanar Committee’s Official web site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Manzanar Committee Official web site – Licensing and Copyright Information.

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