Manzanar Committee Honors Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga At 42nd Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage

The following are remarks by Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, the recipient of the Manzanar Committee’s 2011 Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy Award, which was presented at the 42nd Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage on April 30, 2011. Herzig-Yoshinaga could not attend, so she provided the following remarks for publication here.

For more information on Herzig-Yoshinaga and this award, click on: Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga To Receive 2011 Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy Award at 42nd Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage.

What a honor it is for Jack and I to be named recipients of the Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy Award! If Jack had not left us some six years ago, he would have been absolutely delighted to be there today to receive this award because, over the years, we admired and had great respect for Sue, who fought the good fight for all of us. We are the beneficiaries of her many decades of dedication and hard work in raising the public’s awareness about Manzanar and the other American concentration camps of World War II.

Encouraged by pioneer fighters such as Sue Embrey, Jack’s deep interest in this odious chapter in American History stemmed largely from the knowledge that I, as an American-born citizen among thousands of others of Japanese descent, had been mistreated by the government and deprived of the very principles for which he had served in the Armed Forces to uphold. His resolve to join me in historical research efforts and also participate in social justice movements was grounded in his belief of the obvious racist nature of the World War II exclusion and imprisonment of Japanese Americans.

Another motive that drove Jack into reviewing contemporary official records of this period in history was his search for justification of the denial of equal treatment under the law—just one among the many promises imbedded in our Constitution which were abrogated as it related to Japanese Americans. He feared that they were just words on paper because, despite the fact that he himself was of German-Irish descent, he was not subjected to humiliating loyalty questionnaires nor drafted into service from concentration camps and assigned to a segregated fighting unit, experiences that Japanese American soldiers endured.

As all of you are aware, one result of a Federal commission’s investigation of this sorry chapter in the nation’s history was the acknowledgement by Congress through the enactment of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 that the government did indeed commit a grave mistake against Japanese Americans. The Act provided for the payment of token compensation to survivors of the concentration camps to redress their grievances, accompanied by a presidential apology. This was accomplished due to the vigorous redress movement of the Japanese American community for official recognition of the wrongs committed by the wartime government. Sue played an important role in this decades-long demand for justice. The establishment of the Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy Award is a fine tribute to her and, speaking for Jack and myself, we are honored and proud to be the recipients of this award.

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

LEAD PHOTO courtesy Aiko-Herzig Yoshinaga.

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