This year is the 25th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1988. The legislation signed by President Reagan provided for Redress, an apology for the forceable removal and incarceration in Wartime Internment Camps and for those internees still alive at the signing of the legislation, $20,000 compensation for loss of property, humiliation, suffering and interruption of business and economic loss incurred as a result of the evacuation.
For Americans and Japanese in particular, this was an acknowledgement and redemption for failure of our constitutional due process. The principles laid out in our constitution is what our country stands for. If we do not practice it in our own backyard, how can we espouse it. The Civil Rights Act of 1988 was an acknowledgement of wrongdoing, a failure to uphold our own principles.
Two significant events occurred in the 1980s: First, was the commission hearings on the Wartime Relocation of Japanese Americans to Internment Camps. This was in preparation for presenting legislation to Congress that provided for Redress (an apology) and Reparations ($20,000 per person) to all internees who spent time in one of the ten Wartime Relocation camps who were alive at the signing of the bill. The second was the legal challenge to the Korematsu case – a coram nobis challenge based on false evidence presented by the War Department to the Supreme Court to justify the removal of Japanese American persons on the west coast as a potential military threat to the country.
The hearings proved cathartic for the Nisei American citizen populace who spent decades ashamed of this part of their history. By bringing the stories and suffering to the attention of others, the shame could be turned to anger, then, transformed into energy and directed at something positive, not just for the individual but for the nation. It turned a shameful internalized experience into a call to action and duty to defend others similarly situated in the future.
The Supreme Court overturned the Korematsu case, but not the authority to remove and incarcerate, which was affirmed in the National Defense Authorization Act, passed and signed into law, December 2012.
- By Patricia Takayama, JACL Board Member
Photo: On Oct. 9, 1990, Hisano Fujimoto, 101, of Lombard, Ill., receives her redress check from Attorney General Dick Thornburgh in Washington, D.C. Source: Rafu Shimpo Online