The Power of Untidy Movements: 30 Years after the Fight for Japanese American Redress

CWRIC hearings in Seattle, Washington, 1981. (Photo Credit: National Archives and Records Administration / Densho Encyclopedia)

By Guest Contributor: Sean Miura (@seanmiura)

My mom was about my age when she testified in support of Japanese American redress.

Fresh out of law school, she had moved to Seattle a few years prior and quickly found herself pulled into the local Japanese American community as a young leader, eventually becoming president of the Seattle Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League. Seattle, beautiful rainy Seattle, is a city of left-leaning intellectuals and artists, organized and ready to mobilize with fiery intent and focused action. The Japanese Americans were (and are) no different.

When communities across the country began the push for recognition of wrongdoing in the WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans, Seattle became one of the centers of organizing and strategy-setting.

And there was my mom, alongside so many others who fought to make it happen in a layered, complex, beautifully complicated weaving of people who came together to make it happen.

And happen it did.

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#NeverAgainIsNow: Why the 30th anniversary of Japanese American Redress matters today

President Reagan signs the Civil Liberties Act into law. Looking on, left to right: Senator Spark Matsunaga, Representative N (Photo credit: Wikimedia)

By Guest Contributors: Tsuya Hohri Yee, Co-Chair New York Day of Remembrance Committee (Facebook: @nydayofremembrance); and Joseph Shoji Lachman, Co-founder of Never Again (Facebook: @NeverAgain9066)

August 10th marks the 30th anniversary of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which granted a presidential apology and monetary reparations to living Japanese American families who had persevered through WWII incarceration for simply looking like the enemy. Over 120,000 people were removed from their homes and imprisoned in concentration camps in remote areas of the country. The majority were US citizens and were children.  While no amount of money could ever undo the damage to Japanese American families and our democracy as a whole, the Act was a landmark piece of legislation, and represented decades of grassroots organizing across the country. Many Japanese Americans, young and old were inspired to join the Redress Movement by the work of Civil Rights Movement activists of the 1960s, and mobilized our communities to come together to fight for an apology and reparations. Allies in the Black and Latinx communities came to the aid of Japanese Americans, recognizing the commonalities of our struggles, and through this powerful coalition work Japanese Americans finally saw some semblance of justice for our families.

What the Redress movement achieved went beyond the Civil Liberties Act.  Our community is not monolithic and there was significant debate about how to “right this wrong,” including the view that demanding compensation would bring negative attention to our community.  Others felt that creating a Commission to study the incarceration, including prisoner testimonies was demeaning and unnecessary.   But those disagreements didn’t stop us from moving forward and when it mattered most, we rallied our support around the Civil Liberties Act.  Painful divides between individuals and groups who had chosen different paths during the war that had once seemed fixed in stone, now see the possibility of eroding.   As part of the healing process the Redress movement started, annual Day of Remembrance programs were organized across the country giving communities an opportunity to reflect, learn, and join together in solidarity around our common history. Japanese Americans also began journeying back to camp sites on pilgrimages to reclaim the stories of their parents and grandparents and to begin piecing together what was lost. Today we look back with admiration at what we fought for and accomplished as a community.

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Activists Fight to Stop Deportation of Southeast Asian Americans in #KeepPJHome

By Reappropriate Intern: V. Huynh

“I remember it wasn’t firecrackers… it was the sound of gunfire. And I remember seeing the blood everywhere on these kids. I remember seeing my cousin… gunned down.”

“It was the first moment I was reminded of the refugee camps where I grew up,” said Peejay, looking into the audience.

“The soldiers and the bandits,” he shook his head remembering the violence in the camps, “[It was] something I left behind, something my family left behind.”

Borey Ai, also known as Peejay, has faced violence and discrimination from an early age. Fleeing war-torn Cambodia during the Vietnam War, the Ai family escaped to America as refugees. Upon their arrival in Stockton, California, however, Peejay struggled — as many Southeast Asian refugees did — in the face of racism, xenophobia, and local hate crimes. At the age of 14, Peejay was sentenced to 25 years in prison for second-degree murder. Immediately after his release, Peejay arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and deportation proceedings were started against him. Now, Peejay faces the threat of deportation to a country he doesn’t know, even as Peejay is hoping his story will bring new awareness to the school-to-prison-to-deportation pipeline. With initiatives led by Nathaniel Tan and the Asian Prisoners Support Committee, the #BringPJHome and #KeepPJHome movements were born.

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Midwestern Poke Chain Threatening Legal Action Against Native Hawaiians For Using Their Own Language and Selling Their Own Food

A Midwestern chain of poke stores named Aloha Poke is under fire this week for threatening legal action against Native Hawaiian small businesses who use the words “Aloha” and “Poke” in combination to sell the traditional rice and fish dishes.

Aloha Poke Company — founded by former owner Zach Friedlanderregistered the phrase “aloha poke” as a trademark in January 2016. Now, Aloha Poke Company’s attorneys have sent numerous cease and desist letters to other poke shops named “Aloha Poke” — many of them owned by Native Hawaiian small business owners — demanding that they change their name and branding. Unfortunately, many of those small businesses can’t afford to fight the large chain store in court for the right to use their own language, and have been forced to undergo the costly process of rebranding.

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Borderless: A Review of ‘We Have Not Stopped Trembling Yet: Letters to my Filipino-Athabascan Family’

By Guest Contributor: Jason Fong (@jasonfongwrites)

Ask the world’s largest search engine for the definition of “Asian American,” and Google will incorrectly tell its billion-plus users that “Asian Americans” are “chiefly” East Asian.    It’s no surprise, then, that when most people think of Asian Americans, they think of East Asian Americans who  live somewhere like California while practicing piano and drinking  a lot of boba . Others may think of the hundreds of thousands of Chinese students who come to the U.S. each year to attend American schools while driving high-end sports cars. Still others might think of “hordes” and “waves” of people “flooding” the shores of America – all yellow and all the same.

In reality,    the majority of Asian Americans are from South and Southeast Asia, and in particular, Filipinos are the fourth-largest immigrant group after Mexicans, Asian Indians, and Chinese. Even Asian American activists and organizations forget these basic facts, as they sometimes select causes and organize events with only East Asian Americans in mind.

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