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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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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Ours is a History of Resistance

Asian American protesters at an anti-war march in 1972. (Photo credit: Asian Pacific American Photographic Collection, Visual Communications Archive via LA Times)

By: Karin Wang (@naragirl), Asian Americans Advancing Justice

Since we launched “Write Back, Fight Back” two months ago, we have witnessed the power of words to name our struggles, reclaim our identities, and voice our power. We close out our series by centering the story of Asian immigrants challenging racism through the courts and in many cases, winning and changing the course of American history.

No current narrative of Asian Americans is more closely tied to white supremacy and historic white nativist policies than the model minority myth. First coined and promulgated in the mid-1960s by white Americans, the term referred to Japanese and Chinese Americans, focusing obsessively on their seeming success in the face of discrimination. The model minority myth gets denounced on a regular basis lately, and many journalists, writers, and activists have analyzed and challenged the economic and class implications of the myth and the damage it does less privileged Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

But there’s another insidious side to the model minority myth that needs the same unpacking and deconstructing:  the narrative of the quiet and obedient Asian – the one who works twice as hard and neither complains nor challenges authority. The myth was born at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, deliberately juxtaposing Asians against other racial minorities. It’s an image used not only to keep Asian Americans in their place but one that upholds white supremacy.

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The Trauma of Childhood Separation: Reflections of a Korean American Adoptee

A Honduran child plays at the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center after recently crossing the U.S., Mexico border with his father on June 21, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. (Photo Credit: Getty Images/Spencer Platt)

By Guest Contributor: Mia Ives-Rublee (@SeeMiaRoll)

The cries of children echo in my head after listening to the ProPublica recording of children crying at a detention center. It reminds me of my own experiences as a young child.

I was adopted at the age of three from South Korea. My biological family left me at an orphanage when I was a few days old and I lived at an orphanage for almost a year before going to a foster home.

I spent almost a year with my foster family and had grown attached to my foster mother. It was extremely traumatic for me to leave my foster family. At the time, I was too young to know what was going on. All I knew was that my foster mother was not near me and that I was in a strange environment.

I remember spending many nights literally crying in terror and my adoptive mother trying to sooth me. This happened for several years after my adoption.

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