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.