CFJ Redress Update
February 22, 2004 San Francisco Day of Remembrance Speech

By Grace Shimizu, Campaign for Justice
Published in Nichi Bei Times, Tuesday, March 9, 2004

The US government would like to have you believe that the wartime experience of persons of Japanese ancestry, both US citizens and immigrants, and our struggle for redress is over…a closed chapter. Many people have accepted this because of the passage of the historic Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and the completion of a 10-year redress program whereby the majority of former Japanese American internees received an apology letter and their symbolic compensation payment.

So why are we still struggling for redress? And why is the US government continuing to fight former internees and our community in the courts and in the halls of Congress?

Our community has unfinished redress business. Here are three reasons why we are carrying on the redress struggle:

The first reason is because there are still over 1000 Japanese Latin Americans as well as Japanese Americans who have not received proper redress from the US government. During our candle lighting ceremony today, we were honored with the presence of two of our neighbors who are carrying that light for justice—Jane Yano and Art Shibayama. The US government fought Jane all the way to the US Supreme Court. And the US government has never explained why there were still Japanese Americans kept in internment camps for years after the war ended.

And what about Art Shibayama? Again, the US government has fought the Japanese Latin Americans all the way to the US Supreme Court and forced us to take their case to the international community.

War crimes and crimes against humanity---this is the level of severity of the human rights violations for which the US has not been held accountable---and, under international law, these crimes are ongoing until there is full acknowledgment, a sincere apology and proper redress. Why does the US government continue to refuse to do the right thing? Why is there not full implementation of international and human rights law for immigrants and citizens in the US?

We are fighting for redress for those in our community who have been deemed “ineligible” even though their rights were violated. We are fighting for redress for those who did not get it in the name of achieving redress for the majority of Japanese Americans. We continue this struggle because at stake is the precedent of what the government can and cannot get away with and who can and cannot qualify for redress, should the US government ever again inflict such wrongdoing on its own citizens and immigrants inside and outside its borders.

The second reason we carry on the redress struggle is because we want the US government to fulfill the educational mandate of the Civil Liberties Act. Our community was promised $50 million dollars for education and research, but only $5 million was appropriated during the last year of the 10-year redress program. We want the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund to be reestablished with the $45 million that is still owed to our community and the American people.

The necessity for this education has been underscored in the aftermath of 9-11 and the unfolding of the global and domestic “war on terrorism”. Remember last year’s comments by North Carolina’s Representative Howard Coble when he justified the internment of Japanese Americans by saying it was for “their own safety” and because “some were probably intent on doing harm to us just as some of these Arab Americans are probably intent on doing us harm.”

Our community knows the danger of such pronouncements, especially when made by a US Congressman who voted against the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and who is now the chairperson of the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Homeland Security. We don’t want such distortion of our history to be used to discredit and slander other communities. The legacy of our wartime experience should serve to prevent the repeat of such violations, not to justify the destruction of our nation’s constitutional and human rights today.

Education is a critical part of our legacy. The public education fund will be an opportunity for people of any race, ethnicity or creed to propose an educational or research project that will help us learn not only about the wartime experiences of people of Japanese ancestry, but also of other scapegoated communities like the German and Italian American communities during WWII. And the education fund will also be an opportunity to explore parallels and lessons about how our civil and human rights remain vulnerable to attack today.

This brings me to the third reason why we are still struggling for redress. We are fighting to stand up to the government’s past discriminatory actions and its current “instant replay” of those actions—especially against immigrants and racial minorities who are being targeted as the possible “enemy”. What happened to the Issei and the Japanese Latin Americans is history repeating itself in the government’s current racial profiling, discriminatory immigration policies, detentions without charge or due process, and expedited deportations. These policies have sown the seeds of distrust and divisiveness throughout the country, which manifest themselves in hate crimes, physical violence and verbal attacks --- especially against our neighbors who are US citizens and immigrants of Muslim, Middle Eastern and South Asian ancestry.

The constitutionality of the internment was never ruled upon, so it is still legal for our government to repeat the wholesale incarceration of citizens and non-citizens alike in the name of national security. The U.S. Constitution was written to protect all people in the United States, not just people who are US citizens. Today, the defense of our Constitution has never been put to a harder test.

Our struggle continues because we are concerned with how our history is being interpreted and what will be the legacy of our Nikkei experience. We want our legacy to show that we fought our best so that no one in our community—neither Japanese American nor Japanese Latin American--was left behind and deprived of their right to redress. We want the full implementation of the education fund that can serve as a bridge from the past to the present and be part of a legacy for future generations. We want our legacy to show that our struggle for redress, both in its early stages and now, is a struggle for truth and justice that reaches beyond our immediate community and is part of the common struggle in which we are all engaged: to defend our Constitution, to apply international human rights to the US, and to ensure human dignity.

So what can you do?

We invite you to support and participate in the first Assembly on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians in the early fall of this year. This major public event will be held in the San Francisco Bay Area to publicize and document the experiences of Japanese Americans and Japanese Latin Americans through their own testimony. They will speak in front of a public audience and a panel of elected officials, historians and other dignitaries. It will be a time when the public will be able to put a human face to the shameful wartime experience. The public will be able to hear the stories of Art, Jane and others who have not been given their due acknowledgment nor apology. It will also be a time for individuals and organizations from all communities to voice their concerns about the US government’s failure to fulfill the educational mandate of the Civil Liberties Act. We hope for extensive media coverage and we will document the proceedings and present the findings to Congress as part of an educational process. Our community’s goal is to secure a congressional hearing for our comprehensive redress legislation, the Wartime Parity and Justice Act, HR 779.

  1. We need volunteers to help us organize, to provide logistical and translation support, and to make sure the event runs smoothly. Also, please help us spread the word…to your family, friends, coworkers, your church or temple, and your community organizations.
  2. We would like you to express your opinion on the plight of those in our community who have been denied redress and concerns for ongoing education. We will be collecting written testimonies from the former internees and from any concerned member of the public: you can be of any age, race, ethnicity, creed, religion, gender, political affiliation, and you need not have been interned in the camps. Send us your thoughts and we will be able to include some of these written testimonies at the public testimonial event. Let your voice be heard on this critical human and civil rights issue.
  3. Also, please support our comprehensive redress legislation, “The Wartime Parity & Justice Act”, HR 779, which is pending in Congress. Sign our support letter and urge your Congressperson and Senator to support our legislaiton. See our information table that will be set up at the community center during the reception for more information.
  4. And last, but not least, we need your financial support. And we hope that you will give generously. Please make your donation to the “Campaign For Justice”.

Thank you for your kind attention and consideration of our call for community support and action.


Contact: Campaign for Justice