J.K. Yamamoto with the Rafu Shimpo reported on the 2019 Day of Remembrance program held February 23, 2019, at the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute. Jon Osaki’s documentary “Alternative Facts: The Lies of Executive Order 9066” was screened, followed by a panel discussion with Minami Tamaki LLP Senior Counsel Dale Minami and others.
Panelist Dale Minami, who appears in the film, hails from Gardena, is a partner in the San Francisco law firm of Minami Tamaki LLP and was the lead attorney in the reopening of Fred Korematsu’s Supreme Court case in the 1980s. He liked the way that the film “really connects our experiences as Japanese Americans to other communities of color, and that’s critical for us to have the kind of coalition we need to change this country.”
Although Minami is well-versed on the subject, he was impressed that Osaki tracked down and interviewed descendants of wartime officials such as Edward Ennis, director of the Department of Justice’s Alien Enemy Control Unit, who said at the time that the incarceration was wrong, but was overruled.
“My parents didn’t talk about the incarceration, like most Nisei,” said Minami. “They went to Rohwer, Ark. as well. So we didn’t learn much about it from our parents. I had one paragraph in high school, I had a page in college, and it wasn’t until almost exactly 50 years ago, when a momentous event occurred, and that was the Third World Strike at San Francisco State. It was an outgrowth of the civil rights movement that was led by African Americans …
“And when we got to understand our own history, we started to learn about what happened in these prisons and the incarceration of our own parents. Then I finally read the Korematsu, Hirabayashi and Yasui decisions in law school and they were treated as abstract principles. There wasn’t anything that had the human drama or the loss of lives, broken homes, lost dreams, any of those.
“So I thought the decision was a travesty and it impelled me, along with the inspiration we got from the Third World Strike in the development of ethnic studies … to really learn about the depth and breadth of this whole terrible dark page in American history.”
Minami cited the legal precedent of bans on Chinese and Japanese immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries. “The massive racial profiling of Muslims as evil and its simple connections are this. These actions are taken against some marginalized group that is not well understood, that are people of color and are generally politically powerless.
“So when you combine that with the racist rant of a president who’s anti-immigrant … and talks about using national security as a phony basis for … a wall that goes nowhere … what we’re seeing is … an echo of history. If we keep allowing this to go on … those are the first steps in the establishment of a dictatorship and the loss of our rights.”
The film included a quote from Col. Karl Bendetsen, one of the architects of the incarceration, who claimed that Nikkei were not behind fences and could go wherever they wanted.
“That’s an outright lie,” Minami said. “You have pictures, they’re all over the place, showing fences. So it’s exactly what the president is doing right now. They’re telling outright lies and they’re saying that there’s this huge security threat at the border when immigration has been reduced over the years … A security threat about drugs being transported across borders when they’re really coming in through ports of entry … Essentially this whole foundation of national security is built today on lies, just like it was against Japanese Americans.”
Minami added that checks and balances between the branches of government are threatened. “In Korematsu vs. United States … the judiciary, the Supreme Court, abdicated its role and did not even look at the president’s declaration that Japanese Americans were dangerous. It’s doing the same thing in Trump vs. Hawaii. It refused to look beyond the president’s declaration and examine whether there was any rational basis, any factual basis for keeping the Muslims out … essentially deferring completely to the president.”
Another echo of history is talk about changing the 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to anyone born on U.S. soil, Minami said, noting that Earl Warren, as governor of California, advocated stripping Nisei of their U.S. citizenship.