Opponent of Japanese-Americans’ WWII Treatment to Be Honored

23 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Opponent of Japanese-Americans’ WWII treatment to be honored.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Relatives of a civil rights attorney being honored posthumously this week with a Presidential Medal of Freedom for challenging the treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II are alarmed by recent opposition to Syrian refugees resettling in the U.S. In her 1993 book, “Stubborn Twig,” University of Oregon journalism professor Lauren Kessler describes what life was like for Minoru Yasui after he was taken to the Multnomah County Jail from the county courthouse in November 1942. “For the next month and a half, Min was kept in the cell 24 hours a day, with no exercise periods and no trips to the showers or the barber.

Laurie Yasui, 64, of Kansas City, said her father, Minoru Yasui, would be “up on his soap box, stomping his feet and shaking his fist” because of the political response to the Paris attacks. He tried to wash himself in the washbasin with rags, but after six weeks of this, he was ‘stinking dirty.’ His hair grew shaggy, unkempt and tangled. She and other relatives will be at the White House on Tuesday when her father and 16 others, including baseball greats Willie Mays and the late Yogi Berra, are honored with the nation’s highest civilian award. His nails grew so long that they curled inward.” Yasui, called “Min” by those who knew him best, actually spent nine months in solitary confinement for his defiance of President Franklin D. Lawmakers and more than half of U.S. governors have raised questions about the vetting of Syrian refugees, with some expressing concerns that Islamic extremists may try to take advantage of the process to enter the country.

Yasui is among 17 Americans, three posthumously, who will receive the award that is bestowed “to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant or private endeavors.” Tuesday’s list contains famous names such as film director Steven Spielberg, baseball greats Yogi Berra and Willie Mays, conductor Itzhak Perlman, singer and actress Barbra Streisand and recording artist James Taylor. After Pearl Harbor, a fearful nation cracked down on Japanese-Americans and Yasui’s law practice focused largely on helping them transfer assets and prepare for the internment camps. Senate, including Oregon’s Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, who co-wrote a letter to Obama urging him to honor Yasui, “a trailblazer and lifetime defender of civil and human rights.” Yasui, who grew up in Hood River and received his undergraduate degree from the UO in 1937, was the first Japanese-American to graduate from the UO School of Law in 1939. He was one of nine children — four of whom would attend the UO — born to Japanese immigrants Masuo and Shidzuyo Yasui, according to a family history in the UO Special Collections & University Archives.

The nation also formally apologized for the forced internment, and when Yasui died in 1986 at the age of 70, he had successfully convinced a trial court to vacate his 1942 arrest. Masuo Yasui later ran a successful fruit orchards business there until the government seized his land during the war and imprisoned him as an “enemy alien” at a Sante Fe, N.M., internment camp. Holly Yasui and other family members formed the Denver-based Minoru Yasui Tribute Project “to honor and reflect upon (his) contributions in making the world a better place.” The project includes the film, development of a play called “Citizen Min,” school curricula and creation of an exhibit — all scheduled to culminate in 2016, the 100th anniversary of Minoru Yasui’s birth.

He was executive director of the Denver Commission on Community Relations, where he established and oversaw hundreds of programs for ethnic and religious minorities, youth, seniors and low-income people, Holly Yasui says. He also was chairman of the Japanese American Citizens League’s National Committee for Redress, which, beginning in the mid-1970s, pushed the U.S. government to publicly admit wrongdoing and formally apologize for the wartime treatment of Japanese-Americans. “Min Yasui was both a man of principle and a man of action, which is a too rare combination,” Kessler said in an email from Mexico, where she’s been leading a series of workshops. “He was impassioned, stubborn, generous, brave — and funny. The honor is so richly deserved.” Yasui spent hours on Portland’s streets that night, violating the first stipulation of Executive Order 9066, a curfew that forbid those of Japanese ancestry from being anywhere outside a five-mile radius of their homes at any time, or outside at all between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Then a 25-year-old attorney, he could not persuade the one officer he encountered to arrest him and so instead turned himself in at the Police Department and spent two nights in jail. He would be housed that summer of ’42 at the Portland Assembly Center, once a livestock pavilion, with 3,000 other Japanese-Americans, before being sent to an Idaho internment camp. But in a bizarre twist, the judge ruled that since Yasui had worked for the Japanese Consulate in Chicago in 1940-41, he had effectively renounced his U.S. citizenship and thus disobeyed a lawful regulation governing enemy aliens.

Researchers had discovered National Archives memos and letters from the Office of Naval Intelligence, the FBI and the Justice Department that were suppressed during the war; that information said there was no evidence of “illicit signaling” or unlawful use of radio waves by any Japanese-American, Kessler wrote.

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