An Interview with Holly Yasui

Never Give Up! – Trailer from Minoru Yasui Film on Vimeo.

Holly Yasui is the youngest daughter of Minoru Yasui, the legendary Japanese American lawyer and civil rights activist. She is currently at work on a documentary film about the life of her father, titled Never Give Up! Minoru Yasui and the Fight for Justice. This Saturday at 2 p.m., JANM will be hosting the Los Angeles premiere of Part One of the documentary, which covers his life up until the end of World War II. Holly will be present for a Q&A with the audience following the screening.

Below, we present excerpts from an interview with Holly, who graciously took time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions via email. The complete interview will be published on Discover Nikkei shortly.

JANM: Your father was an extraordinary man. What was it like to grow up with him?

Holly Yasui: Though I didn’t know it at the time, it was an amazing experience to grow up with my dad, to be Min Yasui’s daughter. He was kind, loving, and patient. He taught me how to read before I started school, by reading out loud to me every night in bed before I went to sleep. He bought me books and a special illustrated encyclopedia, and when I showed interest in writing, he gave me my first typewriter and money to buy my first word processor. Though he worked almost all the time—he was a community activist, and like housework, that kind of work never ends—he was always home for dinner and he was always interested to hear from his family about our day. It never occurred to me that it was unusual that he went out to meetings and events nearly every night after dinner. For me and my sisters, that was normal—we thought everyone’s dad did that.

Holly Yasui
JANM: What inspired you to make this documentary?

HY: In 2013, JANM invited me to participate on a panel with Jay Hirabayashi and Karen Korematsu to talk about our fathers and their legacies at the museum’s National Conference in Seattle, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. I met up with Janice Tanaka, who was filming the event for JANM and who had been a classmate at film school in the 1980s. (I dropped out, but Janice made good!) We got to talking, and the idea for a film about my dad was planted in my mind.

After the conference I went to Portland to visit Peggy Nagae, who was my dad’s lead attorney in the reopening of his World War II legal test case. We discussed the conference and my dad’s 100th birthday coming up in 2016, and we hatched the idea of a Minoru Yasui Tribute Project. Peggy took on the task of getting a Presidential Medal of Freedom for my father, and I took on the making of the film. Peggy was successful in mobilizing a nationwide campaign to endorse the nomination, which resulted in a posthumous awarding of the medal by President Obama in 2015.

On my father’s 100th birthday, we screened a work-in-progress in his hometown of Hood River, Oregon. On March 28, 2017, we premiered Part One of the documentary, which covers his life up to the end of WWII. March 28 is Minoru Yasui Day in Oregon, and this past year was the 75th anniversary of the day he deliberately broke a military curfew to initiate his legal test case. I’m still working on completing the film, hopefully in 2018.

JANM: Most documentaries are made by third parties. You are about as close to the subject as you can get. Does this make the process easier or harder?

HY: I think that the best films are made by people who have some kind of personal investment or interest in the subject. Yes, I am very close to the subject of Never Give Up! and that has made the process both easier and harder. Easier because I have access to wonderful materials that our family archivist, my aunt Yuka (Dad’s youngest sister) has saved—mostly photos but also documents. Harder because I idolized my dad in life, but that’s not an effective approach to portraying a complex human being.

JANM: If your father were alive today, what would his take be on the Trump administration and its policies?

HY: I think he would be appalled by the thinly veiled racism and bigotry inherent in many current initiatives such as the Muslim ban and the wall between Mexico and the United States, as well as anti-democratic efforts like supporting charter schools, taking away Medicare from thousands of people, and putting the fox in charge of the henhouse on environmental and civil rights enforcement. I have no doubt that he would vociferously oppose any and all policies rooted in discrimination based on race, religion, and/or national origin. I remember in the 1970s and ’80s, when the Iran hostage crisis sparked xenophobia and hate crimes against Iranian students, legal residents, and persons who “looked like” Iranians, he spoke out and unequivocally condemned such attitudes and actions.

JANM: What kind of advice do you think your father would give to young activists today?

HY: Never give up! Keep on fighting, stand up and speak out! Work for the common good, help to make the world a better place in whatever way you can, according to your own convictions and passions and life experiences.

Never Give Up! Minoru Yasui and the Fight for Justice will be screened at JANM at 2 p.m. this Saturday, July 29. JANM members can also attend an exclusive pre-event meet-and-greet with Holly at 1 p.m.

JANM Continues Educational Programming on Civil Rights

Like many individuals and organizations across the nation, JANM has been stepping up its efforts to raise public awareness and provide support in the wake of recent public policy initiatives that pose potential threats to immigrant communities.

 

 

The museum’s first “Teach-In” took place on December 8, 2016. We invited three speakers to share their perspectives. JANM volunteer Mas Yamashita spoke about being incarcerated as a child during World War II in Topaz, Utah; Betty Hung of Asian Americans Advancing Justice–Los Angeles provided an overview of the political climate; and Mary Hendra of Facing History and Ourselves shared ideas for encouraging dialogue between students and teachers. What emerged was a shared understanding that teachers, school administrators, and community organizations like JANM must combine our efforts to ensure that our students feel safe.

You can watch a video of the entire presentation above. The speakers also provided downloadable handouts:

Post-Election DACA and Know Your Rights

An Open Letter to California’s Educational Leaders

Post-Election Support for Difficult Conversations

Following the Teach-In, members of JANM’s Board of Trustees, Board of Governors, and Education Department traveled to the White House to participate in “Generational Experiences of Asian Americans,” a program that examined the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II as well as contemporary challenges facing the Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) and Muslim, Arab, Sikh, and South Asian (MASSA) communities today. Discussions of fears and obstacles evolved into coalition building, action, responsibility, and education.

Photo by Lynn Yamasaki, JANM School Programs Developer

JANM representatives who attended were inspired by high school and college students from around the country who are working hard to make an impact in their communities. Although fears persist, these young leaders made them feel grateful to educators who are encouraging young people to learn from the past and stand up against hatred and discrimination. A video of the event is available here.

At the end of March, JANM will be hosting a special two-day teacher workshop in conjunction with our current exhibition, Instructions to All Persons: Reflections on Executive Order 9066. Supported by a grant from The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, this workshop will bring scholars, experts, and first-person voices together in an effort to gain a better understanding of how the current political climate impacts educators and students, and to create lesson plans to facilitate self-guided student visits. This event is currently at capacity, but interested educators may be added to the waiting list at this link.

Stay tuned for more news on JANM’s ongoing educational programs. To subscribe to our quarterly Educator’s E-Newsletter, click here.

Celebrate Civil Rights Activist Minoru Yasui’s 100th Birthday

Minoru Yasui
Minoru Yasui

This Saturday, April 30 at 2 p.m., JANM will present a special event titled Civil Rights Today: The Legacy of Minoru Yasui. Featuring a variety of speakers as well as an excerpt from the documentary film Never Give Up! Minoru Yasui and the Fight for Justice, the event commemorates what would have been the renowned civil rights activist’s 100th birthday, as well as the 74th anniversary of his voluntary arrest in protest against Executive Order 9066. The event is currently sold out. If you were not able to get a ticket, you can still celebrate his birthday by reflecting on his life and work.

Minoru “Min” Yasui was a young Nisei attorney in Oregon during World War II when he violated the military curfew imposed upon all persons of Japanese ancestry in order to bring a test case to court. He lost that case in the US Supreme Court, but nearly 40 years later he reopened it as part of the coram nobis litigation brought by young Sansei attorneys in 1983. Yasui’s criminal conviction was overturned by the federal court in 1986, and two years later, Congress finally acknowledged the government’s mistake with the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Recognized posthumously by President Obama with a Presidential Medal of Freedom, Yasui was not only a key player in two different eras of struggle, but also an outspoken, deeply committed activist all his life, working tirelessly for the human and civil rights of all people.

Yasui’s life and activism are well documented. You can read his full biography in the Densho Encyclopedia. Visit the Minoru Yasui Tribute Project to learn more about the upcoming tribute event and various related activities. On JANM’s Discover Nikkei website, there are a number of first-person essays about Yasui, including a remembrance by his daughter Holly Yasui, an account of the making of the documentary film, and a reflection on Yasui’s legacy by Gil Asakawa. Finally, at the JANM Store, you can pick up a copy of the book The Japanese American Cases: The Rule of Law in Time of War, which tells the story of four brave Nisei who stood up to challenge the legality of Japanese American incarceration—Yasui, Gordon Hirabayashi, Fred Korematsu, and Mitsuye Endo.

Fred #KorematsuDay 2014

IMG_6784
Karen Korematsu (right) visited JANM and worked with a group from a local high school. Photo by Richard M. Murakami.

 

January 30 is the birthday of the late Fred Korematsu and it is also Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and Social Justice!

Over the past few years, we have had a chance to get to know his daughter, Karen Korematsu, who has taken on the role of Co-Founder and now Executive Director of the Korematsu Institute, whose mission is to advance pan-ethnic civil and human rights through education.

Karen is joining with others to spread the word about her father’s story. As a young man, Mr. Korematsu purposely disobeyed the government’s 1942 order that excluded all people of Japanese ancestry, without due process, from the West Coast. He was arrested and eventually removed to a Japanese American concentration camp in Utah. He appealed his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but in 1944 the Court ruled against him, declaring that the exclusion and confinement of people of Japanese descent was justified. It wasn’t until 1983 that his conviction was finally overturned. (Here is a link to his full bio.)

For teachers who are planning to commemorate Mr. Korematsu’s stand for civil liberties, we’ve put together a few links to FREE resources that we hope might be helpful to you:

• A neat opportunity for teachers to hear Karen Korematsu speak as part of UC Berkeley’s “Movement, Militarization, and Mobilization: The Bay Area Home Front in WWII” NEH Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshop—deadline to apply is 3/4/2014.

A link to order Korematsu Institute curriculum

• A series of short videos and powerpoint presentations commemorating Fred Korematsu, courtesy of the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

Lesson plan to conduct a Korematsu Mock Trial with high school students, courtesy of Mark Hansen, a fantastic Texas teacher.

Happy Fred Korematsu Day!

 

It’s a National Youth Summit webcast! Join us!

We are so excited about our upcoming participation in a National Youth Summit with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and 10 other Smithsonian Affiliate organizations across the country.

On February 5, 2014 students from around the country will participate in a live webcast originating from The Old Capitol Museum in Jackson, Mississippi. The program will reflect on the 1964 youth-led effort for voting rights and education known as Freedom Summer and will include a panel of activists, experts, and scholars.

Tamio Wakayama Photo: Tracy Kumono
Tamio Wakayama
Photo: Tracy Kumono

Following the webcast, JANM will have our own on-site program. Tamio Wakayama, a Nisei Japanese Canadian who joined the American Civil Rights Movement as a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), will share his experiences and the documentary photographs that he took from 1963 to 1964.

Now, here’s the great part: all youth and educators are invited to participate from their classrooms through the magic of the web! Teachers… this means you! Just take a look at this fantastic site for the program.

The Smithsonian has provided teaching resources and other tools for you and your students. You can pre-register and join in the conversation along with us and view the program streaming live from the Old Capitol Museum.

Register online now >>

 

Happy birthday, Fred Korematsu!

January 30 is Fred T. Korematsu’s birthday! He would have been 93 years old.

Gift of Tsuyako “Sox” Kitashima, Japanese American National Museum (98.152.1).

In 2010 Governor Schwarzenegger signed AB 1775, calling for all Californians to annually recognize January 30 as “Fred T. Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution.” This is the first and only “day” named for an Asian American anywhere in the nation.

This day commemorates a young man who disobeyed the government’s 1942 order that excluded all people of Japanese ancestry, without due process, from the West Coast. Korematsu was arrested and eventually removed to a Japanese American concentration camp in Utah. He appealed his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but in 1944 the Court ruled against him, declaring that the exclusion and confinement of people of Japanese descent was justified.

[He didn’t mention any of this to his daughter, Karen. She only found out about it in high school when her classmate was assigned to read a book about a man named Fred Korematsu. She thought, “That can’t be my father!”]

In 1983 and with the efforts of a very sharp, pro bono legal team, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction. Though relieved, it concerned Korematsu that the decision Korematsu v. United States remains on the books. He continued to vigilantly fight for the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, filing two amicus briefs following 9/11.

Korematsu Institute’s Fred Korematsu Day Logo

Fred Korematsu passed away in 2005, at age 86. Karen continues her father’s legacy. She co-founded the Korematsu Institute and goes to schools to share her father’s story with young people.

This is just a brief post about Fred Korematsu. There are many ways to learn more. The Los Angeles County Office of Education‘s video from a recent student program featuring Karen Korematsu will soon be available on-line. (See Christy’s re-cap of the program here.) JANM has a high school mock trial lesson plan created by Texas teacher, Mark Hansen. On February 2, Korematsu will become the first Asian American to have his portrait included in the Struggle for Justice exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery. And the Korematsu Institute is aggregating activities taking place around the nation to celebrate Korematsu Day 2012.

We hope that you, too, will celebrate the legacy of Fred Korematsu, a man who fought for our civil rights.

X-Lab Evokes Conscious Dialogue

I work in Visitor Services, so I open and close the galleries a few days each week. Lately, I’ve noticed that whenever I walk into X-Lab, something is always different–whether it’s the rifled-through laminated newspapers at the 1940s radio or new drawings on our “Only What You Can Carry” magnet board.

The following post-it activity is the one activity that has changed the most over time. You see–I’m all about conscious dialogue, so this activity in particular is one of my favorites. When the exhibition team put X-Lab together, they posed a question on our wall. In several weeks’ passing, the question became so hotly debated, it was as if our visitors themselves were evolving the activity. It reminds me of a some sort of crazy online comic book message board, except that it’s all about civil rights–not so much Batman vs. Superman.

Red post-its mean “NO”, yellow post-its mean “UNDECIDED”, and blue post-its mean “YES”. Our question was:

“Is it important to OBEY government rules in times of national crisis even if it means LOSS of privacy and civil rights?”

Some responses were:

YES, because… “in times of crisis, governments tend to react drastically, and I need to keep my family and I as safe as I possibly can.”

UNDECIDED, because… “in a time of emergency, you look to your government for help; however, privacy is highly important for anyone and so are a person’s rights as a human!”

NO, because… “if the rules go against the basic fundamentals of equality and freedom, then it goes against what it means to be a U.S. citizen.”

So how would YOU respond?

Xploration Lab

X-Lab Visitor Videos!

Our newest, most current exhibit, Xploration Lab, is a part-classroom, part-prototype “black box” exhibit. Visitors can participate and experiment with hands-on activities designed to engage audiences of all ages about the World War II Japanese American experience.

In laying the groundwork for X-Lab, our team of curators, education specialists, media arts producers and designers envisioned an exhibit that would uniquely grab the attention of visitors—spawning the development of several activities. Some of these activities include a vintage 1940s-era radio that you can tune to World War II broadcasts;  J.A. Express, which is a video montage encapsulating several decades of Japanese American pre-War history into 180 seconds; and an “only what you can carry” chamber, which emulates the urgency facing families who were forced to  pack their lives into a single suitcase in preparation for removal as President Roosevelt decreed in Executive Order 9066.

The exhibition team genuinely wanted to consider how our visitors would react to X-Lab. In order to capture these reactions, we installed a large touchscreen iMac–equipped with a webcam and a microphone. This was used to record visitor responses to our thought-provoking questions, such as:

“Imagine if the government suspected you of being disloyal, how would you respond?”

http://www.youtube.com/user/janmdotorg#p/c/BACC8700A9E554FE/0/wEwQmqlg6xk

View more Xlab visitor videos >>

Xploration LabXploration Lab
Through June 12, 2011
Japanese American National Museum

 

For anyone who’s been through X-Lab, what was your favorite activity?

 

50th Anniversary of the Freedom Rides

Panelists (L to R): Robert Singleton, Helen Singleton, Sybil Jordan Hampton (moderator), Tamio Wakayama
Student with his artwork inspired by the Freedom Rides

I often take for granted how easy it is to follow breaking news. To find out what happened during a raid on a compound in Pakistan, I can turn on a 24-hours news channel or click on a few links to get caught up.

But 50 years ago the medium of television was new. And 50 years ago today, the first buses of Freedom Riders (and three reporters) left Washington, D.C. and headed South to test Boynton v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that had desegregated interstate travel. What followed changed the course of the United States history.

The Freedom Rides have been on our minds a lot this year. On February 9, 2011 the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History organized a Web cast and National Youth Summit that brought together Freedom Riders in D.C. and engaged five Smithsonian Affiliates from across the nation to discuss the meaning of the Freedom Rides and the role of young people in shaping America’s past and future.

Student with Dr. Robert Singleton

JANM was honored to have been selected as the West Coast venue for this program and streamed the Webcast to a live audience of students from LAUSD’s Civitas School of Leadership and Ribet Academy. Following the Webcast, Dr. Robert and Mrs. Helen Singleton, two Los Angeles-based Freedom Riders, and Mr. Tamio Wakayama, a Japanese Canadian member of SNCC, were on a panel moderated by Dr. Sybil Jordan Hampton, a member of JANM’s Board of Trustees and herself an important figure in the Civil Rights Movement. We were star struck!!!

This has gotten us thinking about how the Freedom Rides impacted Japanese Americans, and especially how it may have emboldened those in the Redress Movement. What were the Issei, Nisei, and Sansei who watched these images broadcast on national television (just as that medium was becoming commonplace) thinking and feeling as they watched the buses burning, the cruel racism, and brave individuals standing up for what was right?

What would you have been thinking if you had been watching those Freedom Riders make their way South under the “protection” of Boynton v. Virginia?

P.S. To learn more about the Freedom Rides, tune into your PBS station on May 16 and also we highly recommend The Children by David Halberstam. Learn more about new generation of young people who are about to retrace the path of the Freedom Riders. And, maybe you can catch a glimpse of the Singletons when Oprah Winfrey reunites the Freedom Riders on May 4.

Photographer: Tracy Kumono