Contest Scope and Vision
The purpose of the contest was to create the opportunity for San Diego youth to learn about an important piece of national legislation from someone who was profoundly affected by it. In the definitive book, Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress, on the 10 year struggle of the Japanese American community to attain redress for their unjust incarceration during World War II which culminated in the passing of the Civil Liberties Act in 1988, Maki, Kitano and Berthold write:
Having waited over four decades to have their stories heard, the Issei and Nisei spoke in front of the commission frequently delivered impassioned testimony, often times accompanied by tears and painful emotions. The silence of forty years was broken as audience members applauded, jeered and booed, and expressed their anger.
The voices of the community reminded the commissioners, as well as the general U.S. public, that redress was about more than lofty principles, historical revision, and constitutional issues. Redress was about real people who had endured real suffering. Redress was a human issue.
Incorporating some of the insights you gained from the interview, discuss the importance of the passing of the Civil Liberties Act. How is the passing of this piece of legislation which is so intensely personal and meaningful to the Japanese American community—a small minority group constituting less than one percent of the U.S. population—still relevant and compelling for all Americans today?
College Winner: Maya McHale's Essay
JACL Essay Contest: Fighting For Redress
Decades after thousands of Japanese Americans were forced out of their homes into internment camps by Executive Order 9066, those same Japanese Americans began calling for reparations for their unjust treatment by the United States government. Through the perseverance of Japanese American activists, came the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which provided an official apology and reparations to Japanese Americans interned during World War II. Thirty years after
the passing of the Act, it still remains relevant to Americans today.
The passing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 would not have been possible without the Japanese Americans who turned their outrage into action and demanded that their voices be heard. The Japanese American community is historically known to be on the quieter side due to Japanese values. Freddie Hatashita, who was a young boy when he was interned, recalls the importance of “gaman”, a Japanese term that means to tolerate suffering, during internment. While “gaman” is what helped many Japanese Americans endure their treatment during the war, “gaman” would have also prevented them from obtaining redress. Eventually, some Japanese Americans were able to speak up and fight for their community years after they had been alienated and targeted by their own country. If it had not been for organizations such as the Japanese American Citizens League, as well as the political activism that emerged within the Japanese American community, the internment of Japanese Americans could have been just another violation of Americans’ rights that was swept under the rug. While no amount of reparations may ever make up for the violation of human rights, fighting for redress sends the message that no community will tolerate that kind of treatment without fighting back at some point.
When the Act was signed, it cited “war hysteria” as a cause for the decision to incarcerate thousands of Japanese Americans. In times of uncertainty or fear, a community in America often
becomes the scapegoat, becoming the target for actions and policies fueled by said fear. This Act, along with the experience of Japanese Americans reminds us as to what a nation becomes when their immediate reaction to “outsiders” is to fear and hate, rather than to accept. With the emergence of issues that affect minorities today such as the recent separation and incarceration of families at the United States-Mexico border, it is important for people to once again stand up for communities that are becoming the target of fear. Japanese Americans who fought for redress proved the importance of minorities in America making their voices heard by the government and fighting for their rights, even if it may seem like it is too late.
On its thirtieth anniversary of it being passed, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 serves as an important reminder to minority communities that rather than doing “gaman”, they should never stop fighting for the equal treatment and rights of not only their own community, but others as well.
Daniels, Roger., et al. Japanese Americans: from Relocation to Redress. 2nd ed., 1991.
Daniels, Roger. “Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and the Passage of the Civil Liberties
Act of 1988. (Book Review).” The Journal of American History, vol. 81, no. 4, 1995, pp.
Robinson, Greg. By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans.
Harvard University Press, 2001.