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?
High School Winner: Zoe Yamamoto's Essay
The Civil Liberties Act: Standing Up for Equality
On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, forcing 120,000 Japanese-Americans on the West Coast into internment camps. 46 years and eight presidents later, Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, which issued $20,000 and a letter of apology to all former internees and was the first formal admission of fault by the government regarding the internment, making a meaningful impact on the Japanese-American community. The Civil Liberties Act continues to be relevant today, reminding America that the injustice of the Japanese internment should never be repeated, and that racial prejudice should never be tolerated.
During the incarceration, the Issei and Nisei suffered immeasurably. They were confused as to why the Japanese-Americans were forced into internment, and felt shameful because of it. My grandmother, Helen Sasaki, explained how hard it was for her father, stating that he “had to take care of not only his parents, but also his wife and three children, and later in life, he finally confessed to us how difficult a time it was for him.” Thus, the Civil Liberties Act had a significant emotional effect on those incarcerated, as it declares that the causes of the incarceration were a fear of the Japanese being “different” and racial bias. The act states that the government’s actions “were motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” For many Japanese-Americans, although the reparations were far less than what they had lost, an acknowledgement from the government that the internment camps had been wrong was still very important.
Today, the Civil Liberties Act continues to remind America that any exclusion of a group based on race or religion is never justified. Even so, racism and a fear of “different” people are still prevalent in this country, especially with the Middle-Eastern and Muslim communities. Their situation and that of the Japanese-Americans during World War II are frighteningly similar, especially with the proposed immigration ban on refugees from Middle-Eastern countries. As Zahra Billoo, a Muslim-American rights advocate states, “we had to dehumanize Japanese-Americans here. And similarly, to be at war in Muslim-majority countries, we dehumanize Muslim-Americans here.” Many people believe that something like the incarceration of the Japanese could happen again. Thus, the Civil Liberties Act is of great importance, because it unequivocally states that incarceration, due to discrimination by race or religion, is wrong. However, unlike the nationwide racial hatred that Japanese-Americans faced, there are currently many people standing up for minority groups. The Civil Liberties Act helps America understand the suffering and hardship that results from racism.
The Civil Liberties Act has made an impact in the past and the present, and will continue to in the future, not only for the Japanese-American community, but for all of America. It teaches that actions based on prejudice are unconstitutional and unjust and reminds us that people of any race or religion should be respected and treated fairly.
“Civil Liberties Act of 1988.” Roger Shimomura | Densho Encyclopedia,
“Executive Order 9066: The President Authorizes Japanese Relocation.” HISTORY
MATTERS - The U.S. Survey Course on the Web, historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5154.
Helen Sasaki. Pers Communication, 7 July 2018.
“H.R. 442 (100th): Civil Liberties Act of 1987.” GovTrack.us,
“Trump Travel Ban: What Does This Ruling Mean?” BBC News, BBC, 26 June 2018,
Zahra Billoo, Executive Director of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the Council on
American-Islamic Relations. Pers Communication, 14 April 2017.