On Sun., Jan. 30, family, friends and fans of the late Fred Korematsu, filled UC Berekely’s 705-seat Wheeler auditorium. The sold-out program, which featured Rev. Jesse Jackson as the keynote speaker, was in honor of the first ever Fred T. Korematsu Day, a California holiday acknowledging one Japanese American’s continued fight for civil rights. Signed into law last September, the day harbors a mission of education: The events leading to the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II must never be repeated again for any group of Americans of any creed or of any culture.
It was an honor to cover the event (see article), and especially compelling as a UC Berkeley Asian American Studies grad. I learned about the Korematsu vs. the United States (1944) case my freshman year of college. It was during an introduction to Asian American studies class, a course that opened my eyes to a history I never knew I had.
Many more courses would follow, as I lapped up the art, theory, literature and struggles of the Asian American story, one that stretched back as early as the Western railroads and Hawaiian plantations and continued through the present with radical civil rights activists and immigration reform. I hadn’t known that Asian Americans could write novels, much less make history. And I felt, suddenly, like I could truly be whoever I wanted to be …
Four (and a half) years later, I sat in the same Wheeler auditorium with dozens of other Ethnic Studies program grads. We had caps and tassles on our heads and yellow Third World Liberation Front bands on our arms. We were then remembering another struggle, that of the the 1965 Civil Rights movement, and protesting the potential scaling back of the beloved programs those struggles had won. The message was similar: Remember the past. It will help you make a better future.
While my English department graduation was more grand in scale — with more than 400 students tossing beach balls as thousands of audience members looked down from the Greek Theatre’s seats above — my Asian American Studies graduation was far more personal. To me it represented both my identity as an Asian American/Korean Amerian/Hapa American and the new relationship I had with my country — one that was honest and inclusive and one that I felt I should fight for.
Here are some photos I snapped for the event, which I covered for the Nichi Bei Weekly.
A screenshot of Fred Korematsu as a young man. A screening "Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story," a documentary by Eric Paul Fournier, was shown after the ceremony.
Left to Right: Korematsu family members — son Ken Korematsu, daughter Karen Korematsu and wife Kathryn Korematsu — join hands with Rev. Jesse Jackson, California assembly member Warren Furutani, Korematsu Institute Director Ling Liu and news anchor Sydnie Kohara on on stage at UC Berkeley's Wheeler auditorium.
Emcee Sydnie Kohara, an anchor for CBS 5 Eyewitness News, stands in front of a screenshot of Fred Korematsu who wearing the Medal of Freedom, presented to him by President Clinton. Kohara, a Louisiana native, said she did not learn about the Korematsu case until after college, when she moved to California.
Jesse Jackson stands in front of a slide of him with Fred Korematsu. Jackson said he would never forget meeting Korematsu, who he described as a modest man with “quiet, unflinching courage."
You can watch video clips of Mr. Korematsu and learn more about his history and legacy at Korematsu Institute’s Web site. Also, visit the Asian Law Caucus to learn more about current civil rights issues affecting Asian Americans, as well as Americans of all ethnicities.