June 19, 2021 - the first official Juneteenth federal holiday and reparations
Minoru Yasui testifying at the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC)
in Washington D.C. in July of 1981.
Open Letter to the Congress of the United States of America,
I am writing to support HR-40, establishing a Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans.
I am a third-generation Japanese American. My grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles were all imprisoned in so-called Relocation camps in the U.S. during World War II. My father, Minoru Yasui, was the first American of Japanese ancestry to challenge that policy, and in addition to incarceration in family detention centers from 1942-1944, he spent nine months in solitary confinement in in Portland, Oregon, awaiting the appeal of his legal case to the U.S. Supreme Court (which he lost).
In the 1980s, Minoru Yasui was Chair of the National Redress Committee of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL). He believed it was of utmost importance for our government to acknowledge the massive violation of human and civil rights represented by the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and to redress those wrongs.
The injustices perpetrated against African Americans have been far more severe – to the point of mutilation and death; longer-standing, since the first slaves were brought to America in the 17th century; affecting more people and more deeply ingrained in our social and political systems, in the form of racial profiling that has resulted in not only in disproportionate incarceration, arrest, harassment but also fundamental inequities in all aspects of life - income, housing, education, health, etc.
The Japanese American redress commission, called the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC), was essential to the forging a broadly supported agreement about the discrimination and damages suffered by Japanese Americans. Of course, there were those who disagreed with the findings and recommendations of the CWRIC – and even its very existence – but in the long run, the vast majority of Americans, not just Japanese Americans, benefitted from the opportunity to learn about one of the darkest chapters of our country’s recent history and how a democracy can rectify wrongs perpetrated against its own people, transforming injustice into justice through reparations, for which it is never too late.
The 96th Congress created the CWRIC in 1980, almost four decades after the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans, and now the 117th Congress has the opportunity, no, the responsibility, after more than four centuries after the introduction of slavery to America to take the lead in creating a forum to come to terms with a multitude of dark chapters in our country’s history.
Today, HR-40 Commission can count on the talent and commitment of an impressive number of academics, writers and media professionals who can bring a wide spectrum of perspectives to clarify and focus the issues at hand. That, in itself, would be a great accomplishment. But in my opinion, the greatest value of the Japanese American CWRIC hearings was that they convoked not only the most qualified experts to share their knowledge and compile a definitive historical report, but also gave voice to everyday people whose testimonies deepened and humanized our understanding so that they and our nation could at last begin to heal from the traumas represented by the unjust removal and detention of Japanese Americans during World War II.
Today, a fact-finding commission, authorized and appropriately funded by HR-40, can accomplish the much-needed work of bringing together top-notch research and analysis with the lived experience of millions of African Americans still affected by the consequences of grave injustices, sanctioned if not actually promulgated by government actions or inactions.
It is important to remember that HR40 is only the first step in the process of considering African American reparations, which is not about a “handout” – through it is about money. It is about acknowledging that slavery was an institution upon which of the wealth of our country was built, and that fundamental assumptions of white supremacy and privilege continue to be manifest over the decades since it was officially abolished, during the Reconstruction period; through the era of Jim Crow; the violent repression of the civil rights movement: racial profiling; mass incarceration and police brutality.
The passage of HR-40 would be a fitting response by the government to the celebration of our now official Juneteenth federal holiday and the Black Lives Matter movement, which is supported by the majority of American people. The popular support among whites as well as people of color indicates that the United States is ready for – yearning for a national reckoning with our history of racism and the remedies necessary to heal, not only the individuals who have been affected but also our society as a whole.
I hope that the U.S. Congress will act boldly in the face of great controversy and forces that would destroy the fundamental underpinnings of our democracy. You refused to be cowed by anti-government, white supremacist forces that invaded the U.S Capitol on January 6, 2021. Though some of you now minimize it, in the heat of the moment, most of you exhibited courage and determination to fulfill your sworn oath to the U.S. Constitution, returning that day to your chambers to certify the electoral college votes. I hope that you will likewise consider, debate and pass HR-40 as an act of moral integrity in keeping with the faith that the majority of people in the United States have in you.
As Minoru Yasui said, regarding redress: “From the standpoint of history, I hope that people will realize that when you suppress or oppress any group of people, you are really derogating the rights of all people... If there is suffering or pain that is unfairly imposed upon anyone, it's my duty, it’s your duty to try to alleviate it because that's the way in which we gain a better life for all of us.”