Never Give Up! Minoru Yasui and the Fight for Justice
On November 16, President Obama announced the awarding of a Medal of Freedom to Minoru Yasui in recognition of his lifelong fight for justice, including his challenge of discriminatory orders resulting in the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans. Two days later Roanoke Virginia Mayor David Bowers invoked President Roosevelt’s policy of “sequestering Japanese” as justification for denying assistance to Syrian refugees in his part of the state.
Never Give Up! Minoru Yasui and the Fight for Justice is an upcoming film that captures Minoru Yasui’s lifelong defense of human and civil rights, written and co-directed by his daughter Holly Yasui.
Far from justifying exclusion, Bowers’ statement is perhaps the strongest argument we could make against discriminating against Syrians on the basis of national origin. The comparison is accurate, but the historical lesson the diametric opposite. The World War II exclusion of all persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast is now widely considered one of the darkest chapters of U.S. history - with an even darker footnote that at the same time, the United States closed its doors to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany.
One spring evening, 25-year-old Minoru Yasui closed up his law office and took a stroll along the streets of Portland. It was 1942.
Walking up to a police officer, he pulled out a copy of the military proclamation that set a curfew on “all enemy aliens”—those of Italian, German, and Japanese descent—along with his birth certificate proving his Japanese ancestry. He told the officer to arrest him.
When this didn’t work, Minoru Yasui went to the police station and argued with the sergeant until he was thrown in jail for the weekend. When he was released the following Monday, headlines implied that he was a Japanese spy.
This was the first step in bringing a legal case to court, challenging the constitutionality of the 1942 curfew and travel law against Japanese Americans. “As an American citizen, as a lawyer, I felt that we owed at least the obligation, as a citizen, to tell our government, they are wrong,” Minoru Yasui said later in an interview provided by James Lin from the University of California San Diego.
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