The San Francisco Peace Pagoda, a gift from sister city Osaka, Japan in the heart of Nihonmachi or Japantown.
by Takuya Maeda
My honors thesis is on the 1988 legislation (Civil Liberties Act) that granted a formal apology and reparations payments to all individuals who had been unjustly incarcerated in Japanese American internment camps during World War II. While both the internment and pursuit of reparations has been well-documented, there has been comparatively little written about the actual legislation. In particular, the portion of the legislation creating a public education fund to create greater awareness of the internment, called the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund (CLPEF) has been almost entirely overlooked in the literature. My thesis, and my archival research conducted with the SIRE Independent Grant is meant to fill this gap.
The CLPEF holds great significance because researchers have uncovered the ways in which the legislative process created a one-sided and biased depiction of Japanese American history. Conservative leaders of the Japanese American community and members of Congress erased the well-documented evidence of resistance and protest both during and after internment – and included only narratives consistent with the “model minority” position that Asian Americans have long occupied in American discourse. By making clear that reparations were being awarded to an exceptional group, Congress and the Reagan administration were sending an explicit message to other oppressed groups with claims for the rectification of injustice. While many in the movement for redress had seen their advocacy as part of a larger mobilization on behalf of all vulnerable communities, they had been cut out of the process once the legislation reached the capital. The design of the CLPEF, which called for the allocation of grants for Japanese American individuals and organizations to undertake public education initiatives (curriculum, monuments, books, movies, etc.), held great promise for the recovery of the voices of activists and organizers that had been excluded from the official legislative process.
With this hope, I traveled to San Francisco to meet with Dale Minami, the former Chair of the Board of the CLPEF and to peruse his personal papers from his tenure. Mr. Minami is a well-known attorney practicing in the San Francisco area and has been a tireless advocate for the protection of civil liberties and the Japanese American community. I was able to spend a week in the offices of his law firm, Minami Tamaki LLP, to go through his extensive personal correspondence, board meeting minutes, and other relevant documents to get a better sense of the operations of the CLPEF. To date, there is very little information available on the work of the CLPEF Board, despite the incredible responsibility that they were given.
During my time in San Francisco, I was most excited to find out from Mr. Minami that one of the priorities of the CLPEF Board had been to uncover and disseminate the stories that had been silenced in the legislative process. Furthermore, there were extensive email records and communications between Board members discussing how they might most effectively recover these narratives. These were exactly the documents I had been hoping to find. After a week of poring over the files and having extended conversations with Mr. Minami over lunch, I came away with the materials I needed to complete my thesis and new ideas that I hope to pursue in my future research.