2018-02-07 / Features

Celebrating First Annual Fred Korematsu Day


(L. to r.): Council Member Daniel Dromm, Fred T. Korematsu Institute Executive Director Karen Korematsu, and Council Members Margaret Chin and Peter Koo celebrate the first New York City Fred T. Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution on the steps of City Hall. (L. to r.): Council Member Daniel Dromm, Fred T. Korematsu Institute Executive Director Karen Korematsu, and Council Members Margaret Chin and Peter Koo celebrate the first New York City Fred T. Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution on the steps of City Hall. Korematsu Day honors the life of the late Japanese American activist, Fred Korematsu, who fought against “the xenophobic actions” of the US government during World War II, explained NYC Council Member Daniel Dromm.

To celebrate the first annual New York City Fred Korematsu Day Of Civil Liberties and the Constitution, Council Member Dromm and Fred T. Korematsu Institute Executive Director Karen Korematsu gathered on the steps of City Hall on January 30 with Council Members Margaret Chin and Peter Koo, New York Day of Remembrance Committee co-Chair Michael Ishii, Japanese American Citizens League New York Chapter co-President George Hirose, longtime activist Suki Terada Ports, Coalition for Asian American Children and Families Director of Programs Mitchel Wu, Bridging Cultures Group founder and CEO Debbie Almontaser, and Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY) Legal Director Albert Cahn.

In 2015, Council Member Dromm (D-Elmhurst, Jackson Heights), who represents one of the most diverse districts in NYC, introduced Resolution 792 to recognize January 30 as Fred T. Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution in honor of the late civil rights activist who objected to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The effort received widespread support from many individuals and organizations. After being voted out of the Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations committee, the City Council unanimously passed Resolution 792 on December 19, 2017.

During World War II, Fred Korematsu refused to comply with Civilian Exclusion Order 34, based on the federal Executive Order 9066, which imposed strict curfew regulations and resulted in the forcible removal of 120,000 Japanese Americans from their communities to be incarcerated indefinitely in American concentration camps. He was arrested and convicted, but fought back because he believed the conviction went against the basic freedoms guaranteed to him by the US Constitution, Dromm said.

“Korematsu and a handful of his fellow patriots stood up, not just for themselves, but for the preservation of our Constitution during the racist and xenophobic hysteria that was unfortunately part of our country’s response to the war. At that time, overwhelming fear stoked by the United States government allowed the darkest elements of our society to have free rein. The rule of law and respect for basic human rights became unfortunate casualties in the rush to demonize, segregate, and then persecute Japanese Americans. While fighting fascism overseas, our government uprooted families here, ruined livelihoods, and tore communities apart. Only decades later did the United States recognize the grave injustice perpetrated against its own people,” noted Dromm, adding, “In these times of Muslim bans, attacks on immigrants and refugees, and neo-Nazi rallies encouraged by the Trump administration’s hateful rhetoric, it has become increasingly important to reiterate the lessons of history. Fred Korematsu’s courage to take a stand against injustice is an inspiration to us all. By co-founding Korematsu Day in NYC, I hope to educate our youth on Korematsu and all that he did to make our nation a better place.”

Karen Korematsu said, “My profound thanks to Councilman Dromm and the New York City Council for establishing Fred Korematsu Day Of Civil Liberties and the Constitution on January 30, in perpetuity for New York City. And, as my father said, for ‘standing up for what is right.’”

“Fred Korematsu was a visionary who always tried to stand up for what was right. His activism and commitment to advancing civil rights were crucial to starting important conversations about race, inclusion, and the history of Asian Americans in our country, imparting deep wisdom that we continue to carry with us,” said Council Speaker Johnson. “This year, on what would be his 99th birthday, we establish January 30 as Fred T. Korematsu Day in order to honor his dream of a more equal and just society.”

“The modern world has become increasingly diverse so that people of different races, colors, and creeds cross paths more frequently than ever before,” said Council Member Koo (D-Flushing). We must always remember our country’s multiculturalism and remain vigilant against veiled attempts to marginalize, segregate, and to pit one group against another…We are also reminded that although times have changed, we still have a long way to go before America can truly become the beacon of ‘liberty and justice for all’ that it strives to be.”

“We call on citizens and communities across our great country to champion the ideals of Fred Korematsu,” said Michael Ishii. “Today, we stand with every neighbor and fellow human being targeted in a national resurgence of bigotry and trampling of civil liberties. Know that Japanese Americans are standing with you. In the words of our community, ‘Never Again’ to registries, forced removal and imprisonment or the dismantling of civil liberties based on race, identity, immigration status or creed.”

“Japanese Americans are the only group in the United States to have been mass-incarcerated and we are painfully aware that racial profiling and bigotry can only result in the destruction of many innocent lives,” said George Hirose. “It is our moral duty to tell our story so that society and our government should not forget, and not repeat the grave mistakes of the past.”

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