Oakland honors Fred T. Korematsu

Louis LaVenture,

If Google features you on their internet page logo, you must be a big deal.

The internet search engine company did just that on Monday when it honored Japanese Civil Rights activist Fred T. Korematsu on the day dedicated to him, Jan. 30.

The city of Oakland took things a step further on Sunday when the iconic Paramount Theater on Broadway in downtown hosted the seventh annual Fred T. Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties that honors Korematsu, who fought for the civil rights of Japanese people who were detained, following a presidential executive order after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.

According to the Fred T. Korematsu Institute, the order, signed by then President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Feb. 19, 1942, authorized specific areas as military zones to detain and deport Japanese, German and Italian Americans to internment camps. Korematsu refused to go to a camp, was arrested and in 1944 ruled against by the Supreme Court. According to Supreme Court records, it wasn’t until 1982 when hidden documents were discovered and his case was eventually reopened and overturned on Nov. 10, 1983.

The event was hosted by Los Angeles ABC affiliate news anchor David Ono and featured a slew of performers and speakers. The theme of this year’s celebration was “Mass Incarceration Across Communities: What’s next?” with the official program titles “Stand Up for What is Right.”

Jan. 30 became the first statewide day in America to be named after an Asian American when former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared it Fred T. Korematsu Day in 2010.

Ethan Mitchell Garcia, an eighth grader from Fred T. Korematsu Middle School in El Cerrito won an essay contest-based on the prompt, “how standing up for what is right has influenced his life and what it means in regards to current events today.”

“We all can try and achieve the American dream,” Garcia said. “Based on the content of one’s self, not their nationality, religious beliefs, race or the color of one’s skin.”

The sixth-year Oakland-based organization “Young, Gifted and Black,” comprised of students from elementary to high school in 31 schools throughout the Bay Area, performed a powerful spoken word with a message heavily influenced by the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

Ono led the panel with the President and Executive Director of Muslim Advocates, Farhana Khera and teacher and former prison inmate Timothy Long. San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi presented his short eight-minute film titled “Racial Facial” a composition of powerful images and video from throughout America’s history from Native Americans and slaves to our new President Donald J. Trump.

San Francisco based rapper Equipto performed a few songs with messages about people taking back the power. Equipto gained some national notoriety last year as part of the “Frisco 5” a group of five people who went on a hunger strike to protest police violence and abuse.

“Power to the workers, power to the working class,” Equipto rapped.

The most powerful words of the day came from Japanese-American writer and actor Hiroshi Kashiwagi. From 1942 to March 1946 Kashiwagi was detained at Tule Lake Segregation Center in Newell until it was closed down. The Sacramento-born and Loomis-raised Kashiwagi stressed the importance of not being afraid to speak up, a phrase made famous by Korematsu.

“When Fred Korematsu defied the order, he proved that the dissent is a patriotic act preserved by constitutional rights,” Kashiwagi said. “We can’t be afraid to speak up, Fred Korematsu taught us that.”