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Celebration of a civil rights hero

Fred Korematsu Day Of Civil Liberties celebrated at Humboldt State

January 30 marked the 100th birthday of civil rights hero Fred Korematsu. Students, alumni, faculty and community members filled the fishbowl of the library at Humboldt State University to celebrate the national civil rights hero who refused to go to the government’s incarceration camps for Japanese Americans. Kumi Watanabe-Schock, HSU’s library media coordinator, coordinated the event and said it started because Karen Korematsu, Fred Korematsu’s daughter, visited HSU in 2012.

“This is an annual event and the fifth time we’ve done it,” Watanabe-Schock said. “We usually get a huge turn out and a lot of the Japanese community members attend too.”

Watanabe-Schock credits the films they show and the facilitators they have for such a big crowd. This year criminology and justice studies professor, Michihiro Clark Sugata, and critical race, gender and sexuality studies professor, Christina Accomando, hosted the event. The film shown was “Resistance At Tule Lake,” a first hand account of survivors who were incarcerated at the largest and longest active concentration camp in northern California.

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Day of Civil Liberties Event in the fishbowl on Jan. 30. | Photo by Tony Wallin

“It was very refreshing to watch a documentary that was told by first hand accounts of people who were in the camps,” Michel-Ange Siaba, criminology and justice studies sophomore, said. “[Michihiro] Clark made a strong point in my class that the movie showing had something new to bring. I wanted to learn something new and I did.

Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties is celebrated because he defied the order of Executive Order 9066, which authorized the U.S. military to remove over 120,000 people of Japanese descent, the majority of whom were American citizens, from their homes and forced them into American prison camps throughout the United States. Korematsu was ultimately arrested and convicted, but appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1944 the Supreme Court ruled against him, stating it was legal to imprison Japanese-Americans for military necessity. It wasn’t until 1983 that Korematsu’s conviction was overturned in federal court in San Francisco.

“This is a clear example of how the government’s backward tactics were used to badly treat the Japanese,” Siaba said. “It’s very sad, but it’s an eye opener. That is my biggest take away from today.”

Franco Imperial was a special guest at the event promoting San Jose Taiko’s symposium show coming to Humboldt County next year. Imperial has been with San Jose Taiko since 1998 and has played alongside survivors of concentration camps. Imperial was invited by Amy Uyeki, a visual artist in Arcata and contributor to the documentary “Searchlight Serenade.”

“In Humboldt County there is interest (in Taiko) and an audience that’s curious and younger,” Imperial said. “It’s up to our generation to carry on the story and to do it in conjunction with Humboldt and the community is exciting and important.”

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Franco Imperial, drummer for San Jose Taiko, was a special guest at Fred Korematsu Day Of Civil Liberties promoting San Jose Taiko Symposium coming to Humboldt County in 2020. | Photo by Tony Wallin

San Jose Taiko is a performance art company that Imperial said toured through Humboldt in the early ‘90s but the symposium show will be the first one outside of San Jose. Imperial said the show coming next year will be a living story and involve the entire audience.

“Next year will be an immersive theatre experience,” Imperial said. “The audience isn’t passively sitting in their seats, they are in the middle of the action and drama and music and dance. They are surrounded by it all, a totally different experience. It’s for the audience to connect with something deeper.”

Watanabe-Schock said this year was especially exciting because they had Imperial as a guest.

“Because (Amy) Uyeki is both connected to the event every year and with Imperial we can talk about Taiko and Japanese internment camps together,” Watanabe-Schock said. “The Japanese community will be getting together to talk about the Taiko project.”

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