By Taylor Ishida
Grant High School
(Note from the Editor: The following article represents the thoughts of a high school senior who participated in the first Minoru Yasui Day March for Justice yesterday in Portland, Oregon.)
On March 27, 2016, I arrived at the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center at 12:00 p.m., just as I do every Sunday. The task at hand that day was to put together and design a few dozen signs. Two other volunteers, James Rodgers and Ashley Fejeran; Director of Collections and Exhibits at the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, Todd Mayberry; and I were pasting photos of a young man onto the posters, along with the date “March 28.” We also adorned the signs with slogans such as “Justice for All,” or “What harms any of us harms all of us.”
The signs were for a march that would take place the next day, commemorating the historic walk Minoru Yasui took in 1942, intentionally violating the curfew against people of Japanese descent, implemented by way of Executive Order 9066. Min’s legacy, one of bravery and sacrifice, was what we wanted to honor and celebrate on this day, now dubbed Minoru Yasui Day, after the unanimous passage of the bill by the Oregon Senate and House.
The march began at the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, a Japanese American museum located in downtown Portland. As I drove up to the museum, which is typically quiet and peaceful, it was nearly unrecognizable. The sidewalk in front, and even inside was crowded and buzzing with people eager to catch a glimpse of Minoru Yasui’s Presidential Medal of Freedom, which was temporarily on display in the museum, and to take part in retracing the historic walk he took 74 years ago.
Just as feet began to shuffle to begin the six-block trek I crossed the street to take a view of the entire group present. Old, young, White, Asian, Black, etc. Nearly every corner of our society was being represented at this event. Three young girls wearing matching orange t-shirts were thrusting the signs we had made the day before in the air, chanting “Min! Min! Min!” Someone else carried a rainbow flag. Others held the hands of their friends or family members. As we marched, curious bystanders stopped to watch us as we passed by Portland landmarks such as Voodoo Donuts.
The walk ended at the historic site of the former Portland Police Headquarters where Min had turned himself in to be arrested during World War II. As we were all filing into the entryway I heard yelling. At first I had no idea what it was, as I was standing nearly outside of the building — the room was filled from wall to wall. But then I recognized the words. It was a reenactment of when Min approached a police officer, requesting that he be arrested immediately. I couldn’t see a thing, but the vocal power and projection of the performers sent chills down my spine, and I could clearly picture Min’s act of bravery playing in my mind.
The reenactment was followed by speeches given by Oregon Nikkei Endowment Executive Director Lynn Fuchigami Longfellow, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, ACLU staff member Kimberly McCullough, Oregon’s Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, and State Representatives Brian Clem and Mark Johnson. The last to speak, was Min’s daughter, Holly Yasui. Her voice was humble and soft, but she was assertive about the importance of learning from the abuses in the past.
Holly’s message is one that I have been focused on for most of this year since I joined my high school’s Constitution Team, a program through which we prepare for the National Competition of “We the People.” We also take part in simulated Congressional hearings and become experts on various topics, including times in which the Constitution has been violated in “moments of passion or delusion.” My involvement with Constitution Team and volunteering at the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center has implemented an extreme level of passion and curiosity in me towards combating injustices and racial prejudices and in ensuring that we educate ourselves and our peers of what we can learn from the past.
As it is now, everyone desires the same thing: equal opportunities for themselves, whether that be in school, in finding a job, or in protection under the law. But what we need to realize is that none of us can truly have equal opportunities if even one of us doesn’t. This is why events such as the Minoru Yasui March for Justice are so important. They provide an opportunity for us to break free of our comfortable, homogenous bubble and to immerse ourselves in the world of another. This is how we can learn to accept other people’s cultures, their opinions, their beliefs, and the hardships they have endured. With that, we develop empathy and motivation to protect the rights of all.
This walk that took place on March 28, 2016, gives me hope for the progress that has been and can be made towards eradicating injustices. However, that is not to say that we are even close to being a country of equality. The hateful rhetoric that is now primarily directed towards Muslim and Mexican immigrants is disturbingly similar to the sentiment once used to initiate the internment of the Japanese and the oppression of other minority groups in the United States, and is proof of the necessity for reform and reminders.
Minoru Yasui, as many have remarked, is a role model. His acts of bravery 74 years ago are evidence of the influence that the actions of one person can have. But his work is not done, and can only be fulfilled by everyday citizens, just like himself, speaking out to protect not only our own individual rights, but the rights of everyone else. As Min said himself, “if we see something unjust, it is our duty to correct it.”
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