HomeAsian AmericansRemembering the legacy of Minoru Yasui in Oregon

Remembering the legacy of Minoru Yasui in Oregon

Today is Minoru Yasui Day in Oregon. For Peggy Nagae, a Japanese American lawyer from Oregon, celebrating and remembering the legacy of Yasui is lifelong work. 

“Min ” Yasui made history in 1942, when he challenged his conviction for violating curfew laws that targeted Japanese Americans during World War II. According to Oregon Live, Yasui was a 26-year-old University of Oregon student at the time, he knew that the curfew law was unconstitutional, and decided to create a test case in court by strolling the streets late on a Saturday night.

The police spotted him but didn’t budge. Finally before midnight, Yasui went to the downtown police station, waving his birth certificate and turned himself in. As a result, Yasui’s citizenship was temporarily stripped, and he served nearly a year in solitary confinement at the Multnomah County Jail, reported Oregon Live. Even after he was freed from jail, he was held in incarceration camps until the end of World War II.

Yasui’s daughter, Holly Yasui, wrote in a 2014 article in Discover Nikkei calling her father a hero. “Min Yasui was, for better or worse, a public figure and he was not afraid to take a stand, even if it was not popular,” wrote H. Yasui.

According to Here is Oregon, in 1982, Yasui set out to reopen his case along with the cases of two other Japanese Americans, Gordon Hirabayashi and Fred Korematsu, who were also convicted for violating the exclusionary laws.

In the 1980s, Nagae, who had graduated from Lewis & Clark Law School only five years prior, received a call from Yasui.

“When Min Yasui called me up and said, ‘Could you put together a group of Asian lawyers in Portland to figure out if I can reopen my case?’ I did that,” Nagae told Here is Oregon, recalling the conversation from the early 1980s.

In 1986, the Oregon federal district court overturned Yasui’s previous convictions, showing that the curfew was racially motivated and not by military necessity. However, Nagae told Here is Oregon that she was disappointed because the courts refused to grant an evidentiary hearing, which would have been an educational opportunity for people to learn about Yasui’s legacy.

Nagae continued working on building Yasui’s legacy long after his death in 1986. In 2015, Oregon Live reported that President Barack Obama awarded Yasui a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2016, the Oregon Legislature enacted this day in honor of the legacy of Minoru Yasui.

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