Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Lorraine Bannai Interview
Narrator: Lorraine Bannai
Interviewers: Margaret Chon (primary), Alice Ito (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: March 23 & 24, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-blorraine-01

<Begin Segment 1>

AI: Today is March 23, 2000. I'm Alice Ito, conducting an interview for the Densho Archive with Lorraine Bannai, and my co-interviewer is Margaret Chon. And Lori, we're just going to begin at the beginning here, and I'd like to ask you what was your name at birth?

LB: Lorraine K. Bannai. My middle initial is just K.

AI: And where were you born?

LB: Gardena, California -- actually, I was born in a hospital in Los Angeles, but my family's home was in Gardena.

AI: And your date of birth?

LB: February 19th, 1955.

AI: Well, from here I'd like to ask you a little bit about your family, just a description of your family, your mother and father, and maybe if you could start out with the names of your mother and father?

LB: My father is Paul T. Bannai. My mother is Hideko Bannai. She was formerly Hideko Matsuno.

AI: Then can you tell us a little bit about them, where they were born, where they grew up?

LB: My father was born, I think in Delta, Colorado. His parents had emigrated from Japan, and his father, my paternal grandfather, was engaged in coal mining and onion farming and all kinds of more manual labor-type of work. And my father was the eldest son. They ultimately had five children. And eventually my bachan and grandpa moved the family to around (the) Utah, Colorado area, looking for work, and then ultimately moved to Los Angeles in the Boyle Heights area, where the family lived up until the time of the internment.

My mother lived in Glendale, California. Her mother had emigrated from Japan around the early 1910s or so, and moved to Tacoma with her first husband, and he passed away and she remarried. And her second husband passed away. They ended up in Los Angeles, and my grandmother raised four girls as a single mother during the prewar period in Glendale. My mother was in Glendale up until the time of the internment, when she was in high school.

AI: And where were your parents interned?

LB: Both of them were -- both families were interned at Manzanar in the Mojave Desert, California.

AI: Had they known each other before going to camp, or how did they meet?

LB: My father actually went into camp with his family, and soon left to do sugar beet farming, as a lot of the young men were able to leave camp to do manual labor outside of the camp, and then from there he went to try to go to the Midwest to enter college. From there, he went into the 442nd and eventually into military intelligence. My mother, as I said, went into high school in camp. She went to Manzanar High School. And my father, when he came back from the service on leave to visit his family, would come back to Manzanar to visit. And I think, as I recall, my father saw my mother at a dance or something and had his kid sister introduce them during the dance, and then they started corresponding.

AI: Oh, I see. And then do you know when they got married or -- and the circumstances around their wedding?

LB: Like a lot of young people in camp, within a year or two after entering camp, they were allowed to go to the interior United States to find work. And my mother moved to Chicago along with her siblings, and most of my father's siblings moved to Chicago to find work. And they continued to correspond. And he came back to visit her in Chicago, and ultimately they got married there in Chicago. Thing that really stands out in my mind though, is because their families were still in camp, they got married and had their siblings there at the wedding ceremony, but unfortunately, their parents couldn't be there because they were back in camp in Manzanar.

AI: Gosh. Do you happen to recall about how old you were when you, when you heard that story, when you found out that story about their wedding and the circumstances?

LB: Well, I think I have to kind of qualify this because I don't know for certain that they weren't there. It's just my guess that they probably weren't there because I know that my grandparents on both sides and the youngest children remained in camp until camp closed or the very end of the internment. And I don't recall ever hearing that they ever visited Chicago or were ever in Chicago. So I suppose putting all that together tells me that they weren't there. No, I can't ever recall hearing any stories about the wedding. I think I just kind of put it all together myself.

AI: Right. Put two and two together.

LB: Uh-huh.

AI: Well, so then what happened? They were -- your parents were there in Chicago.

LB: Uh-huh.

AI: What happened to them next, and how did they eventually come back to California?

LB: My father stayed in the service. I'm not sure, but I think he extended his tour of duty or whatever they call it, and decided to come up to Fort Lewis up here in, south of Tacoma. So they came back here at some point in time, and my father was stationed at Fort Lewis and my mom was with him. They stayed here for a little while, and then ultimately ended up going back to Los Angeles where their families had moved to when they left camp. So after the war, the entire family on both sides eventually ended up back in the Los Angeles area again. (They moved) to Los Angeles, probably for a little while, then ultimately my father bought a home in Gardena, California, which is where I was born.

AI: And what was your dad's occupation at that time, after moving to Gardena and you were born and growing up?

LB: My earliest recollection is that he started out in the flower market. And I think (it) was probably about the time I was born, he was still at the flower market waking up really, really, really early in the morning and going off to work in the flower market, and, and then coming back, probably midday or something like that. After that, he went into the real estate business, joined an existing real estate office, (a) Japanese American real estate office, Kamiya Mamiya Real Estate, I remember. And from there, decided, I guess, ultimately to go out on his own and start his own real estate business, Bannai Realty. And he was in real estate pretty much thereafter. My mom was a stay-at-home mom pretty much. She worked part time, different jobs, while I was growing up. Sometimes she was at home, sometimes she went out and worked for a while, but mainly she kind of kept the household together.

AI: Well, now you had two siblings, too, so could you tell me about them, their names and when they were born?

LB: My sister is Kathryn Bannai. She's the eldest. She was born in 1950, so she's five years older than me. She is now living in Vancouver, B.C.

AI: And your brother?

LB: My brother is Don Bannai. He was born a year or two later, so he's three or four years older than me. And he is now living in Las Vegas, Nevada.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

AI: Well, now, also in, in a previous conversation you had mentioned about your household, that at times that you had one of your grandmothers living with you also, and that was your mother's mother?

LB: Uh-huh.

AI: Can you tell me a little bit about her, her name, and you mentioned already how she had raised her children as a, as a widow, and a little bit about her as, as one of your family household members?

LB: Her name was Tamiko Matsuno. During my very, very early years, (she) would go house to house among her daughters and stay for a few months with us and stay for a few months with another daughter's family and stay for a few months with another daughter's family. So she didn't live with us consistently throughout my childhood, but certainly for long stretches of time. And it was just really wonderful having her there. I feel so strongly about how much we learn from our elders. And I was so lucky to have my mother's mother living in our home as well as having my father's parents really close by.

But my Bachan Matsuno, my mother's mother, it was just really nice having her there. I could hear the language. I could hear Japanese every day. I could see what she ate, what she liked, what she enjoyed. She taught me a lot about quiet dignity and pride, family pride. She taught me a lot about having to be a really good girl and a lot of really good, solid Japanese cultural values. And I think having her live there with us gave me so much knowledge about the culture that I would not otherwise have had. We spent a lot of time together. I'd so often refuse to go to school because I knew that I could learn so much from her and gain so much from spending time with her. It was very difficult for her to get me to leave the house in the mornings.

AI: Well, in, in your learning from her, did much of that come from a verbal communication or was it more in the activities that you did together, watching her?

LB: Not at all from real verbal communication. In other words, not because she told me what, what values my culture could teach me, but really because she showed me by the way she conducted her life and the way that she spent time with us. I knew she was a very strong person. I knew that she had to be very strong. I mean, later on as I realized how she had raised these children on her own during prewar Los Angeles, I realized what a tremendously strong person she must have been, to deal with that type of adversity. She didn't know the language. She supported the family doing domestic work, cleaning homes and maybe doing laundry and things like that, and I can't imagine what kind of strength that must have taken. So I think I learned a lot about strength and perseverance. I learned a lot about family, that it was wonderful having this extended family together, and that I could always rely on her just like I knew that I could always rely on my parents. And that sense of family and that sense of perseverance and hard work, I think, has certainly stayed with me my entire life.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

AI: Well, now you also lived quite close to your father's parents, is that right?

LB: Uh-huh.

AI: And could you tell me a little bit about them, and their names and a little bit about your relationship?

LB: My Bachan Bannai, her name was Shino Bannai. My grandpa was Sakui Bannai. They also emigrated right after the turn of the century. Both of my grandmothers were picture brides. They were brought over by their husbands, and made this incredibly long journey across the ocean to a new country, which also, of course, taught me a lot about how strong and adventuresome they must have been to do this undertaking, to go to a new place they'd never seen before. My grandfather was a gardener. Very, very quiet man. Never really talked to him very much, but I knew how hard he worked. He worked from just early, early in the morning until late in the day, and had his truck full of gardening tools and went from house to house. And I just admired him so much for how he felt so responsible about his work and doing the best work that he could do. And again, this was not verbally expressed. It was really just a matter of having the gift of growing up and being able to watch this work ethic and this work pride.

My Bachan Bannai was an extremely exceptional woman. She had been blind. She went blind, I think, slowly up through her teen years, and I think became totally blind sometime in her twenties or maybe mid-twenties. And again, she had raised five children under difficult circumstances, but was an extremely strong woman. She had a great deal of faith. Both of my bachans were Christian and found a lot of strength in their faith. I used to drive my bachans around when I was a teenager to go and visit people who were other Issei who were ill, maybe shut in, maybe sad, maybe feeling forlorn. And my Bachan Bannai would just go around and I suppose you would call it minister to these other people many of them younger than her -- to help them through difficult times and pray with them. I would get as many Issei in my car as I could. I'd get them, and these other of their friends, and I'd pile them in my car, and they would tell me where to go. And I'd just drive them from nursing home to hospital to somebody's apartment, and it was just such a wonderful experience for me to be able to see the interaction between the Issei, learn how they cared for each other and helped, supported each other. I spent a lot of time with them. I spent a great deal of time at my Bachan and Grandpa Bannai's house when I was very, a very young child, and watched her cook and watched her do things like wielding a knife to cut fish, and she was blind and checking to see if water's boiling. And so I learned a lot about what it was like for her to, not only be a Japanese American woman, but also to be a person who had a severe handicap that never, ever stopped her from doing what she wanted to do. She spoke to me a lot about pride and family, and about being strong, and about working hard and studying hard. She probably -- more so than anyone else -- was very articulate with me and made a point of making sure that I learned certain lessons about growing up Japanese American, and she was a tremendous influence on me.

AI: If you had to pick out a couple of those lessons that you recall, what would you -- which ones would you choose that you really recall her emphasizing to you?

LB: I think the importance of family certainly was a really important thing to her, that it was important that all of us make our family proud, that we work hard to make our family proud, and that we help our family. You know, she never demanded that I visit her or demand that I drive her where she wanted to go or buy the things she needed to pick up, but I think it was really clear to me that those obligations were very, very much a part of, of what made our community and our family work. And so I think that that certainly was a lesson. Another lesson, I think, was, was the importance of giving to others. Clearly, she spent a great deal of her time reaching out and helping people around her who were either less fortunate or who just needed a friend and someone to sit and pray with them. I remember she wrote a letter to someone in Japan who was having some problems, and her letter was published in some kind of a newspaper or something. But she was very, very much someone who cared about people around her, and thought it was one of the most important things you could do in life, I think, to help others. And that was a message that I think very much permeated my upbringing.

AI: When she would explain some of these things to you or express these things, what -- did, did she and you communicate mostly in Japanese or English or a mix?

LB: Well, all English. I didn't know any Japanese. The only Japanese that I knew was dinner table conversation, like passing the shoyu, and, "I need some furikake," basically. [Laughs] I suppose I picked up a few words here and there. I do think that probably most all of the Japanese I learned was more in the nature of baby talk than anything else, so it was all in English. But again, that was something that always really impressed me, that these women, both of my grandmothers, knew English well enough to get by just fine, and all I knew was just one language. So yes, all the conversations took place in English.

MC: Did they ever express any opinions or reactions to being in America or what that meant to them, specifically, outside of making sure that you had a strong family unit?

LB: Oh, I can't recall anything really specific, but I think that both of them were really quite proud of being Americans. I would probably characterize them as being quite patriotic. I mean, I can't point to anything specific, but I do think that they really felt that this was their country, and that it was really important to care about this country.

MC: Did they -- did you ever see them interact with members of sort of the majority culture in any way, or were they pretty much confined to the Japanese American community in the Los Angeles area?

LB: My Bachan Matsuno suffered a series of strokes, and ended up being in a number of different nursing homes as she got older. In those contexts, she interacted outside of the Japanese American community. So I saw it somewhat, but not very much. I mean, most of Gardena, California, where I grew up was, had a very large concentration of Japanese Americans. When I was growing up, it was like a third Japanese American. So our world was very much grounded in the Japanese American community. Certainly, I never had any sense that they felt outside of the mainstream community because Gardena had so many Japanese Americans, and when they interacted with hakujin people outside of our culture or anyone outside of our culture, they were very, very comfortable, felt very much a part of the community.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

AI: Well, maybe this would be a good place to ask you to tell a little bit more about Gardena because it is a very unique kind of community, and if you could just describe a little bit about it and what you recall, especially of the Gardena that you grew up in.

LB: It was a very unique place. As I said, Gardena was about, I think, a third Japanese American when I was growing up, so when I was growing up I, it was very comfortable. I mean, there were many people around me who looked the same as I did, who spoke the same broken Japanese as I did, who ate the same foods I did, and on top of that, there were a number of community leaders who were Japanese American. We had a Japanese American mayor and city councilman, and Japanese American banks. There were a number of Japanese American churches. There was the Methodist Church, the Baptist Church, the Buddhist Church. So we had a lot of role models and leaders. I realize now how exceptional that was for me to be able to grow up with really strong, great Japanese American role models because it really made me feel like there were few things that I couldn't do. I mean I could grow up and be mayor, I suppose. And, and growing up and believing that you could be a banker or believing that you could be mayor certainly makes you grow up thinking that, well, maybe I could even be more than that. And, I suppose something that was really important to me and my siblings (was) being able to grow up without feeling automatically outcast or marginalized because we were surrounded by a community that supported us with good, good role models, which is a good thing.

It can also be a really difficult thing, too, though, once you leave that community. I remember going to UC Santa Barbara my freshman year in college, and my first day there looking around and being absolutely shocked at how many hakujin people there were in the world. I had never seen so many hakujin people in my entire life. And suddenly I felt very small and really very much alone. And I think that could have been a very frightening experience, that could have been really disabling, had I not known that I had the base in Gardena and the support of my family to be able to get through that and the confidence that I was able to somehow muster together from my early childhood. So it's a good thing, but I think it can also lead to some disabilities later on if you grow up in a community like that without really realizing that it is a unique experience.

The other thing that was really interesting to me when I got older was to realize that Gardena was the way that it was in part because of discrimination against Japanese Americans. I mean, I grew up in Gardena thinking, wow, I am so lucky to have all of these Japanese Americans around me. And when I was growing up, there was kind of like a checkerboard pattern of housing, so there was one community of several blocks that had a lot of Japanese American families and then, the next checkerboard part of it wouldn't have any, and the next one would have Japanese American families. And I grew up thinking, I am so lucky. I get to live where the Japanese Americans are. And I'd walk through these other neighborhoods. And it wasn't until I got older that I realized that it was probably that way because real estate agents would only sell homes in certain areas to Japanese Americans and not sell in others. And my father told me that when they had first come back from the war, they had a great deal of difficulty finding a place to buy because a lot of real estate agents would not sell, or developers would not sell, to Japanese American families. So again, while I was young, I thought it was such a great place to grow up. It wasn't until later that I realized that the reason it was that way was because of racially discriminatory covenants and real estate contracts or practices that the community ended up that way.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

AI: Well, now talking, speaking about -- going back to some of the uniqueness of the community and the role models that you had, I understand that your father was a very active member of the community and that he took some leadership roles. Can you tell a little bit about the, the part that he played in the Gardena community?

LB: From the time I was really young, I remember that he was involved in community events, emceeing dances and programs or organizing sister city exchanges between cities in Japan and the United States, bringing high school students over. He was active in the Lions Club, the VFW, the Veterans Associations, so he was always involved in some way or another in smaller scale community events or even larger scale community events. Ultimately, probably about the time that I got into high school, he ran for a seat on the Gardena City Council and ultimately won a seat on the council, so he was certainly involved in community activities in the political arena, and through that, continued to speak at events, continued to try and help neighbors, friends and neighbors, who might be experiencing some type of difficulty with the law or some type of tragedy or some situation going on; he would do what he could to help them. And eventually, he went on to the California State Assembly and other offices. But I have a real strong sense of a number of Nisei leaders in our community. Bruce Kaji was someone that I grew up with, and I went to third grade with his son, and they lived the next block over, and he's been a tremendous influence in the community, again, emceeing programs, putting together fundraising activities, and I identify him so much with really making the Japanese American National Museum happen. Helen Kawagoe was someone I knew growing up, as one of my parents' friends. She and her husband, always at the events that I went to. And now she's been involved in the National JACL. So these are people I remember from just my very, very earliest memories, to kind of give you a flavor of the kind of role models that I grew up with, and, and who've really profoundly taught me and so many Sansei about the importance of leadership and giving to the community.

AI: Well, it's very interesting to me to hear you describe these examples of very active people who take initiative and who conducted themselves in, in a very public role in many ways because it's so contrary to, I think, one of the general stereotypes of a Nisei, both men and women, as being rather passive, not really taking much initiative.

LB: Certainly I think one of the really unique things about Gardena and certainly the southern California area is the size of the Japanese American community. And I think there's a lot to be said for the concept of critical mass. In Gardena, there were so many Japanese Americans that I think that leadership can develop and people can strive to affect their community. I think it's much, much more difficult when you're in a community that does not have that critical mass, where you are facing daily issues of stereotypes, of people putting on you the stereotype that you're quiet. You're Japanese American, so you must be quiet, so you should stay quiet. And you're not encouraged to develop. You're not encouraged to speak out and assume leadership roles or even non-leadership roles, just active roles. So I think that, again, it was a really unique community that I grew up in because people could pursue their dreams, could pursue their interests without a lot of the barriers that are put up in most other communities to people of color.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

AI: Well, I'd like to take you back to your own elementary school days, and ask you to talk a little bit about that and what was it was like in an elementary school within a community of this nature. And I know for some of us who grew up in more of a majority setting that there were instances of prejudice and discrimination, but what was it like for you?

LB: I think back on it as generally feeling very safe and very nurturing because we had Japanese American teachers, people from the community who I knew. But I answer that question with mixed feelings because before the third grade, I can't say I was a real successful student. But after the third grade, I think that I did feel that I could really apply myself to learning and to activities I wanted to pursue. I could get involved in yearbook, I could get involved in leadership and run for office and join the choir and all of that because there were teachers and administrators who encouraged us, and I had peers who were just like me who were pursuing the same things.

That said, I don't think that it was as perfect as perhaps the picture I've been painting. I think that there was some stereotyping going on. I think that some of the teachers and some of the administrators in the schools saw many of the Sansei kids as good, quiet, smart Japanese kids who could do well in school, but might not, but should not be encouraged in other ways. For example, perhaps some of these administrators and teachers and counselors felt that Japanese Americans should pursue the sciences and math, and not perhaps the creative arts, or we should aspire to stay local, to go to USC and go to UCLA like everybody else did, but never dream of going to Stanford or Yale or Harvard. So while I think back on it, and it was certainly a very safe environment, it was an environment where I felt that I could strive for excellence and be whatever I wanted to be, in some ways as I think about it, maybe it was kind of what you might call like a glass ceiling, like we talk about it today, where yes, you should be successful, but you're still Japanese American, so don't strive for too much. So I think that there was that element there.

AI: Do you recall feeling that yourself, feeling perhaps steered or influenced in a certain direction or in a certain way to do something or not to pursue certain things?

LB: This may sound like a strange way to describe a disadvantage, but I'll describe it anyway. When I was in high school, I and most of my Sansei friends were really steered towards the advanced placement, honors classes, college entry, all of that stuff. And I very much did not want to do those classes. I really felt like it was important for me to do as well as I could academically, but I really didn't want to face the pressure of having to complete so many college credits before I graduated from high school. And this high level of competition, and I know that sounds really kind of strange, but at that point in time, I felt like I was a smart person and I could do well, but I didn't necessarily want to get steered into advanced placement at that point in time. And my counselors really said, "You really need to do this. You really have to do advanced placement. You have to do the honors classes." And actually, I had a counselor tell me that God wanted me to do, that it was the right thing to do that I take these classes. This was a hakujin counselor. So I walked across the hall to the Japanese American counselor, and she told me I didn't have to take the advanced placement classes, and I took the regular classes because she understood me and what I was saying.

So that is, I think, an instance where I felt that being -- that, that she'd looked at me, this counselor looked at me as, as a Japanese American, as a Sansei who was this smart person who would get good grades, and you know, that was the stereotype, that that was all I was interested in doing and that was basically my pigeonhole. I was really very much more interested in working on yearbook and in doing gymnastics and in taking leadership, being involved in student government, to my mother's chagrin perhaps, but I don't think that this counselor saw that that was something that I should be doing as much as I should have been preparing for advanced placement classes.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

AI: It sounds like you had a lot of interests in, in your school years, that you were involved in a lot of different things that weren't recognized by that counselor and perhaps by others. Tell me a little bit more about some of your favorite activities, the things that you really enjoyed, whether they were in school or outside of school.

LB: While I was in school, I was involved in a lot of activities in junior high, I did choir, and in high school, I was involved in student government and yearbook and gymnastics, and they had those senior girls honor societies, service-oriented activities, car washes, bake sales, Christmas caroling at the local Keiro nursing home, lots of those types of activities. Girl Scouts, I was a Girl Scout for, I think, as long as they allowed you to be a Girl Scout 'til you graduated from (high school) and actually went on to be an assistant leader of a troop, working with kids. I tutored inner-city kids in reading. So lots of different activities.

AI: You had mentioned earlier that, about your grandmother's religious orientation, that they, and that they were visi-, they did visiting with their friends, they assisted in support of their friends with prayer. Were you also involved in any church activities?

LB: Well, actually, when we first started going to church, I recall going to all three of the different Japanese American churches in Gardena. I went to the Buddhist Church for a little while and the Baptist Church for a little while and the Methodist Church for a little while. And the churches very, very much served not only the traditional function of teaching the Bible and all of that, but were very, very much social institutions, the main social institutions in the community. Everyone seemed to be affiliated with one of the main Japanese American churches. There were lots of activities around those churches, church bazaars, and there was a Bon Odori and everything. And so they very much served the function of being a place where people in the community could come together, aside from serving the function of teaching the traditional religious doctrine.

Eventually, we ended up at North Gardena United Methodist Church, and actually, what I recall quite clearly is somehow, I think, my father got involved with a group of parents who wanted to start a brand new church. So when the church started, there was actually no building. It was a bunch of families who got together and wanted to start a church. And we had our early meetings at this place called the Spanish American Institute, where we just kind of borrowed, I think, another facility, and met there. And we brought in a minister to help form the church. And my father was involved in building the church, raising the money to build the church. And that was the church that I stayed with all the way through my high school years. And I was quite involved in the church, as far as starting out going to Sunday school and then going up through the high school program.

Again, in part, it taught me a lot of the traditional things that church teaches you, love thy neighbor, be a responsible citizen; that part of my upbringing was really very important. But also it was a gathering place for the community, a place where I could see my friends and neighbors. But I think the other thing was that like many young Sansei around that period of time and like many young Sansei who go to church, young kids who go to church, you get involved in questioning, too. And in high school, my friends and I were very much into questioning what the church was doing, what the church taught, how that fit into our lives and the lives of our community. And that was a really good experience for me, to learn about critical thinking and to learn about questioning authority, and to think about the role of the church in society and in the community. So the experience of growing up in that church, I think, again, taught me quite a bit.

AI: It sounds like it was a very rich experience. Is there -- what, would you say that there were any particular messages or learnings from your church-related experiences that stayed with you, that influenced you later?

LB: I think, again, it was, it was pretty much an all-Japanese American church, so I was surrounded by friends, family, good role models, Nisei who were very involved in the church and giving of their time, not only to the church, but also to the young people. So it taught me the value of community, the value of people in the community supporting each other. Again, it also taught me, I think, a lot about critical thinking at a very early age. One thing that I can really recall quite vividly was looking at the church, not only the, the Baptist Church and the Methodist Church, but, I think, church in general, and learning about the teachings of the church, that if you didn't believe in God, you would go to hell. And I could not believe that any god that they were talking about would send Buddhist people to hell. Buddhists, the people in the Buddhist Church in our community were just like me, just like anybody else. They just happened to go to another church. And that was a huge concern that I recall at the time, and questioning whether what the church was teaching really was right, and right for me. So I was very involved in the church, but I was also very concerned about the things that it taught, and very much started to feel that church was a man-made institution and not perhaps the word of God, I suppose, is the only way to say it. And it was trying to put a lot of those pieces together, which obviously, I think, served me and would serve anyone to learn how to figure out how society works and what to accept from society and what to reject from society.

AI: Were these issues that you were able to discuss with your parents at all, or was it more of a peer discussion?

LB: I think it was very much a peer discussion. Didn't talk to my parents about religion. I wouldn't describe our family as a really religious family. We went to church, and again, I think we went to church mainly because it was one of our social institutions, it was one of our community institutions, and not necessarily because we were particularly devout. So church was not a huge topic of conversation except for, "Are you going to church this morning?" [Laughs]

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

AI: Well, I wanted to ask one more question about your high school years. That was the time where you mentioned your father became active in city politics, and I was wondering if you'd tell a little bit about the impact on your family and you yourself. How were you involved in his campaigning?

LB: We were very much involved in his campaigning. I remember sitting in open cars at little Veterans Day parades or something, going down the street with him and posing for press campaign photos, and we canvassed door to door in the community for him, asking people to vote for him. So we were very much involved in it, working at campaign headquarters, stuffing envelopes, and he had little fortune cookies that had little messages inside that said, "Bannai for you in '72." I think we still have some of those fortune cookies around. And I remember packing them all up into plastic. So we were very involved in both his city council race and then later on during his assembly races. It was a good experience. I learned about the political process. I met some interesting people. I remember meeting S.I. Hayakawa and Ronald Reagan.

So I suppose one lesson I've always thought about is that that was really good for me because it really made me feel like I need not be intimidated by famous people, and in fact, famous people may not necessarily be anything more than regular folks who somehow achieved some particular office. I think that's served me well in my life, to put all that in perspective. So it was very exciting for my family that he did this, but it was also really very difficult. Suddenly -- well, he had always been very active in the community. Certainly his political office put our family very much into the public light and public scrutiny. And I know that that was really very difficult at times. People instantly thought we were very wealthy. For some reason people seem to think that when you have a parent in political office you must be a rich person. And so I did, at times, I felt that it was a disadvantage. We were still in school. We were still pretty young, still very conscious about how our peers thought about us. And so I think sometimes it was a disadvantage.

I remember I got a job at the UC Santa Barbara Bookstore when my father was in the state legislature. I recall someone telling me that someone thought I might have gotten that job through nepotism. That my father, in the California State Legislature in Sacramento would have any influence in what happened at the UC Santa Barbara Bookstore, I can't imagine, but I think there was certainly that self-consciousness that we all carried with us, that people would think that somehow we were successful because my father intervened or had someone intervene. And in fact, I really felt strongly that I didn't want to go to Hastings, and I'd rather go to a private school because I just didn't want people thinking for the rest of my life that I got into a UC school because my father got me there. Certainly when I was in high school and college and starting law school, my father was well-known in the Japanese American community, and that was a great source of pride for me. Obviously, I was very proud of him and what he had achieved. But it also could be difficult at times when you grow up being Paul Bannai's daughter and not who you are, Lori Bannai. And I think all of us experienced that in one way or another.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

AI: Well, I'd like to ask you, you mentioned earlier that you didn't really talk religion in your family. That wasn't really a topic of conversation with your parents and within the family. What about politics? Did you have many political discussions with, in particular your dad, since he was so active, or talk about issues, political issues?


LB: In my earlier years, I don't recall that we really talked about politics per se. My early recollection was really more in line with the kinds of things that he did, like somebody has a problem with a dog next door that's too loud and he would do something to intervene. And so I had this sense that when you're in office, you do this thing of helping other people, which was obviously very, very separate from traditional party politics or positions on the death penalty or anything like that. So my earliest recollections really were much more in the way of what he did on a day-to-day basis to help people within our immediate community.

When he went into the California State Assembly, then he certainly got involved in issues of much wider impact and much more politically-laden issues. For example, I think he was involved in the decision to reinstate the death penalty in California. He was involved in issues of law enforcement and things like that. Both of my parents are Republican. I am not a Republican. And so, I think, as I went to college and started taking Asian American Studies classes, started learning more about the political process, our political views started to diverge. And I guess I can explain it this way: I think that my parents are indeed very progressive in many, many ways when it comes to issues of race, when it comes to issues involving discrimination, civil rights, they are, are quite progressive, and we agree very much so on things. When it comes to perhaps issues involving crime and punishment and the power of the police and things like that, then our views start to diverge. I attribute that very, very much to a difference in generation.

Their concerns have always been necessarily for protection of community, protection of family, and it certainly doesn't escape me that Roosevelt put the Japanese Americans into camps, and there certainly may be some suspicion of the Democratic party for that reason. So my father's been very active in the Republican party, but I think that he's actually perhaps a bit out of the mainstream in that party. So no, we did not discuss politics when I was growing up. We discuss politics from time to time now. We do disagree, but I think that it's a very respectful disagreement. I think certainly both of them have come to realize that their children have very different views than they do, but they're really very proud of us and what we've accomplished. So it's a kind of respectful disagreement.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

AI: I'd like to take you back a little bit and ask you about your awareness of the camp experience, and ask if you recall when you first heard about that from your parents and realized that something had happened there?

LB: I don't have a clear recollection of the first time, but I think my experience was very typical of many Sansei, where you kind of grow up, and around the house you hear these references from time to time about, "Oh, yeah, I knew him from camp." Or, "Oh, yeah, when we were in camp this," or, "Yeah, the food in camp was terrible." And it's funny. You think back now, and I don't recall ever asking, "Well, what's camp? What are you talking about?" But it was something that we were all very much aware of that there was some point in time during their lives that my family was in this place called "camp." But it was something that we didn't talk about and we didn't pursue, and maybe we knew somehow not to pursue it. I suppose when I did ask direct questions about camp, they were answered in a really brief, cursory fashion. "Well, during the war, we went to camp." And, but there wasn't really an explanation about why they went to camp or what camp was like. I suppose if I have any recollection at all, it was really kind of a downplaying of what camp was like. You know, "Oh, it was bad, but it wasn't that bad." "Other people had it much worse," I suppose is probably the sentence I remember the most. "Other people had it much worse." Very much a downplaying of the impact on their lives. But I remember hearing, "Well, I was in high school, so it really wasn't that bad for me, but it was really bad for those who had just started out on their careers or really bad for those who were just starting to work." And so, what I do recall is just the sense that something had happened. It was not a very good thing. We didn't talk about it. But whatever it was, it wasn't as bad for them as it was for somebody else. I suppose I didn't really start understanding the camp experience until I started taking Asian American Studies classes during college at UC Santa Barbara.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

AI: Lori, I wanted to go back to your junior high school age, and around those years in the '60s there was quite a bit of social movement going on. The Civil Rights movement was in high gear. I wanted to ask you a little bit about your recollection of those times, those issues, and whether the Civil Rights movement had much of an impact on you or your family, had much discussion or activity around that?

LB: I don't recall that we really talked about it really specifically at home, but certainly that period of time had a huge impact on me. I was really very aware of issues, of racial unrest and segregation, treatment of blacks in the South. The Watts riots took place, and we, we could almost hear them. I lived really not too far away from Watts, and the realization at a young age that there would be this type of unrest and violence and protest over issues of race and inequity. So I started thinking at a fairly young age about those issues. Gardena is just south of South Central Los Angeles and the Watts area. So it was all very, very close to home. But I don't recall that we really talked about it or that it was an issue that was really put out there during my school years. I just recall being aware of it, and the school I went to was really very racially diverse. As I said, there was a large percentage of Japanese Americans, but there was a very large Hispanic and African American population as well. And certainly probably like most young people, trying to put all those pieces together, that I would be in school with black and Hispanics and Asian Americans, and that there was this tremendous racial struggle going on in the country, and trying to perhaps figure out how that fit in our school and how that fit in my life.

Certainly as I got older through junior high and high school, the Vietnam War was going on. There were massive protests. My brother was a draft counselor at the time. And there were a lot of things going on in the Asian American community as far as mobilizing around the Civil Rights movement. There were -- Yellow Brotherhood had, had come together. There was a lot going on in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles. My brother was involved in some of those things. So I was aware of the, quote, "movement" going on, but being in junior high and high school and much more interested in social activities and things like that, I don't recall that I really got really involved in it at that particular time, getting involved in politics or demonstrations and things like that.

AI: For people who don't know, could you say a bit more about the Yellow Brotherhood and your brother's involvement?

LB: I don't think he was actually involved in the Yellow Brotherhood per se, but he was involved in certainly this period of time where young Asian Americans, particularly in my community -- Japanese Americans becoming very aware of their culture and aware of their identity. Certainly following along with the black power movement and what was going on during the '60s, struggles as far as the empowering of people and speaking out against oppression, and the Asian American community got involved in that as well, with young Sansei seeking to figure out who they are, figure out where they come from, understand more about the camp experience for the first time, in some ways demanding that their parents tell them what had happened, and really trying to figure out why it happened and why no one's done anything about it. A lot of it was the beginnings of Asian American Studies programs and demanding those Asian American Studies programs. The beginnings of EOP programs, trying to get more Asian Americans, blacks, Hispanics into colleges and universities, and giving them more voice in the colleges and universities. A lot of draft counseling activity, a lot of activity to try and resist the war, as a war against Asian peoples. I was really kind of just on the tail end of that, since I was coming up through junior high and high school at that point in time. It was a period of protest music, Bob Dylan, and anti-war demonstrations. So I recall all of that, the music and the demonstrations and the protests on the television, and Kennedy was president, and the Civil Rights Act had been passed in the '60s and tried to desegregate the schools, and the escorts of black students into formerly segregated institutions. So I very much have all of those images in my mind from my junior high and high school years, but again, not an active involvement, but very much an awareness that this was what was going on in the country at that time.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

AI: And you mentioned that your school, both your junior high and your high school, were very ethnically diverse. What -- and among your own friends, your closest friends -- what ethnicity were they?

LB: I think most of my friends were Japanese American, but certainly I had lots of friends who weren't Japanese American. I think one thing that I think about when I think about Gardena is that many people who weren't Japanese American kind of liked to consider themselves honorary Japanese Americans because there were so many Japanese Americans in Gardena, that it was kind of a prevailing culture among even those who weren't Japanese American. So I had a fairly diverse set of friends, which was really great as far as growing up.

AI: Now, you mentioned that also in junior high and high school, that you were interested in social activities, and you were very active, as you described earlier. Can you tell me a little bit more about, especially as you moved into high school, that's a time when many young people are figuring ourselves out, perhaps having some conflicts with parents or just experimenting with growing up and issues of life. Can you tell me a little bit more about what high school times were like for you?

LB: I had a really great time in high school, and I think that it was because, unfortunately, I probably focused less on my studies and more on developing my socialization skills. I spent a lot of time with friends. I had groups of friends that I hung out with and we'd meet at the bowling alley every single day or meet at the Gardena Public Library and hang out, do more talking than studying. I had boyfriends. All of these things certainly very, very normal for a teenager. But I suppose that, as I look back, perhaps I wasn't the good, studious Japanese American girl that perhaps my parents and others might have expected of me. I think I did well in school. I think I could have done better. I think I could have been more serious and made people around me much happier. But I really enjoyed myself, and I really wanted to spend time with my friends, and really wanted to learn about the world and go and play and stay out late and date, go to dances and all of that. And perhaps sometimes my parents didn't think that I spent as much time studying and being serious as I should have.

AI: Right. Well, and the way you describe that, it certainly sounds well within the range of, of activity of an average high-schooler, but in the context of your family and the community, would you say that was a little rebellious or perhaps out of the ordinary?

LB: It certainly might have been rebellious. I certainly didn't feel that it was important for me to comply with perhaps the traditional view of being the studious, serious Japanese American girl. And I never felt that that was a stereotype that I wanted to become or aspire to. Certainly it's a good stereotype to aspire to, a very positive one, and I would not fault anyone who's ever pursued that, and I certainly hope my children pursue that stereotype. [Laughs] But I think that I really felt that I had a different path that I wanted to pursue.

AI: Well, in fact, I'd like to ask you a little bit about that. What were some of the things that, that you were thinking about, or did you have some hopes and dreams for yourself for beyond high school?

LB: I'd like to be able to say that I wanted to be a lawyer or a doctor from a very, very early age. I think that that's probably very much the stereotype of what people have of young Japanese Americans, that they're studious and they're going to grow up to be doctors and lawyers or scientists or engineers or accountants or whatever. But I have to say that I didn't aspire to great accomplishments when I was young. I really wanted to just have a good, happy, responsible life. I didn't necessarily aspire to going to college or to any graduate school. I didn't aspire to just getting out of high school and getting married and having a lot of kids either. I didn't have a particular plan. I think the thing that influenced me the most probably was when my mother said, when I graduated from high school, that I had two choices. I either could go to school or I could go to work, and I chose school because I didn't feel like going to work at that point in time. And fortunately, I ended up doing well enough in school to continue going to school, but I will have to say that when I graduated from high school, I suppose I had some very simple goals, and many of those grew out of some of the things I've already discussed, doing something for the world around me, doing something to make my community a better place, being a happy person with a good life. But I didn't aspire to be rich or to spearhead any great social movements or change the world at that point in time.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

AI: Lori, I was just about to ask you about your mother, if you could tell us a little bit more her and her influences on you.

LB: Uh-huh. My mother's a really exceptional person. She is a good mother. She maintained a really wonderful home life for us. Probably one of the most important influences she's had on me is to teach me about the importance of education, the importance of doing well. I remember just how she worked with me on my homework all the time, and worked on my sentences, and made sure I learned how to write really well, and all the corrections she made to all of my drafts of my homework.

But probably the most significant thing to me, aside from her everyday role as a mom, is that after I graduated from high school -- and I was the youngest, so after I graduated from high school, we had all left, she decided to go back to school, to go to college. And she started out at a community college, the local community college in Gardena, and got her AA, and then went on to the local state college and got her BA, and then went on to get her master's, and then went to USC to get her Ph.D. And she ended up teaching at USC in the Department of Education. And it was such -- it's always been such an amazing feat to me that she decided to go back to school after her children had all grown, to go back and get her Ph.D., and I think a move that really took a tremendous amount of courage and individualism and independence for her to do. Certainly, I can't think of other people of her age and generation who decided (to) do the same thing, to go back and get an education and to go on and start a whole career after their kids had left. And that certainly has always been a model for me, as far as knowing that you can decide that this is what I want to do, and everyone might think it's crazy, but it's what I want to do, and so I'm going to pursue it. And I've always admired her a great deal for that decision.

AI: Do you think she might have faced some skepticism or some negative attitudes from some of her peers or others?

LB: Oh, I don't know. Certainly I don't think they would have been criticisms or negative comments as much as perhaps raised eyebrows, why she would be pursuing this at a point in time when most people aspire to retire and to not work anymore, that she was starting this brand new career, and she actually continued to teach English as a second language up until just a year ago. So she retired much, much later than many of her peers. My father was very supportive, I think. I think perhaps he didn't know what to make of it, but I know that he's always spoken quite proudly that his wife has a Ph.D. and is involved in all of these different activities. So she's a very interesting combination of traditional Nisei housewife and modern career woman.

AI: Is there anything else about her that you recall, anything that stands out in your mind that she may have either verbalized or just through her actions impressed on you as the way to be, either as a Japanese American or as a girl, as a young woman?

LB: Oh, I think obviously, for young women, their mothers have tremendous influence as far as teaching them the right way to go through life and the kind of person that you should be. In so many different ways, I mean, in the obvious ways, as far as the value of education and studying hard and doing the best job that you can. In other ways, what I would identify as kind of traditional Japanese cultural values. Certainly I learned a lot of those from my grandparents because they lived so close. But simple things like gift-giving, like if someone brings something over to your house, you take something over to their house. Like how to conduct yourself in public, and I suppose some of it's good, and some of it might be characterized as not so good. She certainly was very concerned about me, and any of us, making waves.

While my parents both encouraged us to be leaders and to exercise leadership skills and to say what we believed, certainly probably my mom, more so than my dad, was very concerned that that type of outspokenness not disadvantage me and not create a situation where I would get hurt or criticized or anything. When you put yourself out there in the public limelight, and I think we really learned this from my father's experience, when you put yourself out there in the limelight, you're certainly more apt to get hurt. And like every mom, I think to this day she's just being a mom and concerned that one of us will get hurt, perhaps not physically, but hurt because we've put ourselves out there before the public. Certainly in some of the political activities that I've engaged in as a lawyer, she's always been the voice of caution for me to say, "Well, I'm really proud of you that you're doing this, but are you sure you should be doing this? Do you think that it may hurt your career? Do you think that some people may criticize you?" But I've never looked at it that she's discouraged me. I think she's always, though, been concerned for my welfare.

So I suppose my answer is that she has taught me to be aware of my surroundings and know what I might be walking into. And perhaps in some ways, that's really not a Japanese American cultural value, but maybe it is. Maybe it's a matter of listening and observing and speaking when it's the right time to speak.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

AI: Well, now I'd like to turn to the, the point where you're, you had graduated from high school, and you had made the decision that you were going to go on to more education. What happened next? You decided to go to college, and how did you end up where, at UC Santa Barbara?

LB: My sister was already at UC Santa Barbara, so certainly I was aware of the university then. It was about an hour and a half north of Los Angeles, so kind of far enough away that I was away from home, but not so far away that I couldn't go home every weekend if I wanted to. Probably the same criteria many kids use in choosing where they're going to go to college. UC Santa Barbara seemed like it had some interesting things that I might want to pursue, so I ended up there, started my freshman year there.

AI: And tell me a little bit about how you, in starting out in college, what you were, what issues you were exploring, what subjects you were going into. Did you have in mind an area for a major at that time when you started out?

LB: Well, I'm going to share with you a story that I'm a little embarrassed to tell. I knew I wanted to go to a UC. Number one, they're very good schools; and number two, as a resident, they were less expensive schools, so I knew I wanted to go to a University of California. I went through every University of California catalog to find a major that I could take at a campus where I did not have to take a blood test and I did not have to take math. [Laughs] And I went to UC Santa Barbara. I chose UC Santa Barbara because they didn't require a blood test. I had not had a blood test before then, and I was just frightened to death of them. And I looked around for a major where I didn't have to have math as a requirement in a major.

Fortunately, the major that I chose was Environmental Studies, and it was very interesting to me, even though it didn't require math. Environmental Studies was a new major at that point in time. It was really the beginnings of the environmental movement, a lot of issues then going on around oil spills and polluting the environment and the Clean Air Act and all of that stuff. And it was an interdisciplinary program, one of the first interdisciplinary programs in the colleges, which suited me really, really well. I wasn't so interested in taking four years of physics or four years of chemistry or four years of English Literature, but I was very attracted to a major where I could take a little bit of everything. I could take one quarter of history, one quarter of religious studies, one quarter of science or whatever, and learn from all those disciplines, how to look at a particular problem, in this case Environmental Studies, and actually, interdisciplinary study has been something that's really interested me ever since that time. It was interesting also because it was one of my first exposure to a kind of a political movement at that point in time. There was obviously a lot of activism around the environment, and so I chose Environmental Studies as my major.

AI: And as you were getting involved with your major, and you had mentioned in an earlier conversation about how you had also taken some Asian American Studies. How did that come about, and what happened when you started taking those classes?

LB: Again, I had grown up during this period of time with a great deal of activism in the wake of the Civil Rights movement. I was certainly aware of the Asian American Studies movement and of so many Sansei being involved in trying to learn more about the Sansei identity and the history of the Japanese American people and the internment, so when I got to campus, I was very much attracted to Asian American Studies classes and wanted to take them and find out more about this movement and about this activism and about this history. And fortunately, they did have Asian American Studies classes. There, it was a very, very, very small department. I think it might have been just one professor at the time, and it was probably a very brand-new program.

So I started to take some of their basic classes that introduced us to, again, issues of identity, roots, the Roots Reader, the Asian American reader had come out, exploring issues of identity and who we are and how we fit into this society. We look different, we're treated different, perhaps, when people see us, and how do we live with that and how do we break out of whatever stereotypes exist? And aside from issues of identity, of course, issues of history. We learned about the emigration, Asian American immigration -- Asian immigration to this country, learned about the treatment of Chinese, Japanese, and the various Asian, Pacific American ethnic groups. And as part of that, of course, learned about the internment of Japanese Americans. And it's the first time that I really learned about what had actually happened during the camps. After hearing references to camp just very sporadically during my youth, it was the first time that I was able to actually read about camps and see where the camps were located and what they were like and what had happened to give rise to the camps. It was a very eye-opening experience.

AI: What was your reaction? Excuse me, when you, with that first exposure to that amount of detail about the camps and what gave rise to them, what was your personal reaction to that?

LB: It was just so shocking because I could not learn about it without seeing my parents and my grandparents and my aunts and uncles there. And, it was so difficult to realize that they lived in these horse stalls and lived in these desert camps, and seeing the pictures of Manzanar and the snow and the wind and all the snow on the mountaintops and how cold and how hot it must have been, and the guard towers and the guns. It was just really, very shocking and very sobering and frightening to think that this is what they were referring to when they were referring to camp.

AI: When you learned some of this information, did you have an impulse to ask your parents or grandparents more about it or how, what happened then?

LB: I'm sure I did go home and ask them about it. I'm sure I went home and I asked them what it was like and what camp were you in and what (were) your barracks like and who else was there and all of that, and I know that the answers I received must not have been very comprehensive. It was probably, again, much more of the, "Well, I didn't have it as bad as other people did." Kind of like it was really just not that bad. And I have to say that you can't take that as true on face value. They were bad, and they were very desolate, and they were really frightening places under frightening circumstances. And I can only think that the way that the community and my parents and my grandparents dealt with it is to just take it one day at a time and not think it was a horrible experience because otherwise, they could not have survived it.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

MC: Lori, this is about the second or third time that you've described sort of a disjuncture between your parents' and grandparents' experiences in camp and how that was conveyed to you as children growing up. And I'm also thinking about sort of the disjuncture between their experiences in camp and how you were raised in Gardena, not only without very much knowledge, but also in a, a very sort of all-American sort of a way. Have you ever thought about that contradiction and what that means?

LB: Yes, I have thought about it. I look at this coming from like two difference places. One is very much a human reaction. I think generally, we talk about Posttraumatic Stress Syndrome and perhaps different reactions to traumatic incidents. And I think it's only natural to react to a situation like that by sublimating or by denying. And I think very much the community left that experience and just put it behind them as best as they could. "We need to get on with our lives, we need to establish, re-establish our communities, we need to raise our children in a way that this will never happen to them again." And I think that number one, it's a natural reaction from anybody regardless of your ethnic background, to go into somewhat of a denial. I think also, two, particular to the Japanese American community, there's a real feeling of shikata ga nai, "it just is. What will be will be. There's nothing we can do about it. We need to just go on. That's just life." And I think a lot of this sublimation comes from that. "There's nothing we can do about the fact that we were in camp now, except for getting our lives back together again and just forgetting about it. It was a terrible thing. We don't need to think about it. We don't need to talk about, and we don't need to tell our children about it because they don't need to be burdened with it." But I think at the same time that sublimation is going on, that repression has to come out in some way. Certainly as a result, I think that not only was the camp experience sublimated, but also the culture was sublimated. I think there's very much a feeling that we wanted to be as American as possible. We wanted to have our kids grow up Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. We wanted to have a nice house with two-car garages, wanted to be involved in Lions Club and you know, all of these different, very classically American dream-type of activities, and try to avoid being really, really Japanese. And although I grew up with a very strong sense of Japanese culture, I did not grow up with the language. Most of us didn't learn the language, and it wasn't spoken at home. And there was probably, I would say, much more of an emphasis on becoming more all-American rather than Japanese American. And you can really see this, you really were able to see this repression and the sublimation once the redress movement started and people started to be able to tell their stories. There was such a tremendous outpouring of emotion from the community as people felt that they could finally tell their stories. It came out in a tremendous gush, an emotional release.

AI: Well, now at this time, you had mentioned also that some of the issues, of political issues that you had increased awareness of through your Asian American Studies classes, you also, earlier you mentioned what a shock it had been to come onto campus with such a huge proportion of Caucasians. It was very different from the community you grew up in. And I'm wondering what was happening for you in regards to your sense of identity, your personal sense of identity, having grown up, as you say, more all-American than Japanese American in some ways?

LB: I think that the experience of number one, getting involved in Asian American Studies, taking Asian American Studies classes, and number (two), through those classes, getting more involved with other Japanese Americans and Asian Americans on campus certainly really gave me a much more heightened sense of my own identity as a Japanese American. We talked about identity issues, read the literature going on in the community around issues of identity in class, and so we were all able individually to look at ourselves and say, "Well, who am I, and how do I fit into all of this?" And all of that certainly made me much more aware of myself as a Japanese American woman because growing up in Gardena, I wasn't so aware of being a Japanese American woman as much as I was aware of being in this community that just had a bunch of Japanese Americans, but not in the context, not being Japanese Americans in the context of a larger society.

So certainly through the classes and through hanging out, if you were, with other Asian Americans on a college campus, I became a lot more aware that I came from a very unique, special culture that had overcome enormous adversity. And in that learning, I was able to put a lot of my experience growing up into a context. I started to understand, again, more about how Japanese Americans were discriminated against after the war, and it was hard to buy property, and so perhaps that was really the reason why Japanese Americans concentrated in Gardena. I started to understand issues of discrimination in the workplace, why Japanese Americans perhaps weren't in positions of success in corporate America or high-level government positions. And so I was able to start seeing my little experience, if you were, in Gardena, in a much broader context, and started to understand that it was not necessarily this simple, idyllic little growing up in a small town in LA, as much as it was a product of a whole history of Japanese Americans in this country.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

AI: Well, now, as you were going through your classes and your increasing awareness, what other kind of activities had, were you involved in during your college years?

LB: Hmm. They were primarily social. [Laughs] My mother, you have to recall at this point in time, was going through college at the same time I was. And she was doing very well. She was on dean's list, like every quarter, and doing quite well in school, and I was not. And I explained to her that I was going through a very important socialization process, getting my first apartment, getting my first checkbook. And while I did well in school, I was probably pretty typical of a lot of new college students. You know, I was out there learning about life and learning about, kind of meeting people from all over the United States, and trying to find myself as an adult, young adult person.

I was involved with a number of Asian American friends, certainly involved through Asian American Studies. I got involved in a dojo, actually, in Santa Barbara, and took judo, Aikido -- the dojo had judo, Aikido, and ballroom dancing. And I got very involved in that dojo. But again, part of it was not only learning these particular sports and activities, but also maintaining a connection to the culture. And it was a Nisei man and his wife who ran the dojo, and they were very much kind of second parents to those of us who were away from home. And for me, being in a place that was not Gardena, it gave me a little piece of Gardena, and as I was away at school, to be involved in this dojo.

AI: Well, now, also at some point in your college years, you made a decision to go on to additional education in school, and how, can you tell me about some of your thinking and your decision-making and how you came to the decision to go into law?

LB: I suppose there were a number different things that went into that decision. Certainly when I was in Environmental Studies and in Asian American Studies, and as a result of growing up after the Civil Rights movement and learning about all the protests and everything, there was an overriding theme that law really had tremendous impact on our day-to-day lives and certainly tremendous impact on social policy and on why things are the way they are. Laws cause segregation, laws break down segregation, for example. Much of the Asian American experience in this country has been shaped by the way laws have treated Asian Americans for immigration purposes, not being able to own land, things like that. So I certainly had a very great awareness of the impact of law and certainly a real interest in law as an institution that shapes our lives.

In addition again, I'm not the kind of person who is interested in just one thing like four years of chemistry and then three years of graduate school in chemistry. Law was appealing to me because it is multi-disciplinary. It's not just one subject. When you are working as a lawyer, one case may involve a machine shop and the next day the case may involve a department store and the next day the case may be a major civil rights case. You're constantly learning new things. I've always felt really comfortable about writing and communication, and law is kind of a literary profession where you write, communicate by writing and speaking. And although I think I write better than I speak, I certainly was attracted to law in that regard, too. Law was also a graduate school where you didn't have to have a particular major to be able to enter it, and so you could go to law school with a major in anything. Having a degree in Environmental Studies didn't prepare me for a wide range of graduate school experiences. So again, law was something that I knew that I could pursue with that particular degree. So I applied to law school.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

MC: Okay. We're reconvening now, continuing with the interview of Lori K. Bannai. This time it's Margaret Chon asking the majority of the interview questions. And we've just completed the early history, up to and including college, and just to recap, Lori, about dates. I think you graduated from high school in 1972?

LB: Uh-huh.

MC: Is that right? And then you graduated from UC Santa Barbara in '75.

LB: '76.

MC: '76. Okay. And did you start law school right afterwards?

LB: Right.

MC: So you started law school in 1976. And where did you attend law school?

LB: I went to the University of San Francisco School of Law.

MC: Uh-huh. And you had mentioned earlier that you had rejected the idea of attending Hastings, in part because of a possible perception that your father might be involved in the decision to have you admitted. Were there any reasons why you chose USF as the place where you wanted to go to law school?

LB: Well, at the time, my sister actually was at Hastings in law school. And I thought it'd be nice to go on up to San Francisco, and we'd be able to live together and be in the same city. So I did want to end up in San Francisco. USF was a smaller school, more intimate school, smaller class size. So I liked the feel of the place when I went to visit it.

MC: Did you know anything about Jesuit education before you started there?

LB: Not at all. I was actually really quite frightened by the fact that I might have to learn scripture or say prayers every day as part of my law school education, and turned out that was the, not the case. So it was actually a really good experience. The Jesuit tradition is very social justice-oriented, and I think that really came through in their curriculum. And I thought it was a pretty supportive place for going to law school and for being involved in issues of social change.

MC: What kinds of goals and ideals did you have when you first started law school?

LB: Well, I suppose I have a couple answers to that. One, probably I didn't have grandiose ideas about what I wanted to accomplish. I wanted to get an education. I wanted to get a good education. I wanted to end up doing something good in society. So on one level, I didn't have any great expectations. On another level, since I did have the sense that law could be a vehicle for social change, I was looking for that in law school. I was looking for an experience that would be relevant to me, that would teach me perhaps how to be a lawyer and do some good in the community.

MC: Did you have any specific vision of what you might do right after you graduated?

LB: No. Not at all. At the point in time I started law school, I really had very little idea of what lawyers did, other than what I had seen on television like everybody else. So I had no particular vision. I knew that a lot of legislators were lawyers. I knew that a lot of influential people in society were lawyers. I didn't necessarily see myself becoming one of those types of people, but again, I think I just wanted to find the tools to be able to perhaps make a difference and help people.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

MC: So given that you had these ideas when you started law school, what was your reaction then, particularly to your first year of law school where the curriculum is very, very regimented?

LB: The reality of law school was a huge shock to me, as I think it is to most people who start law school. You go to law school thinking that you'll become a lawyer, and you'll learn how to talk in the courtroom and learn how to present your case, learn how to be an articulate advocate. And the reality is you enter your first year and you find that you have to read these huge, huge casebooks, by and large very dry stuff, lots of theory, with what it seems almost no practical application. The first year of law school, basically, I felt like all I was doing was reading this stuff that didn't make any sense to me at all and that I couldn't connect to anything in my life, reading about torts and civil procedure and rules of pleading and whether covenants run with the land. I had no idea what these things were. Number one, it was a whole different language. And number two, I couldn't fit it into my life and my experience.

So it was a whole different way of studying and a whole different reality than anything I had ever known. And it was a shock to my system. It was isolating. It was alienating. There were people who were there I felt weren't like me, although there were a number of people who I connected with really well. But by and large, a lot of it seemed very competitive, very cutthroat, and that's not at all the person I was.

MC: Did, did that experience change after your first year? Were you able to find more connections with things that you had previously learned or were active around such as the environmental movement or the Civil Rights movement?

LB: Fortunately, when I went to law school, it was a period of great change in law schools nationally. It was a period of time in which schools were just starting to admit minority students for the first time. In fact, while I was in law school, the Bakke decision came down, which was a decision about special admissions programs designed to get more minorities in. And I think probably my class in law school was one of the first large classes of minority students entering law school. And because of that, there were really wonderful people I was able to connect with my first year of law school.

There were some minority students who were second- and third-year students who were very committed to making the law school a place where minority students felt they belonged and they were entitled to be. And some of these students really reached out to me as a first-year student, and walked up to me and said, "Hey, you want an outline?" "Hey, can I give you some practice exams?" "Hey, we've got a tutorial session. You want to come to it?" They really reached out to me and some of the other students who entered that year, and tried to really make sure that we got through this really tremendously alienating experience as well as possible. And I connected with these people immediately. These second- and third-year students, there were fewer minority students in the second and third year, and I connected with a lot of my colleagues in my entering class, and they've become lifelong friends. We spent hours and hours sitting together in the law school lounge, talking about how we felt like we didn't belong, but ironically, we felt like we really did belong because we were there together, talking about how we didn't belong, which is really, certainly one particularly powerful reason to have these programs and to have minority faculty and have a critical mass of minority students, so that law schools are, number one, more representative of the community that the law schools are supposed to serve, but also so that law school's not such an isolating, intimidating place for a person of color to be.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

MC: Throughout this interview, you've sort of described a continuum from when you were a child and sort of safely nestled within a Japanese American community, and then to, as you entered college, sort of experiencing shock at being a member of a minority community within the college campus and seeing that, that there were quite a few other types of people out there. And then now, with law school and even a higher degree of perhaps alienation or feeling outside the mainstream, during law school, did you ever experience any incidents of outright discrimination or negative experiences against you because you were either a woman or a member of a minority group?

LB: I don't think that I can recall a specific instance where I felt discriminated against because of my race, but I also know that discrimination works in very, very subtle ways. Certainly I think there was probably some type of sense perhaps from some of the professors that I might be a quiet student, that I might be someone who won't speak up. And I'm sure that that happened because I think that's pervasive in society, the stereotypes that people have of Asian Americans, and particularly Asian American women. But while I don't think I can identify an instance where someone was overtly racist to me, I think that law school in general can be a very racist environment, if only from the standpoint that at that point in time, there were very few minority students, there were very few minority faculty. I think that there's a sense and there continues to be a sense that there just aren't qualified minorities who can cut it in law school or there aren't qualified minorities who have accomplished enough to be law school faculty. So even if personally I didn't feel that I was discriminated against, I was certainly aware that law schools and the legal profession were not open to minority students or minority faculty because of the mere absence of them in the environment, which itself leads to a higher sense of alienation on the part of the minorities who are there.

MC: Sure.

LB: So, and certainly when I was there, it was a period of time of great struggle around the issue of affirmative action in law schools and special admissions programs. And the issue really divided the school. There were many people who were either opposed to affirmative action or felt that affirmative action/quotas were not the right thing to do, and in fact, was a bad thing for minorities because we'd be admitting unqualified minorities to the school. So again, even though I might not have experienced personal acts of discrimination against me, I felt those as personal acts of discrimination because I felt like they were looking at me and saying that people like me didn't belong there, and it was okay for me to be there, but we really had to watch how many we let in. And that to me was very personal. So I think discrimination certainly did exist, certainly still does exist. We're breaking down the walls now, but the fight isn't over yet.

MC: Did these debates about Bakke and about affirmative action in professional schools, about special admissions, politicize you more than you had been politicized in college about racial issues?

LB: Very much so. When I started my first year of law school, like I said, I didn't have any really great aspirations to be a political lawyer or an activist or anything. But when I started and people ahead of me started to reach out and share materials with me and help me and made me feel like I did belong there, I certainly became much more aware of the need for that kind of mentoring and that need for a critical mass of minority students in schools, the need for minority professors, and the important, the absolute importance of having minority lawyers.

Soon after I started law school, the decision in Bakke was handed down, and there was a tremendous outpouring of activism around that case. In addition, there was an attempt at my law school to cut back our special admissions program and to limit more the number of minority students at the school. Now, they would never say that it was an attempt to limit the number of minority students, but I think there was certainly an attempt to really say, "We can't lower our standards anymore. We can't take lower LSATs or whatever." It was, and we viewed that as, an attempt to cut back the program. And as a result, there was a tremendous amount of activism at the school to the point where students organized, students got together counterproposals to the administration's proposal, a huge, big demonstration in front of the school. They called out the San Francisco Mounted Police to respond to our assembly with megaphones, and a great big meeting in the school gym, I think it was to raise the different points of view on the affirmative action issue. Very impassioned speeches by people I respect tremendously. And they really became my models and my mentors about social change, about your ability to effect social change, about the need to speak out with what you believe, and that change can occur if you do speak out. And that really heightened my own personal political sense, and I think informed a great deal of what I went on to do after law school.

And if I can expand on that, there were, as I told you, very few minority professors, but there were some who were tremendously influential on me and my life. Chuck Lawrence is a well-known Constitutional Law scholar who was one of my professors, and really made me see the power of speaking out, the power of putting yourself out there personally, and about the law as a vehicle for social change. And there were other professors too, who took us under their wing, and really mentored us and guided us and supported us through some very difficult times.

MC: That's wonderful.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

MC: As you know, the Korematsu v. United States, 1944, decision is a very important case in standard Constitutional Law classes because it stands for the proposition that racial categorizations are subject to strict scrutiny, which is a very high level of judicial scrutiny of legislative decision-making. So I'm wondering whether you studied Korematsu sometime in your second or third year of law school, and can you describe that at all?

LB: Uh-huh. Actually, I just mentioned Chuck Lawrence, and Chuck Lawrence was my Constitutional Law professor. And we studied Korematsu in Constitutional Law in my second year. And I remember reading the case, and again, I had learned about the internment during college. I had had a sense about what the internment was all about. But when I read Korematsu was the first time that I really realized that not only had this happened to the Japanese American community, but that the highest court in the country had said that it was okay, which was a horrible realization because not only did a wrong occur to the community, but the Supreme Court, which is the highest authority in the land, said that it was well within the Constitution that this happened to the Japanese American community. And it made me very angry to read the case.

MC: Did your casebook carry any of the dissents, because it was a 6-to-3 decision, and the dissents are very powerful, particularly Justice Murphy's dissent.

LB: Uh-huh.

MC: But usually casebooks have very highly edited versions of the opinions. So I'm assuming that it probably didn't.

LB: Well, I'm not sure if we had the dissents. But because I had Chuck Lawrence as a professor, because he was a person of color, I was able to learn about the Korematsu case in the way I needed to learn about the Korematsu case. And it was important that he validated that it was wrongly decided, that an injustice had been done against Japanese Americans. And I think if Korematsu had been taught in another way, which is purely as just a case with Constitutional doctrine, it would have been an even more outrageous situation for me than it was.

MC: I think you and I know that that's often the way it is in fact taught in law school, and in fact, it's sometimes not taught at all because people just skip over it to a different case that might stand for the same proposition.

LB: Well, and divorcing it from the human reality behind it, I mean, oftentimes Korematsu is taught, ironically, for the principle that racial discrimination is inherently suspect, and it's the worst type of discrimination that can exist. And it's ironic that that is exactly the point that they teach Korematsu for, when in fact, it was an instance when the court upheld an instance of race discrimination. So I think it was really valuable for me that when the case was taught, it was in the context of the human suffering that went on behind it, and that it was looked at in a real critical way, understanding that it represented a really black part of American legal history.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

MC: This is a continuation of the interview of Lori K. Bannai. Lori, you just described an instance in which something in the law school curriculum actually connected to some larger issues that you really cared about. Were there other instances or examples of that happening during your law school education that you can remember, some important examples?

LB: Well, certainly Constitutional Law, at least the portion dealing with individual rights, not the portion dealing with government power, really connected with me. Issues involving race discrimination, civil rights, First Amendment, I think probably really that was the first time that law school really started to make sense in my life and made me feel like this was something that I could understand and something I could do and connect with. And not only that, the experience of being in Con. Law, and in particular being in Professor Lawrence's Con. Law class, made everything else just make so much more sense. I mean, I could then think back to first-year Property and the conversation about covenants running with the land, and suddenly realized that probably racially restrictive covenants, the question was whether those covenants ran with the land or not. And I could look at other issues in other classes and start seeing them as they related to people of color or to poor people or to other marginalized groups in society. And, and suddenly, I felt like all of a sudden all I really needed to do was to learn the vocabulary, learn the vocabulary and learn the doctrine, and that the connections between that doctrine and that vocabulary and my reality were vast.

But during the first year, there was no way to see that. But I think after taking Con. Law and really getting to know Professor Lawrence, to get to know some of the other professors who I connected with personally, then all of a sudden the whole experience just started to make more sense. And there were some great revelations. I was able to see law as not some static set of rules that had to be memorized and learned and spit back, but actually law as a social institution itself and as a set of rules that change and evolve, or should change and evolve, to better reflect our values as society and concepts of what's right and wrong, and that law really then really is a changing and very much alive entity to be used rather than just read and understood. And again, I don't think that those realizations could have or would have taken place had there not been some professors there who I could identify with and some students there who helped me get through every day. And I was real fortunate. Unfortunately, I think that those things don't exist at all law schools. And one reason I'm teaching now is because I think it's so important to help students get there and understand what the law is, and that the law is their tool, and it's not something that controls society, but in fact, should be something that responds to society.

MC: So it's fair to say that law school had a pretty major impact on your thinking, and it, it empowered you?

LB: Uh-huh.

MC: Right?

LB: And I suppose I would say it's not law school that empowered me. It's the particular people who I met at that law school and who I had the ability to learn from who really empowered me. Law school, in general, I do not think is a very empowering place. And in fact, I think it can be a very demoralizing place. And so it's really more of an issue of creating a situation where students can find that light go on for themselves.

MC: Do you think that by the time you finished law school, your goals and ideals about how you would practice as a lawyer had been sharpened and more defined?

LB: Uh-huh. I think while I was in law school, after the special admissions struggle, after taking Con. Law, and while I was in Con. Law, I started getting much more involved politically on issues of race and class. I tutored special admissions students while I was at law school. I got very involved in admissions work to try and recruit more minority students and admit more minority students. So as I went through law school, I certainly started to focus my interests more in the area of civil rights, public interest work. But in addition, much more interested in probably smaller practice, more community-based practice. Certainly decided I had no interest at all in corporate practice because I had just gotten a much clearer vision about using law to help everyday people.

MC: Did you feel that you were in a minority within your law school class in your decision to go with a smaller practice or more civil rights practice as opposed to a large corporate practice?

LB: I don't think that I was in the minority per se. USF is very much a regional law school. So probably many of my colleagues went out to smaller, medium-sized firms or even solo practice. So I don't think I was unusual in that respect. I do think probably some might think that I didn't aspire to everything that I was capable of. I didn't go out for law review. I didn't go out for a judicial clerkship. A friend of mine told me at one point, "You have an obligation to fulfill your potential. You have an obligation to do everything that you can possibly do," and this was in the context of talking about well, you could be president of the bar association if you wanted to. And my response is well, "I don't want to be president of the bar association." So I don't think what I ended up doing was unusual, but perhaps some people might say I was not ambitious enough. I don't think that's true. I had my ambitions, and I was really happy with them.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

MC: Did you want to say anything at all about graduating from law school and preparing for the bar exam? Is there anything that, that sticks out in your memory that, about that point in your career?

LB: My law school experience was really very mixed. Obviously it was really hard. It was the most difficult thing I've ever done academically in my whole life. It was demoralizing in many ways because half the time I had no idea what people were talking about in class, particularly my first year. I didn't do really great my first year. And you come into contact with a lot of people whose views are very, very different from yours. So it was really difficult and trying in a lot of different ways, but at the same time, I have to say it was a really great and rich experience because I was able to work with such incredible people, and I made some lifelong friends who inspire me every single day now. I was involved in a lot of political struggles with people on the faculty, a lot of conflicts.

And I have to tell you that one thing that really stands out to me about my graduation is that when I went to graduation, my folks were there. And I thought well, this law school feels like, good riddance to this troublemaker, to this person, and good riddance to this law school, too. And I received an award at graduation for outstanding academics, leadership, and activities or something like that. They chose one person out of the graduating class to receive this award. And I pretty much literally fell out of my chair when they read my name because I really thought that they were just so glad to get rid of me. And especially the academics part of the award, I thought was really pretty hilarious. But that was a wonderful lesson for me. It told me that I could work in an environment on political issues and leave with respect, that you can disagree, you can fight for different things, but maybe in the end, people will respect you for your position, even if they don't agree with you. And I think that that's something that I've certainly carried with me quite a bit, that when you fight your fight, you don't want to fight the fight hoping that everyone likes you in the end. But it's nice to know that maybe they might, and maybe you can leave the table and still work together and have respect for one another. And so that really was a very special award to me because I did respect these people. I thought they were absolutely wrong in many things that they believed. But I did respect them because I knew they were just trying to do their job and I was trying to do mine. So that was really a pretty significant thing in my law school experience. The bar exam was just a horrible experience, and there's really nothing redeeming to say about that. [Laughs]

MC: Actually, your last answer reminded me of the fact that the award that you got and, and what it symbolized to you in some ways contradicts some of the, perhaps some of the early lessons that you were learning from your family, about perhaps not making too many waves, particularly as a woman. And it raises the larger question of the culture of law school or legal education being somewhat at odds with sort of traditional Japanese culture or the values that you might have picked up as a child. Do you have any thoughts about that at all? Did you feel that law school changed those values, or do you agree with me that there might have been some conflict at all?

LB: I think there's a tremendous amount of conflict. I think the answer is quite complex. Certainly the answer is complex even outside of law school. I come from a family that, that really embraced many of the traditional cultural values of, you know, don't make waves, don't be conspicuous. Yet my father was very much out there, and my mother was very much a renegade for pursuing her education. So within my family itself there's a lot of conflict. Certainly when I went to law school, all of that flew in the face of everything I had grown up with. The whole Socratic method, the whole thing about getting called on and having to recite a case and engage in dialog and debate, I had not grown up with. Speaking out in class was really very intimidating to me and really frightening to me. And then again, getting politically active, that was the first time in my life that I took some real leadership in an adversarial or quasi-adversarial -- I don't think anyone would call it adversarial -- context, but it's also the first time that I really felt passionately about some of the issues, political issues, that were going on around me. And so it was not difficult for me to speak up, I think because of the tools my family gave me. But it made it frightening to speak out because of some of the baggage that I got being Japanese American.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

MC: So you spent three years in law school, and you graduated in 1979. And what did you do after you passed the bar exam? Where did you practice?

LB: My third year of law school I clerked for a small law firm called Minami, Tomine, and Lew in Oakland, California. It was probably one of the first Asian American law firms in the country, as far as I know. The attorneys in the firm had started the Asian Law Caucus in Oakland, and left the caucus to start their own practice. And I started clerking for them in my third year of law school. Small firm, five, six Asian American attorneys on Lake Merritt in Oakland. Struggling practice. And after I graduated from law school, I actually took two half-time jobs. I took a half-time position as an attorney with the law firm, and a half-time position doing academic support work at Boalt Hall, UC Berkeley Boalt Hall.

MC: So you were the administrator, a law school administrator, and you were practicing as a lawyer in that first year after law school?

LB: Uh-huh. Calling it a law school administrator is rather glorifying it much more than it really was. As you know, that also was the very, very early days of minority academic support programs. And in fact, I was probably one of the first ones around. Law schools established academic support programs in response to special admissions programs, admitting more persons of color and people from non-traditional backgrounds. At Boalt, my position was a half-time position in a windowless, converted janitor's office. And so I doubt anyone viewed me as an administrator at the time. I think it's really great that the school had the program. The program certainly was not on the scale that academic support programs are on now, today, at various law schools where they are very well established and really well-supported, many of them are well-supported. So I did that half-time, and then worked at the firm half-time for a year. And then after that, I went with the law firm full-time.

MC: When you first started practicing law, did any experiences occur -- and this is the same question I had with respect to legal education -- that were discriminatory in nature, targeted at you either because you were a woman or a person of color or perhaps both?

LB: Fortunately, I joined this all-Asian American law firm. So that was really very much home, and it was almost like coming home to Gardena, in fact. Dale Minami grew up in Gardena, so I actually knew his family, growing up in Gardena. So it was really nice for me to be in that firm because it combined not only my brand new legal career, but also that sense of coming home and being in the Asian American community. So race was not an issue at the firm as it could be if I were with another firm. I was the only woman in the firm. But that was really okay, too.

However, going out into practice, certainly there were many issues. Again, I was a member of this first crop of minorities graduating from law schools, so minorities just started to come out of law schools in large numbers at that period of time. So the bar was not particularly diverse. And there were numerous instances where I knew race was an issue. Not that I felt that I was discriminated against as far as people calling me incompetent or calling me racist names, but for example, I would walk into the courtroom, on several occasions I can think of, and be asked immediately if I were the interpreter or asked where my lawyer was because it just seemed inconceivable, I think, to some people that an Asian woman, maybe a young-looking Asian woman, could possibly be an attorney.

I had one instance where I was handling a case representing some clients in Hong Kong. And we'd served some papers in Hong Kong, and the question was whether we had served the papers in compliance with the law of Hong Kong as required by international treaty. And the judge said that he wanted a declaration from a Hong Kong attorney, a Hong Kong barrister, on this issue of Hong Kong law, and he wanted to make sure that I had it translated. And I told the judge that they speak, in fact, the Queen's English, and it did not have to be translated, and the judge insisted that it had to be translated. And I thought how strange that this judge would automatically assume that because it was Hong Kong, they didn't speak English.

Personally, I felt on numerous occasions that I would walk into depositions or other situations with other lawyers, and they would look at me, and feel like, "Oh, this is going to be an easy win because I've got this Asian, quiet Asian woman on the other side." So I suppose I was really conscious of having to be very good at what I do and be particularly articulate and be particularly smart, to make sure that my clients knew and the other attorneys knew that I was good at what I did, regardless of the way that I looked, and that the way I looked didn't define me.

MC: As you know, these kinds of issues are still problems for women of color practicing law. I'm wondering, besides being super-competent at what you do as a lawyer, whether there were other coping mechanisms or other ways that you sort of shored up your confidence in yourself as a lawyer at this point in time, at the early point in your career?

LB: I suppose, again, it comes back to the strategies I had relied on much earlier: good mentors, good friends. There were some wonderful mentors out there, Asian women who had come before me, and in fact, when I started practicing, a group was formed called Asian Women Lawyers. And we would get together for brunch every Sunday morning at someone's house. And there were a number of Asian women lawyers who had entered the practice before me, and they were just great as far as reaching out to the younger attorneys and just providing us support and advice and talking about issues. So they were there.

There were also other mentors in the profession itself. There were some wonderful judges who I got to know. I got to know a number of judges who really supported me and always had a kind word of encouragement for me. And we finally got an Asian American judge, Ken Kawaichi, who served on the superior court in Alameda County, and that was great, to know that there was an Asian American judge sitting on the bench. Now, we have so many. We have a number of them. Not enough, but we have a number sitting on the bench. But even just that one judge who got appointed, there was a friendly, familiar face when I went to court, someone whose courtroom I could stop in and say hi, and those things meant a great deal.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

MC: Is there anything else about your early experience practicing law that you might want to share?

LB: My law firm was a really special, great place. Again, it was a small practice with Dale Minami, Eugene Tomine, Garrick Lew, and we had a lot of fun. We were all quite young. We were fairly new out of law school. And what was really special about it is that it was very much our firm, and we ran the firm the way we wanted to rather than following the LA Law model or some traditional model of the way a law firm should be. Because it was our own firm, it was our own time. We worked really, really hard. We played really, really hard. Dale and I made it a point every day to go down at 4 o'clock to the local ice cream parlor and play a few rounds of Space Invaders before calling it a day.

And we took cases we wanted to take. We helped kind of a lot of mom-and-pop kind of clients. And it was a really, really nice way to practice law. We practiced on Lake Merritt in Oakland with ghetto blasters kind of going by on skateboards and things like that. We didn't have much money at all. We sat down every month and tried to figure out what bills we would pay and what bills we could maybe hold off on for another couple months. And it was very difficult obviously financially at times. But it was a wonderful sense of freedom and camaraderie around the firm. So I think back on it very fondly.

MC: At this time, which is the late '70s, early '80s, were you or anyone else in your firm aware of what was going on in the redress movement as a whole, or were you involved in the redress movement?

LB: Uh-huh. One of the things about the law firm was that it was very, very much committed to community lawyering. The law firm had been involved in a number of different community-based issues before I got to the firm and after I joined the firm. They were involved in issues, a case involving rounding up young Asian American men in police sweeps. They represented Wendy Yoshimura, who had been picked up with Patty Hearst. They were involved in suing a university for not having an Asian American Studies program. So the, the firm itself was very interested in doing political work.

When I joined the firm, the redress movement had just started to kind of come together. The Japanese American community had talked for many years about seeking redress and about legislation, and had just started to kind of come together about then. About that time, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians was formed, and Congress started to hold hearings nationally to receive testimony about the internment. And when we learned about this, we decided to start a group, which we called Bay Area Attorneys for Redress, BAAR, with Dale, from my firm, with me, with some attorneys from the Asian Law Caucus, and some other community lawyers. We decided to prepare a brief to the Commission on the Constitutional issues raised by the internment. So we started to meet, and we put together this brief, which we submitted, and we also offered testimony before the Commission in Washington, D.C., and in the San Francisco hearings. So we were very much interested in the redress movement, and certainly tried to play what role we could play in seeking redress.

MC: And this was about 1981, right?

LB: Uh-huh.

MC: And around the same time, a legal historian by the name of Peter Irons was also preparing testimony before the CWRIC Commission...

LB: Uh-huh.

MC: ...and found some documents that the Justice Department had suppressed during the original trials involving Fred Korematsu and Gordon Hirabayashi and Minoru Yasui. So how did your law firm hook up with Peter Irons, because eventually you all ended up working together.

LB: Peter had discovered these (documents) when he was researching his book -- he was researching a book on the lawyers, the government lawyers who were involved in the wartime Korematsu, Hirabayashi, and Yasui cases. When he was researching his book, he found some startling documentation, startling records, from the U.S. Government showing that they had lied to the Supreme Court while they were prosecuting the cases during World War II. Peter immediately recognized that this could present an opportunity for challenging those wartime decisions, and contacted Fred, Gordon, and Min, and asked them if they would be interested in pursuing a case that would reopen their convictions. Peter realized that he would be unable to prosecute or defend these cases, bring these cases on his own, so he was really interested in finding a group of lawyers who would be willing to work on the case. Because of our work with BAAR, and that we had been out there on the redress movement, I'm not sure, I think perhaps Min Yasui might have recommended to Peter that he contact Dale. So Dale got a phone call from Peter asking if we'd be interested in the case. Dale walked down the hallway and asked me if I'd be interested in it, and we got on the phone to, again, some of our friends who had been involved in this BAAR testimony to set up a meeting with Peter to talk to him about what he had found.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

MC: Before we get into the, the nuts and bolts of the case that you worked on, which was a case challenging Fred Korematsu's conviction in the '40s, it might be useful to kind of talk about the original Korematsu v. United States case and what he was actually convicted of.

LB: Uh-huh. Do you want me to keep to it to Fred's case?

MC: Sure.

LB: Okay. As you know, during World War II, there were a number of different orders issued against Japanese Americans. By authority of the President, the military was empowered to issue orders against the Japanese American community, to control the Japanese American community on the West Coast. There were several different orders that were issued. One was first, initially, a curfew order, then an order excluding Japanese Americans from the West Coast, followed by an order requiring Japanese Americans to report for detention. Most Japanese Americans complied with these orders.

Fred Korematsu, who was living in San Leandro at the time, refused to comply with those orders. When he was ordered to evacuate, he refused to go, and he stayed in the San Leandro area, and was subsequently arrested. He was convicted in the trial court level. He was convicted of violating the exclusion order, and his case went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which held that the exclusion order was constitutional, that the government had the power to impose a curfew, to order the exclusion of Japanese Americans because of quote "military necessity." Military necessity existed because we were at war with Japan, and so it was valid and constitutional for the government to order Japanese Americans removed from the West Coast. That was in 1944 that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Mr. Korematsu's conviction, and that decision remained on the books up until the point in time that we brought our coram nobis actions.

MC: Now, there are at least two points about that original Korematsu v. United States case that are important, one of which is that the evidence that all the courts, including the Supreme Court, relied upon at the time was very, very minimal, even if you don't include the suppression issue, that there was just very minimal evidence that the Japanese American population actually constituted a, a danger to the national security of the United States. And the second point is that this was the first time in U.S. Constitutional history that a group, a law affected a group to the point that they would, they were in fact detained without individual hearing. And in our Constitutional system, as you know, due process requires in most cases an individual hearing before someone is detained, and so there are at least two things about the original decisions, even when they were decided, that seemed to be quite problematic.

LB: Uh-huh.

MC: So what was -- what was new? What, what persuaded Peter Irons and your team to attack those convictions in addition to those two things that I've already discussed?

LB: Uh-huh. The original, the United States Supreme Court's decision in Korematsu, again, was based on a finding that there was military necessity for the exclusion of Japanese Americans from the West Coast. And the government in that case had argued, and the Supreme Court agreed, that the situation was dire, that it was an imminent necessity, that there was no time to separate the loyal from the disloyal, to allow hearings. The Japanese Americans had to be removed from the West Coast right away to avoid any danger of sabotage or espionage. The documents that Peter Irons found and subsequent documents that were developed during the case and found by Aiko Yoshinaga Herzig and Jack Herzig proved quite conclusively that in fact the government's argument before the Supreme Court was based on intentional falsehood. The government had in its own possession intelligence reports from the FBI, from the Office of Naval Intelligence, from the FCC, that they had studied the Japanese American situation and did not feel that there was a grave threat or that mass internment was advisable. They disproved allegations of espionage and sabotage that had been put forth by General DeWitt, who was the commanding officer on the Western Defense Command. So the government had in its possession these intelligence reports that undermined the whole military necessity argument, and chose not to reveal those documents to the court. And in fact, one of the U.S. attorneys representing the government in the arguments wrote to his superior, and said, "If we don't tell the Supreme Court about these reports, it will be tantamount to suppression of evidence." And he was overruled, and those documents and intelligence reports were never given to the court. He tried to insert a footnote into the United States Government's brief disclaiming some reliance on General DeWitt's report, and that footnote was ordered deleted from the government's brief.

On top of that, one of the main documents that the Supreme Court relied on was General Dewitt's final report on the evacuation of the Japanese Americans from the West Coast. In that report, the Court found the statement, and relied on the statement, that there was insufficient time to separate the loyal from the disloyal. Unbeknownst to the Court, there was actually a prior version of that final report, and that prior version suggested that it didn't matter how much time they had, that they would have still removed the Japanese Americans from the West Coast because no matter how long you took, you could never figure out the loyal Japanese Americans from the disloyal. So time was not an issue, as the government had argued to the Supreme Court. That original version of the report that said time was not an issue was ordered destroyed and copies burned. Fortunately, a functionary within the army saved what didn't burn, one copy, and saved a copy of a document saying that he had burned the other copies. So what was before the Court was a revised version of the report that supported the government's position and the other report that contradicted the government's position was ordered destroyed. And Peter Irons and Aiko Yoshinaga were able to find the original copy of the report which seriously undermined the government's position, and all of that aided in our argument that the government had suppressed, altered, and destroyed material evidence before the Court.

MC: So there was new and quite powerful evidence...

LB: Uh-huh.

MC: ...that the government had doctored the, the evidence at the original criminal trial.

LB: Right. The government -- these new documents showed quite conclusively that the government had engineered the result that they wanted from the U.S. Supreme Court. And Peter certainly recognized that they could certainly provide a basis for reopening the Korematsu, Hirabayashi, and Yasui cases these many years later.

MC: At that point in time, was the evidence of the misrepresentation before the Supreme Court during the oral arguments by the Solicitor General, had that been discovered at that point in time; do you remember?

LB: No. I think that that might have been something that was developed later, but I'm not sure.

MC: Okay. Good.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

MC: So going back to the time when Dale walked into your office and said, "Do you want to take this case?" can you sort of describe some of the events that happened including the decision to take the case and what vision you had for this particular case?

LB: When, I know that when he came to my office and asked me and told me that it was a case involving Fred Korematsu and the Japanese American internment, I might not have known it exactly at that point in time, but certainly probably soon knew that this was just a tremendous opportunity, a case of a lifetime. It involved my parents' internment, our parents' internment, Dale's family; many of the members of the legal team were from families who had been interned. It was a case that would reopen not only Fred's individual case, but also the whole question about the internment in general. I was only a year or two out of law school when Peter Irons called us up. And it was really exciting. I mean, you go to law school, and you read Roe v. Wade. You read some of these ground-breaking cases, and wouldn't it be great to be able to work on a case like that one day. And I think we realized very early on, not the magnitude of the work -- we certainly didn't have a sense of what we were going into or how much time it would take or how hard it would be -- but we certainly knew that it was important to us personally and to our community to be involved in this case. So we were real excited about it.

Of course, we didn't know Peter Irons. We didn't know who he was, what he wanted, or what our role would be. So we approached it probably with a healthy degree of skepticism and waited to meet with him and meet with Fred and, and learn more about it. So I recall that there was some correspondence going back and forth between Peter and Dale. Dale and I had called some other people in the area to ask them if they wanted to get involved. So somewhere along the line, we put together a meeting with Peter at Dale's house, with maybe about a half a dozen of us local attorneys with him. We thought that he'd be a real stuffy college professor type, real scholarly and intellectual, and it turned out that he really was not our preconceived notion of what a university professor was. He was very down-to-earth, rather irreverent, actually. So we knew we liked him immediately, and I think that he liked us immediately.

He told us what he had found and showed us the documents, and we were stunned, and very excited, and knew that there was a case here. We then at some point set up a meeting with Fred and Kathryn Korematsu at their home. And I remember that all of us were really excited about that meeting. He's a cultural icon in some ways, particularly for law students. We read his case. We knew that he had fought the internment. So we were very excited about meeting him, and we went to his home. They were extraordinarily gracious people. They really welcomed us into their home. We could tell that they were really quite skeptical about these really, really young-looking lawyers handling their case. But they were still very welcoming to us. And I think they really believed in us and that we would be able to do it. So Fred said, "Okay. Let's go ahead." Certainly I remember at one of our very early meetings, perhaps our first meeting with Fred, he was really gung-ho to go forward. He really wanted to reopen the case. But he had one condition, and that was that he really didn't feel comfortable talking to the press or talking in public, and would it be okay if we did the talking for him. And we said, "That's fine. You're not going to have to say anything to the press. You're not going to have talk to anyone. We'll do the talking for you. Don't worry about it." And it's so interesting because this case certainly has certainly transformed him as a person, and he's really been such an active, outspoken advocate for redress. And he's gone all over the country talking about the case now. So I think back to that really early meeting and, and smile.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

MC: I'd like to get to, back to your relationship with Fred as a client, but before we do that, as you know, the conviction, his conviction was almost forty years old by the time the team of lawyers in San Francisco at your firm decided to try to reopen it. And that's a long, long period of time. Typically, most cases, when they're finally decided by the Supreme Court are finally decided. How did you decide or what vehicle did you decide to use to reopen these convictions that were so old?

LB: There was, to our surprise since we had never heard of it before, a legal procedure called the writ of error coram nobis, coram nobis meaning error before us. And it's a vehicle by which a court can reopen an old case in extraordinary circumstances. And in this circumstance, the extraordinary circumstance was that a fundamental error had occurred before the court. There was a fraud on the court. The U.S. government had lied to the court and created a tainted record. And on the basis of this manifest injustice, the law would allow the reopening of an old case, and that was the vehicle that we used here.

MC: But that's hardly a regular vehicle that lawyers use all the time, right?

LB: It's very, very rare, and there's very few reported cases on the writ of error coram nobis. And in fact, when we went in to file the papers with the court in January of 1983, the court clerk had to run back to the back office to ask other people how they're supposed to handle the filing of this because they'd never seen it before.

MC: Was there an assessment by the team of how likely it was that you would succeed using this vehicle of writ of error coram nobis?

LB: Well, certainly we did a lot of legal research. We did a lot of research on what this procedure was, what was required to bring this procedure, and we had a lot of discussion about it. There are some requirements for the writ that we had to prove. And we, of course, as good lawyers, did the research and did our analytical assessment about whether we could prevail or not. But I also think that there was certainly a strong sense of optimism and idealism, that the question wasn't, "Can we do this?" The question was, "How will we do this?" So in other words, we weren't doing the research to figure whether we should file or not, we were doing the research to find out how to construct our arguments so that we would win because we had a great deal of optimism and faith that we would win. Obviously, with the evidence that we had of prosecutorial misconduct there was no reason in our mind that we should not win. Despite that optimism, though, we had to constantly assess the risks, assess what the likelihood was that we would prevail, assess the down side. And we sometimes thought that there was a possibility that we could lose, and what would that mean for Fred Korematsu? What would that mean for our community? But I can't recall that we ever had great doubts.

MC: Other people had doubts though, right?

LB: I think that there were some doubts in some sectors. Certainly on one level there might have been some concern that if we lost, it would make things much worse for the redress movement than if we had never filed at all. I think there was some concern from within the Japanese American community that this could possibly negatively impact the quest for redress. Former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg expressed some concern about us filing. He was concerned that if the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court would not rule in our favor, and the ultimate ruling would be more damaging to the community and to the law in general than if we had never filed. So we did receive some concerns, hear of some concerns, on the part of some people that we should not proceed or that we might not be successful. And people like my mom worried about whether, I'd get into trouble with the U.S. Government, and is this really what I should be doing because she didn't want me to get arrested or get an FBI file or something like that.

But given all of that, I can't recall that any of us ever really felt that there was any point in time that we felt discouraged or questioned at all whether we should proceed. We were young, we were idealistic, we had lots of energy, and we knew we were right. And I suppose that that just kept on carrying us. And there was tremendous support from all quarters supporting us and urging us on and supporting us with $10 checks, $15 checks, letters of thanks, letters of support, and so certainly even though there might have been some who felt that our actions were ill-advised, it was a very small minority.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

MC: I think it's important to note that this was done without any basis for recovering fees because it's, it was an action against the United States Government basically to vacate a conviction. It wasn't an action asking for any money damages, and so there was no possibility of recovery of attorney's fees, correct?

LB: Well, actually, we did bring a motion for attorney's fees.

MC: Oh, did you?

LB: Yeah.

MC: Was it successful?

LB: No, it wasn't. But it was, certainly one of the things -- the writ of error coram nobis is, is the, you bring the writ to basically erase your conviction. So we brought this writ of error coram nobis, and what we wanted was that the record of Fred's criminal conviction be vacated or erased from the books, and as you said, not seeking any monetary relief, not seeking any monetary damages or attorney's fees, at least initially. And I think that that was actually a really important thing, that money was not sought, that it was really that the case was brought for vindication, to vindicate Fred's name, to vindicate the community's name. And then that was all that was at stake. And I think it made it a much more appealing issue, as it were, to the general public, that this was a question of principle and not a question of money.

One thing about the case that I think that many have commented on before is that it was, it was felt really necessary to challenge those World War II Supreme Court decisions because any question about getting Japanese American redress would normally be answered by, well, the U.S. Supreme Court said it was okay, so therefore, the internment was all right. So it seemed very important to bring some type of proceeding to attack the validity of the U.S. Supreme Court cases so that that argument could not be used. And so to the extent that the coram nobis cases were purely brought to undermine the factual basis for those opinions, to basically, as you might say, knock out the legs from under the opinion, if we could do that, we would have won a great victory for the community and for the petitioners, but also perhaps in some small way pave the way for redress before Congress.

MC: So it was very related to other, other aspects of the redress movement then?

LB: Uh-huh. One of the really wonderful things that came out of the case and the biggest significance of the case for me, is that it was really not just one legal case. It wasn't just a bunch of lawyers and one client bringing a lawsuit to benefit that one client, but it really was one part of a much larger political effort. It was our case being brought at the same time redress was being sought before Congress, at the same time NCJAR was bringing its class action, at the same time there was media coming out, media covering the story, plays being written, Rick Shiomi's play, Steve Okazaki's film. The issue of redress and the experience of Japanese Americans was a whole movement brought by and pushed by numerous different segments within the community itself. And not only that, but also it was a powerful example of the value of coalition work. The Jewish American organizations got behind redress. Other civil rights organizations got involved in it. So numerous different portions of the community and communities outside of the Japanese American community (got) behind this issue on the basis of principle. And to me, that was really powerful, and again, much more powerful than had it just been a single client with a single group of lawyers seeking just a single small remedy.

MC: You've mentioned that this case is all about community or was all about community. And just to link this quickly to some of the observations in the first part of the interview, your father was involved in some way in some official capacity with the redress movement, was he not?

LB: When they started the Commission, he was, I think, appointed the first executive director of the Commission. So actually, he was asked by President Reagan to take an administrative position with the Commission. And in that capacity, he opened the office, and he hired the initial staff, and basically got the ball rolling, and started to put together the initial hearings before he stepped down from that position. So it was a pretty interesting situation sometimes because for example, I was involved in communicating with the Commission when my father was the director of the Commission at the same time. So kind of a family affair.

MC: And the Commission report, Personal Justice Denied, was the final report, was a very, very powerful, very well-researched, very factually laden government document. Were you able to use any of that in your case?

LB: Actually, quite, quite a bit and not. We didn't actually use the report itself. In fact, the report was in the process of being actually prepared while the case was going on. The case, the Korematsu case was filed in January of 1983. And I think what happened is Victor Stone, who was the attorney for the U.S. Government, kept coming into court saying, "We can't answer. We more time. We need more time. We can't answer because the Commission is preparing this report, and once the report's prepared, then we'll have much more information to be able to proceed." And he'd get a continuance, and the judge would say, "Well, you have to answer by this date." And he'd come back in and say, "This report's not done yet. It's not done yet. Once we get the report, we'll be able to proceed."

And so then finally, the report came out, I think, probably sometime in July or August or something. And he came into court, and he started talking about the Commission's report. And he held it up before the judge, and the judge said, "It's called Personal Justice Denied? That doesn't bode really well for the government's position in this case." So anyway, yes, it was being prepared at the same time. But we didn't actually use the report itself. Certainly much of the information upon which our case was based was information that the Commission relied on in coming out with its report. And so they are congruent in many, many ways, but the report itself was relied on some, not totally.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 29>

MC: You described your optimism when you decided to take the case. Would you, in retrospect, do you think that you were realistic about how easy or how difficult it would be to bring a case against an adversary such as the United States Government?

LB: No. I don't think we were realistic at all, mainly because we had no idea what we were getting into. We had no way of knowing at that point in time what was going to be involved in the case. We didn't know what kind of defense the government would mount. We didn't know what route the case would take, how complex it would become. We didn't know what kind of resources would be required. All of us had, as I said, were fairly recently out of law school, had very small offices and very under-funded offices -- at least in the initial group. So we really didn't know. When we started getting into the case, it was certainly probably much more than we had ever imagined, but I don't think that we felt that it was overwhelming or too much. We just took each day as it came, and adjusted as we needed to. For example, there was a lot of word processing involved and a lot of typing and a lot of photocopying, and we had no ability to do that. We did all of the typing ourselves most of the time, and did this photocopying on this really tiny, primitive photocopy machine, and then realized that we probably really needed some more help.

One attorney was with a medium-sized firm in San Francisco, Bob Rusky, and he was able to bring his firm in, and they had a secretarial pool, and they had big, fancy photocopy machines. And it was just wonderful. It was like, wow, we could actually do this great office work now. The ACLU of Northern California brought in one of its cooperating attorneys. It was Heller, Ehrman. And they were able to bring in some of that administrative secretarial support that we so much needed. So just as a small example, there were all of these things involved in conducting the case that we had no idea about, and we just kind of dealt with them as they came up.

We ended up getting thousands of documents out of the case, government documents that had to be read and indexed. And one of the people on the team sat down and wrote a computer program way before they were any of these litigation document control programs that exist today. He wrote a program from scratch, using probably DBase 3, a very primitive version of DBase 3, and wrote a program whereby we could summarize the documents and index them by sender, date, recipient, cc's, and, and then organize and categorize the information with dozens and dozens of law students reading these documents and, and summarizing them. So there were a lot of things involved that we didn't anticipate, but we just handled when they came up.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 30>

MC: This is a continuation of the interview of Lori K. Bannai on March 23, 2000, by Margaret Chon and Alice Ito. Lori, we just talked a little bit about what it was like to litigate against a powerful adversary like the United States Government and the kind of organizational efforts that were needed to do that. Let's go back a little bit and, and talk a little bit about the formation of the original legal team for the Korematsu litigation.

LB: As I said, Dale and I from our law firm were involved in the case. We had previously been involved in BAAR with Dennis Hayashi of the Asian Law Caucus, (who was) part of the original team. We had worked with some law students. Margie Barrows was a law student at the time. Joyce Matsumori was involved at the Caucus at the time. So we had a core group of lawyers. Some other lawyers from small practices in San Francisco's Japantown. As the effort grew, we brought in some more people, friends, people we had worked with before. (Don Tamaki, with the Asian Law Caucus joined the team.) Karen Kai and Robert Rusky had gone to the University of San Francisco with me, and they joined the team. Robert Rusky was the person I mentioned who had the medium-sized firm and all of the secretarial help that we needed. Leigh-Ann Miyasato was an attorney who came and got involved in the case. Eric Yamamoto took a leave from his firm in Honolulu, Hawaii, to come and work on the case. So the team kind of gradually grew to a core group of, of probably a dozen lawyers or so. Ed Chen, who was then at a firm, Coblentz and Caen, (and then) with the ACLU, joined the team.

So the Korematsu team kind of developed to about a dozen lawyers and a number of our law clerks and law students who came in and helped with the legal research, helped with summarizing the documents, and helping with the media work that was done on the case. In addition, we knew that we had to have some lawyers involved in the case from Portland and from Seattle. Gordon Hirabayashi had been originally convicted in Seattle, and Min Yasui had been originally convicted in Portland, so we felt we needed to have some lawyers there to handle those parts of the case. When we originally started the case, it was our intention and hope that the cases would be consolidated into one proceeding in San Francisco, so that the quote "Korematsu team" or the San Francisco team would do the major portion of the litigation. But knowing that there had to be local counsel up here, we contacted my sister, Kathryn Bannai, who was practicing in Seattle at the time. She got together a legal team up here of people like Rod Kawakami and Roger Shimizu and Mike Leong and Sharon Sakamoto and others. We contacted Peggy Nagae in Portland, Oregon, and she was then, I think, with the University of Oregon. And she put together a legal team there to handle anything that might happen, again, in these other jurisdictions. So there were simultaneously three legal teams put together of lawyers, predominantly Asian American lawyers, predominantly Sansei lawyers, in these three jurisdictions.

Everybody seemed to take different roles as the case started to develop. Dale took on the role of lead counsel (for) the San Francisco team. I took on the role primarily of handling the documents, document control, scanning, summarizing the documents, and organizing the documents. Dennis Hayashi and Bob Rusky took primary responsibility for coordinating the legal research. Peter certainly was key in drafting the original petition, and both of us worked with the documents together. Karen Kai and I had responsibility for coordinating the work between the three legal teams, and Don Tamaki was in charge of all of the fundraising activities and the community education activities. So each of us had different kind of specialties within the legal team, but at the same time everyone pretty much did everything. Everyone was involved in reviewing documents, everyone was involved in going around and giving speeches and fundraising, everyone was involved in legal research. So despite the fact that we had different kind of jurisdictions, it was a very much of a collective effort on the team.

MC: Sounds like a very complex organizational effort there.

LB: Certainly I mentioned before that one of the great things about working on this case was the fact that it was part of a larger movement. But certainly co-equal to that as far as what was great about working on this case was the collective effort of this particular team. I had never had the experience of working with a group of people that had such exceptional chemistry before, and I haven't had that experience since. It was a truly remarkable group of lawyers, really bright lawyers, really energetic lawyers, really committed lawyers, politically committed lawyers. And we meshed really well as far as work style. There was surprisingly very little ego involved. No grandstanding. Everyone, I think, was really very much there for the cause, for trying to win the case, and for being there to support each other and support the team and support our client towards winning the case. Aside from how exciting the issue was, the ability to work with this particular group was just amazing.

MC: I know Dennis Hayashi has described you, Lori Bannai, as being the brain of the Korematsu team, and I'm wondering what sort of dynamics arose within the team. You've described them in general, but anything in particular that comes to mind?

LB: I don't think at all that I was the brains behind the team. Everyone, every single individual in the group was the brains behind the team. Just to give you a picture, we worked very long hours together. We had our regular day jobs where we handled fender-benders and divorces and represented tenants and things like that, and many evenings, many weekends, worked late into the night doing legal research, having meetings constantly, strategized our legal effort, planned fundraising efforts, talked to media, went to speak at Rotary clubs and JACL meetings, and colleges, university campuses. There were so many things to do, and my sense about it today is that whenever something needed to get done, whether the speech at Harvard Law School or the truly mundane photocopy job, every single member of the team was there to get the job done. And I feel, as I say, that today that that just sounds so idealistic and so rosy, but that is the way I feel about it. It was really a group of people who knew that there were all of these jobs to get done, and all of those jobs were crucial to the effort. And it didn't matter how much time it took, and it didn't matter that we weren't getting paid for, I think, anybody on the team.

MC: It sounds as if the team was bound together by a sense of principle, idealism, sense of community, perhaps a sense of being up against a very powerful adversary and having to stick together and really help each other out.

LB: I think that's really true. I mean, as I said, most of us were from families who had been interned. This case was a very personal case to all of us certainly on one level, but it was also a very significant political case. It represented not just Fred Korematsu's internment and the internment of our families, but it also represented to us what law was all about, that law should be used and could be used as a vehicle to effectuate social change, that the law could right something that was wrong. Now, of course, all of us, I think, certainly have a healthy degree of cynicism about the law. The law justifies, perpetuates grave injustice every single day, and certainly most of us spent our law school career and our early career in the practice of law, fighting the law, fighting government. But I think at the same time, there was a sense that the law could be used as a tool to right the very wrongs that the law had wrought. So I think we were bound by an idealism, by perhaps also skepticism, and by a sense that what we were doing was more important than any of us individually. And to that extent, as I said, I think people remarkably put egos aside, put concerns of money aside, and worked on this case together really in a dynamic, amazing way.

<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 31>

MC: When we were talking about your law school experience, one of the things that struck both Alice and me is your sense of anger when you had read in your Constitutional Law class the original Korematsu v. United States case. And I'm assuming that that sense of anger and sort of righteousness and principle is what animated your later effort as his lawyer, trying to vacate that original conviction. How do you explain being able to hold in, you know, in, in one whole sort of view of the law, that sense of anger and also this sense of perhaps the redemptive potential of law, or as you described before, the sense of idealism and skepticism towards the law? How do you explain the ability to hold those two opposites together?

LB: I think it really comes from perhaps something I mentioned earlier, a different view of the law, that one has to view the law as not a static institution. If one viewed the law as a static institution, that is, a set of rules that we all have to live by and we're stuck with them, I think it would be a very bleak world. We would be stuck with segregation, we would be stuck with the glass ceiling, we would be stuck with poverty forever. Now, we may be stuck with poverty forever, but I think that one has to see the law as an animated entity, as something that can be used like a tool, like you would use a hammer or a screwdriver or a saw, something that you could use to build something. And I think it's that view of the law that's the only thing that keeps me going in it, the view that, yes, the law can be a vehicle for grave injustice, but, that same vehicle can be used to cure injustice and to make things right, and the key is just knowing how to use that tool. And if you're a person of color in this society, if you're wanting to serve the needs of disenfranchised people, you have to view the law as a tool for change and believe that it can be used that way. Now it can't be used that way successfully all the time, certainly not often enough to please me. But it can be used, and you just have to know it well enough and be good and well-skilled enough to be able to find the way to make it work for you and the community you're seeking to serve.

So I think that healthy skepticism can co-exist with a sense of optimism because I think that the law is a fluid institution. It is not and it will never be as fluid as I think it should be. But I blame that not necessarily on the law, but I really blame that on the people who administer the law, enact the law, enforce the law, and interpret the law. Because after all, they're only human beings. So to the extent that we can get more minorities and more people from different perspectives in positions enacting the law, interpreting the law, applying the law, then the law will continue to be a living, changing, animated institution.

MC: Uh-huh. So it's, you seem to be suggesting that law can be responsive to the needs of everyone in society, but it's still even now dominated too much perhaps by a certain set of perspectives, that, that people in law or in legal education are still not diverse enough to represent the society that, that, that the law really needs to, to structure.

LB: I think that's very true. I mean, if you look at the vast numbers of people of color, minorities, in this country, and that percentage is growing and growing every single day, to the point where the majority in this country will be minority or people of color, and you compare that to the really very small numbers of minorities in positions of political power, that is, in the legislatures, in government, in corporate America, high-level management positions in corporate America, and the number of lawyers who are minorities, it's very, very small. The doors continue to be, if not totally closed, just slightly ajar to people of color in this country. And until that changes, the law will not be that being that responds to the needs of minority or disenfranchised people because it's only people who apply the law.

<End Segment 31> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 32>

MC: The coram nobis cases are a very good example, actually, of the impact of the admissions of, of minority students to law schools because the vast majority of people on the coram nobis teams were in fact these newly graduated minority lawyers. And so it's possible that the case may not, the cases may not have been brought at all, but for the admission of this, this group of people. I'm wondering, I'm interested in the fact, as you know, that there were a quite a few women lawyers on the teams, and in fact, women began to be admitted to law school in large numbers only in the early 1970s. So if you graduated in '79, you were really part of that first wave of, of women graduates, and there were a number of women involved in the coram nobis efforts including your sister, Kathryn Bannai, and Sharon Sakamoto up here in Seattle, Peggy Nagae in Portland, and, and you and a few others down in San Francisco. Do you see any impact of gender, either in, in the form of, of the lawyer-to-lawyer interactions on the teams or the impact of gendered thinking perhaps on strategies, legal strategies, within those teams? It's clear that we have the, the effect of minority lawyers shaping the whole strategy, but what about gender?

LB: Hmm. I think that's a very hard question for me to answer, and I don't think I'm in a position right now to put together a response I'm going to feel good about.


<End Segment 32> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 33>

MC: I know that you undertook a very extensive public education and media campaign in conjunction with the litigation effort. Can you comment on that a little bit?

LB: We felt from the very, very beginning of the litigation that a public education effort was just as important as the legal effort. Obviously in taking on this case, it was important that we be good lawyers, that we win the case, that we conduct our discovery, that we engage in drafting pleadings, that we do all of the things that were necessary to win in court, but in addition, we felt really strongly from day one that the most important court was not the court of law, but it was the court of public opinion. And to that end, we felt it very important to get out there into the public, to tell people about the internment and about the suppression of evidence, about what we had found in the documents, so that people would be educated about this terrible miscarriage of justice that happened during World War II.

And the reason we felt that way was because, you can change a law through the legislature, you might be able to win a case in a court, but if the will of the people seeks to do this again, if there's a popular uprising to intern a group of people based on race or to round up people who are HIV-positive or whatever, if there's a popular will to do it, those laws can be changed, and they're simply pieces of paper. So it became very important to make sure that there was a heightened public awareness about what had happened, so that people could know that they had a role in making sure that this would not happen again. And to that end, we participated in speaking all over the country. Again, we spoke at colleges and universities and JACL meetings and youth group meetings, Lions Club meetings, everywhere we could go to try and talk about the issue of the internment and about the cases that we were working on. And we were amazingly received. People are really shocked to hear about the internment. It's shocking to me that people don't know about it even today, and wherever we went, we were received by people saying, "Yes. I remember that. It was a horrible time." Or, "I can't believe that that happened. I can't believe people let that happen." And I think that as a result of the redress effort in general, there's a tremendously heightened public awareness about the internment, and that that will go a long ways towards making sure that this won't happen again.

MC: The coram nobis teams actually won all three cases, the Portland and Seattle and San Francisco teams all managed to have the convictions vacated. Do you think the judges in all of these three different courts may have been influenced by the public education effort?

LB: Hmm. You know, I really can't say. I mean, my sense about it is they may not have been specifically influenced by our public education effort, but certainly legal commentators and Con. Law scholars for years and years have denounced the Korematsu opinion as a civil liberties disaster. I can't imagine that any of those judges could sit through reading the case in Constitutional Law and not come to their own decision that there was a great miscarriage of justice. So while they might not have been influenced by our particular effort, certainly any reasonable person familiar with the case could have decided on their own that a wrong had been committed.

MC: I'd like to go back a little bit to how it was to work with Fred as a client through all of this. You had described earlier a little bit about meeting with him to present the possibility of representing him, and him agreeing to that. Throughout the course of the litigation, what was the quality of your, your interactions with him like?

LB: He was a wonderful client, and we developed a wonderful relationship with him. He and his wife became like surrogate parents to all of us. Certainly Kathryn was always worried about whether we were getting enough sleep and whether we had enough to eat. They, I think, grew to be quite fond of us, and we grew to be quite fond of them. Fred was a really supportive, encouraging client. He trusted our opinion. Again, I think he might have started out a little skeptical about us because we were so young, but I think that he quickly grew to trust us and rely on us, and felt very positively about the energy that the team had, and certainly, began to really trust the skill and the ability of the members of the team.

We certainly consulted with him every step of the way. It was an unusual situation because we had a client, Fred Korematsu, and as a lawyer, your first obligation is to your client. And so certainly he was the person who would make the ultimate decisions in the case, with our advice and counsel. But it was also an unusual case because aside from having Fred as a client, we in some ways had the entire Japanese American community as a client because this case, for us at least, represented the trial that they never had. Certainly as lawyers, we never let our concerns about how the community would feel about the case get in the way of our representation of our client. Fortunately, there was never any deviation between what Fred wanted and what we wanted to do politically. So it was a really wonderful working relationship that continues to this day. We still go out and do speaking engagements with him. We still get together at fundraising events and dinners, and I have just such tremendous regard for him.

MC: Terrific.

<End Segment 33> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 34>

MC: Today is March 24th, year 2000, Y2K, and we are interviewing Lorraine K. Bannai. This is the second day of taping, and the interviewers are Margaret Chon and Alice Ito. Lori, at one point during the litigation, the government decided to extend a pardon or a possible pardon to Fred, your client. Can you describe the circumstances surrounding that?

LB: The government, in Korematsu, was served with the petition alleging governmental misconduct, and immediately the government had great difficulty forming a response. They went into court and said they needed more time. They made repeated requests for extensions, and said that they could not answer the allegations in the petition. Basically, they were stalling. The attorney for the U.S. Government said that they were having a very difficult time formulating a position because it was a sensitive subject and involved high-level policymakers deciding how to appropriately respond to the case. So it was months and months, and the government continued to ask for extensions of time.

Eventually, they contacted us, and asked if Fred would be willing to accept a pardon. Again, we viewed this as an effort not to squarely address the allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in the petition, but a way for them to sneak out of any responsibility and end up still looking good. So they offered a pardon, and of course, our obligation as attorneys was to communicate that offer to our client. And we talked about the offer of pardon amongst ourselves first. We did some research on the issue of the effect of the pardon, and amongst ourselves, the attorneys felt quite strongly that a pardon would be unacceptable because a pardon implies that you committed a crime, and that you were guilty and you're merely being forgiven for what you did. And certainly we felt quite strongly that neither Fred nor anyone in the Japanese community had done anything that they needed to be pardoned for.

But, of course, we took this to Fred and to Kathryn, and presented it to him as a way to terminate the litigation, that it was an offer that we had to bring to him, and that the case would be over then, if he should decide to accept it. We advised him about what the pardon meant, and after a pause, Fred looked at us, and said, "Why should I accept a pardon? I should be pardoning the government." And we all were incredibly relieved that he felt that way and that he understood that the pardon would not be a victory for him. It would be a victory for the government. So we went back to the government, and we told them, "Well, Fred will not accept a pardon. In fact, he feels that he should be pardoning the government for the way they treated him." And the government took some time, and called us back and said, "Well, then what we're going to do is offer a pardon for innocence." We had never heard of a pardon for innocence. I don't know if anyone had ever heard of a pardon for innocence. But Victor Stone with the U.S. Attorney's Office said that this was a pardon that said that you were innocent. And so we did some legal research on that, trying to figure out what it was, went back to Fred, and Fred said, "No. I'm not accepting any kind of pardon at all." So we went back to the U.S. Government and flatly rejected any kind of pardon in any way, shape, or form, and knew that we wanted to proceed with the litigation so that the court could hear the allegations of governmental misconduct.

MC: That story really demonstrates Fred's resolve. Are there any other anecdotes or thoughts about Fred, working with Fred as a client that you'd like to share?

LB: He was a really wonderful client to work with. He supported us every step of the way. When we had decisions that needed to be made, we went (to) him, he listened carefully, and thought about the matter with careful consideration, and ultimately supported us in the advice that we gave him. We felt that he really was behind us, that he saw the case as, of course, being not only his case, but also a case with much wider political implications. And I think he very much trusted us as his attorneys. So one could not ask for a better client in that regard because he supported us not only in our legal decisions, but also supported us as people. As I might have mentioned before, Fred and Kathryn became very much like surrogate parents and family, and so it was a wonderful working relationship.

<End Segment 34> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 35>

MC: Let's turn now to the relationship between the coram nobis team, particularly the Korematsu team, and the larger Japanese American community. Can you describe that a little bit?

LB: Certainly as attorneys on the case, we saw this case from the very beginning as a political case, and as a case, again, not only representing Fred as an individual client, but as a case in which we somewhat represented the interests of the community, the Japanese American community as a whole, that this case would reopen the landmark decision that validated the internment of the entire community. And to the extent that we could undermine the validity of those wartime cases, we would be able in some way to help vindicate not only Fred's name, but also the names of our parents and grandparents and the community's name, and lift from them the implication of guilt of espionage and sabotage that they had lived with for forty years. I recall my mother telling me that she felt that she was guilty of a crime because she had been sent to jail, but she had never been charged with a crime and never been tried or anything. But one can't help feeling like you must have done something wrong to have suffered this fate. So from the very beginning, we felt not only very connected to the community, but that the community was certainly the big reason why we were all involved in the case. That's one aspect of the relationship.

The other aspect of the relationship was that we knew we could not do this case without the community and without the community's support. And there was a huge measure of support from the members of the community. An illustration of that is, of course, that when we started in on this effort, we had no money. We knew we had to have photocopying expenses, mailing expenses, some very limited travel expenses, for example, to bring Peter Irons up from San Diego, and miscellaneous expenses like that. We absorbed those expenses to the extent that we could. As I mentioned earlier, we were all from small practices, either very small private practices or legal services practices, where we, ourselves, were trying to decide which bills to pay and how to keep ourselves afloat. So we absorbed those expenses as much as we could, but it became very clear that we needed some type of operating money.

Very early in the process, when we were preparing the petition, we did not want to make our effort public. We were working on putting together our papers and putting together the information about the governmental misconduct, and for strategic reasons we did not want to broadcast what we were doing and what we were trying to prove. So under the leadership of Don Tamaki, our master fund-raiser, community education, and press liaison, we wrote a letter to a few people in the community who we knew, some of our Nisei moms and dads from Gardena, from the Oakland area, from elsewhere, and said, "You know, we can't tell you what this is for, but we really need some financial support. We would really appreciate it if you could try to give us a donation or organize some type of fund-raiser to help us out," again, without any indication of what we were doing. And the most remarkable thing is that these people came through for us, that they trusted us that we were doing something important and that was really important to us. And on that word alone, people like Ryo Komae, like people around the community, Don Tamaki's parents, my parents, sent us checks to help us at least defray some of these photocopy expenses and mailing expenses and things like that, so that we could get our work done. Again, this was a pro bono effort. None of us were being paid for the time, and we were simply looking for money to cover the out-of-pocket expenses that we had.

After the petition was filed, then we were able to go out and do some fundraising. While we were working on the legal case, while we were doing legal research, while we were going through thousands of government documents, and while we were going around giving speeches, we also made a concerted effort to participate in fund-raisers and to go out to people in the community and say that this is what we're trying to do with this case, and if there was any way that they could support us, could they? And from that, we got $5 checks, $10 checks, $20 checks, with wonderful, wonderful notes from people in the community saying, "Thank you so much for doing this. This is really a great effort you're putting on, and we really appreciate it. This is what I can give right now, but keep up the good work."

Not only was that financial support really necessary and really important, but that emotional support and feeling that we were doing something important, to the Nisei and the Issei who had been formerly interned really helped drive us on and really helped us keep very focused on what our ultimate goal was. When we went and we gave speeches, not only as a part of fundraising, but also as a part of community education work, many Nisei, former internees, would come up to us after our speeches and just say, "Thank you." Many in tears, many relating to us how they had waited for so long to have some vindication and to have this horrible episode in their lives reach some closure. It was a powerful emotional experience for all of us working on the team. We certainly didn't enter the case to receive any glorification or adulation. But it made us feel really good that once we were involved in the case, we were told by many that the people in the community really appreciated it.

MC: There seems to be, have been a collective sense of stigma or shame or guilt that the community felt as a result of the internment. And I'm wondering whether, during any -- and it, and so it seems quite natural for you as young lawyers to have taken the course of action that you did once you discovered the facts that you could use to vacate the convictions. I'm wondering, however, whether there was any debate within the community as to whether this strategic course was the wisest thing to do?

LB: I don't think there was any real vehement debate or really very visible debate, but I think that there was certainly some concern from some quarters within the community about whether this was a wise course of action. I think that there was some concern about whether our effort would impede the national effort for redress, about whether we should coordinate perhaps more with the national effort for redress. Certainly we worked very, very closely with JACL, with NCJAR, with NCRR and the other groups working for redress, but we maintained ourselves as an independent group, certainly not only because we had to, we were lawyers working on a case, and our first allegiance was to our client, number one. Secondly, we were interested in a very different goal. Our ultimate goal was to gain justice for Japanese Americans, certainly, and to gain redress for Japanese Americans. But our certainly focused goal was to gain justice for Fred and to attack the underlying validity of the wartime cases. So we maintained our own independence, and did not become part of the larger redress effort per se, at least organizationally. So perhaps there was concern within some quarters in the community that we not go off half-cocked and perhaps undermine what people were trying to do with regard to redress. But I don't think that that was any real visible, real vocal, or real overt concern.

We received a letter or two from some people who had perhaps some concern about not wanting us to mislead the community. What we were seeking (was) that Mr. Korematsu's conviction be vacated on the basis that the U.S. Government lied to the court during World War II. We knew it was not likely that we would get the Korematsu case overturned or overruled. So I recall receiving a letter from one individual saying, "Don't misrepresent to the community that you're going to overrule Korematsu or change the law with regard to what it represents." And we have been very careful not to say that we have overruled Korematsu. In fact, Korematsu, the Korematsu U.S. Supreme Court case, still exists on the books. What we did accomplish was that the factual basis upon which the case was decided has been found to be false. That decision in some strange Constitutional Law limbo now is a Supreme Court case that was decided on a fraudulent factual record. And at least as far as we feel, it has to be read in that context. But no, Korematsu was not overruled. And as I said, I recall some concern in that regard, which I would not label as dissent or disagreement. So I think that there were some concerns, certainly not concerns that dissuaded us or discouraged us from pursuing the case.

<End Segment 35> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 36>

MC: Do you think that the Supreme Court decision in Korematsu v. United States is still a threat to our civil liberties, even today?

LB: I do think it is. Certainly, as I said, given the coram nobis case, it should be read knowing that the factual underpinnings of the case have been found to be fraudulent. Yet the case still is on the books for a few very dangerous propositions. One proposition that Korematsu can be read to support is that the military does have authority over civilians during time of national crisis. Certainly it is not the only relevant authority that exists out there. There are other cases that do say that military power over civilians must be seriously scrutinized and curtailed, and that the Constitution is the ultimate authority, even in time of crisis. But Korematsu still stands for that very dangerous proposition that the military can exercise control over civilians, number one. Number two, it stands for certainly the dangerous precedent that civilian authorities can just delegate outright to the military the authority to take whatever acts it deems necessary, and that civilian authorities, the President, Congress, whatever, (can) totally give up their Constitutional authority to protect the citizenry. The other proposition it still stands for is, and probably the most dangerous one as far as I'm concerned, is that the courts can absolutely relieve themselves of any responsibility for making sure the Constitution protects us as civilians. In Korematsu, if you read the opinion, the court basically said that the military thought that there was military necessity, and it is not for us to question the wisdom of that military judgment because the military's the wisest authority during time of war. And there was tremendous, if not total, deference to General DeWitt's opinion that it was necessary to intern Japanese Americans. We rely on our court system to come in and say it's okay for the government to do this and it's not okay for them to do that, and not to wholesale just agree with the government's actions just because the government thought it was right to do at the time.

So I think that Korematsu can be read to support some of these various propositions. Now, many people would say it can't be read to support those points any longer. But I come back to my ultimate belief, which is that these case opinions and statutes are merely pieces of paper, and that if the will of the people is to do something like this, if mass hysteria erupts and people want a scapegoat, a particular ethnic group, racial group, a particular group because of their physical disabilities or whatever, it will happen, and that decisions like Korematsu can be there to help support that hysteria. So I suppose my ultimate opinion is that it kind of doesn't matter what Korematsu still stands for today, if the will of the people and their legislators desire to single out a particular group for differential treatment.

<End Segment 36> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 37>

MC: I wanted to explore a little bit some of the dynamics at the final hearing when Judge Patel announced her decision. Can you describe a little bit the atmosphere within the courtroom?

LB: It was very exciting. We had certainly prepared for that day for a long time, had anticipated the day, had worked towards the day. We had contacted people in the community to say that this hearing was going to happen, and lots of community members came out for the hearing. Again, I think there really was a feeling that this was much more than Fred's case. It was a case for the community. They had to move the courtroom from Judge Patel's regular courtroom to the large ceremonial courtroom at the Northern District of California to accommodate the number of people who were there. So even before the hearing, the atmosphere was charged with anticipation about what was going to happen at the hearing.

So everybody filed in, took their seats, and Judge Patel came in, and the attorneys had their arguments, presented their cases. And then Fred was given an opportunity to say a few words. It was absolutely quiet, and you could hear a pin drop in the courtroom as he stood up to speak. I don't think it was lost on anyone that this was the exact same court -- it was not the same courtroom -- but he was again before the Federal District Court in the Northern District of California a little over forty years later. When he appeared in 1942, he was alone. It was just him and his attorney and the judge and the U.S. Attorney. No one was there to support him. No one really cared necessarily that he was there being charged. And here on this day so many years later, the courtroom was packed with anticipation about his case.

So when he stood and he spoke, I think the thing that stands out in my mind the most is something that has always stood out in my mind about him, that he speaks with quiet dignity. He's a very soft-spoken man and a very modest man. And he spoke in that fashion, talking about his experience being arrested, talking about his prior experience in the court, and talking about what this case meant to him. And I think in speaking, he was speaking for all of the other former internees in the room. It was a real powerful moment.

After the presentations had been made, Judge Patel announced her decision. And her decision basically said that she was granting the petition for writ of error coram nobis, that she had to accept the allegations in our petition that the government had suppressed, lied, and destroyed material evidence, and that because of that, it was necessary to correct the Court's records and vacate Mr. Korematsu's conviction. It was a fairly long, fairly technical decision. And when she was done, there was a silence in the courtroom, as people were trying to figure out what had just happened. And in fact, Fred leaned over to us and said, "What just happened? Did I win?" And we said, "Yes, Fred. You won. Your conviction's been vacated." And there was cheering in the courtroom. And people just felt so pleased and so relieved. After the hearing was over, there were tears, many Nisei feeling as if they had finally been exonerated of the guilt that they had lived with for all of those years. It's very difficult to reduce to words what an exciting day that was.

MC: Can you remember specifically any thoughts that any Nisei might have shared with you or the rest of the team that day?

LB: I know that in Steve Okazaki's film, he captured some interviews of some of the Nisei right after the November 10th hearing. And what I recall from that day are things along the lines that they felt that it was a really happy day, where they felt that this great burden had been lifted off of their shoulders, that someone had heard their case and knew that what had been done to them was wrong. In addition, there were expressions, many expressions of thanks for the work that we did. And we have always found that tremendously embarrassing to us, when people have come up to us, as they have on numerous occasions, and thanked us for our work on the case, and said that they really appreciated it, when any courage it might have taken for us to do this case -- and I don't think it took courage for us to do this case -- but if it did, it just paled in comparison to the courage that the Nisei and the Issei who went to camp exhibited, to live under those circumstances, to leave camp and build their families and rebuild their communities. There was nothing that we did that could compare at all to the strength that the Nisei and Issei exhibited in their own ways. So, I remember all of those things and all that gratitude, and it's so very hard to understand and to accept, given what they went through.

MC: Do you remember talking to your own family about the decision and the consequences for the community?

LB: I think it was very much the same thing. My sister and I were both involved in the case, and they were tremendously proud of us and tremendously glad that we participated in this litigation. They cut out the newspaper clippings and mailed them to us, and took pictures and mailed them to us, and I think that they really very much felt the same way. They shared the feelings of many of the Nisei that day. And again, it was very strange to take the thanks from them, when in fact, they had been the ones who led us to the point where we had the skills and the ability to do this work, through their sacrifice, through their support, we were able to do this. So the thanks really went to them.

<End Segment 37> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 38>

MC: I'm wondering whether you can share with us some of the ways that this experience of participating in the coram nobis litigation changed you?

LB: Certainly I think it's had a tremendous impact on my life and my career. I started working on this case when I was one or two years fresh out of law school. Many people would call this the case of a lifetime, and to have that quote, "case of a lifetime" as soon as you get out of law school is really pretty amazing. It taught me so many things that have served me on a regular basis. It certainly taught me about how politics relates to the law, and how inextricably linked political decisions are from legal decisions. It gave me a perspective on the law that I think I bring to my work constantly, that there's a relationship between law, politics, economics, social structures, prejudice. The law embodies everything that exists in society. It is not a separate entity, and that again, the law is an elastic entity to the extent that it can and should be used as a tool to effectuate social change. Certainly the case gave me that perspective. In other words, kind of a critical view of the law rather than just an accepting view of the law.

Again, it taught me the value of working in a collective, working with other people to accomplish certain ends, and the true lesson that when you get many people working on one project, the result can be much more powerful than the work of all of those people acting individually. It taught me the value of coalition work between groups, that when we have civil rights issues, when we have issues affecting one particular group and they are discriminated against or marginalized, it is a marginalization that affects everybody.

It was a powerful lesson to see that this was not viewed as a Japanese American issue. It was viewed as an American issue. It was viewed as an issue for Jews, for blacks, for Hispanics, for any group that might suffer a similar fate or could suffer a similar fate. It resonated with people as a Constitutional civil rights issue rather than a special interest issue.

It also certainly taught me much about how important it is to be a good lawyer. It is one thing to be a political lawyer. It's one thing to have great ideals and a righteous cause, but you must of paramount importance, be a good lawyer and know how to do your work well. When we were working on the case, it might seem to some that it was lots of fun and glory. It was certainly lots of fun, but it was also lots of really exceptional, good legal research, good legal writing, good analytical thinking, and certainly one of the most powerful things I took from my work with this particular team, is they were among the smartest people I've ever worked with in my life.

I think also probably more personally it gave me a sense of confidence I don't know if I would have otherwise acquired. I felt as a result of doing this case, that I could be part of a team that took on the U.S. Government, that took on a cause involving a whole people, and that you could be successful at that, and that one should not say, "This is something I cannot do because I'm not capable of it." I think one thing that I think of when I look back on not only the legal team, but also Fred as our client, is that ordinary people rise to extraordinary levels under extraordinary circumstances. And while being young and freshly out of law school, one might think you shouldn't take on a case like this, I think the case brought out the best in everybody who worked on the team and everybody who was associated with the team and in Fred himself. As I mentioned earlier, he said that the one thing he did not want to do when we started the case was to speak in public or to speak to the press. And as he started to see what we were doing, going to the press, doing fundraising, doing speaking engagements to raise money for the case, in addition to working late nights and weekends on the case itself, I recall him mentioning at some point he just couldn't sit by and not do anything. And he found it in himself to say, I need to help. I need to be part of this case and help this team that's working so hard for me. And he went out there and started giving speeches and talking to the press and going out to raise money for the team, overcoming something that he really, really was opposed to doing at first. So I think certainly the case on a personal level gave me much more confidence.

MC: Do you take some of those lessons with you as you, into your current work, post-coram nobis litigation?

LB: Very much so. Certainly even now, eighteen years later, it's been eighteen years since the case was decided, I'm still involved in the case in some ways. Members of the team and Fred continue to travel around the country, speaking about the case, writing about the case, doing work related to the case, speaking at college classes, high school classes, or whatever. It's still a very powerful issue for people to hear about. So in a direct way, I'm still involved in the case somewhat. In an indirect way, certainly when I think about the law, I think about it with the lessons that I learned from working on that particular case and in working with law students, which I do right now. It's always very important for me that they understand how to put the law in a social context, that they can't look at the law in a vacuum. And certainly that is one thing that I think I bring to my work.

I think the other thing is that students need to find their place in the law, that maybe being a big corporate downtown lawyer is their place, maybe working for legal services is their place, maybe working in government is their place, but they need to find a place where they fit in the law certainly, and not just take a job because it makes them money. Certainly also the students need to think critically about the law, question the law, ask themselves whether the law is the way it should be or whether they have should have a role in making it more just. So many of the lessons come up every day.

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<Begin Segment 39>

MC: Can you describe what you did in terms of legal practice after you worked with the coram nobis team?

LB: I continued working with my law firm. It was Minami, Tomine and Lew, and then became Minami and Lew, and Minami, Lew, and Tamaki. It went through many changes. Doing general civil litigation work in the Oakland and San Francisco area. Certainly the firm continued to be involved in community legal work, in civil rights issues, particularly issues relating to the Asian American community. So it was a really wonderful practice in that regard, to be able to carry on a private practice, but also do socially relevant work. At the same time I was practicing law, I taught at law school at night, various law schools in the San Francisco Bay area, and finally in 1988, decided that it was too difficult to do two jobs, and that my, I really wanted to go into full-time teaching. So since 1988, I've been in full-time teaching.

MC: In addition to the teaching, what other political or community activities have you been involved with since the litigation?

LB: I've tried to be involved in various community organizations in the San Francisco Bay area, and I was on the board of the Northern California ACLU, the JACL board, Asian Women's Health Center board, various organizations where I could bring some type of energy to help an agency that's trying to help other people. I've tried to volunteer with legal advice or legal services when I've had the opportunity to do so. So various different activities. I've had two children in the last few years, so certainly many of those activities have curtailed as I've focused my energy on raising them.

MC: And now you're teaching at Seattle University School of Law. Are you, when you teach your law students today, I know you've talked about this a little bit before, but do you ever mention examples from when you were involved in this coram nobis litigation to them?

LB: Uh-huh. Certainly when the occasion arises, I will talk with them about the case, particularly from, on the vein that I mentioned earlier, that it is important to be a good lawyer in what you do, that one can have the best case in the world, but if you are not skilled at being a lawyer, it doesn't really matter. Fortunately, I've had occasion at the law school to talk about my work on the case in various classes, and it's been really gratifying, because a number of students come up afterwards and just say, "I wish I had the opportunity to work on a case like that, and it's just so great that you had that opportunity." To the extent that this experience will speak to some of these other students who want to do public interest work, certainly I'm really happy to share the experience. And I'm glad that, that students can use this case as a living example of the kind of work that lawyers can do.

MC: You mentioned earlier that you have two children. Have you talked with them at all about your experiences?

LB: I haven't talked to them about my work on the Korematsu case. They're five and seven right now. But I have (told) them, number one, that I'm a lawyer, and what lawyers do. And I've talked to them, number two, about the internment, and about how at one point in time, because of a failure in our country, their grandparents and great-grandparents were interned in camps. Certainly they don't have any great understanding of what caused the internment, but they do have an understanding that some people are prejudiced against other people because of the color of their skin. I'm amazed at what the public schools are doing right now with regard to teaching issues of tolerance. They learn this all the time in school. They learn about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday and what he stood for. So when I talk to my children about prejudice and tolerance and understanding, trying to understand people who are different from them, they very much understand what I'm talking about, and I think that's certainly in large part because the schools have themselves become very much involved in teaching tolerance. I want my children very much to understand what happened during the internment, and that they have a real active role and a responsibility to make sure that things like that don't happen again, and certainly I hope that they get that message.

MC: I think we're done. Thank you very much.

AI: Thank you.

<End Segment 39> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.