Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Dale Minami Interview
Narrator: Dale Minami
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda (primary), Margaret Chon (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: February 8, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-mdale-01-0042

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MC: So, I think there were different outcomes in the Yasui case and the Hirabayashi case. But I think I'm gonna skip over those cases and sort of move on to some reflections on your part now that... we're about twenty years, twenty-some years past the, that day, the hearing --

DM: Yeah, almost, yeah, almost twenty years. I mean, this year will be twenty.

MC: So, in that interim, did you have thoughts about the case, reflections about what it meant for the community, for you as a lawyer, how it changed you?

DM: Yeah. I think, I think there's a, it's really fairly complex, I think in the sense that there has never been a case that would ever mean this much to me personally, politically or legally. This is a landmark legal case that we got to attack because it had a decision that we disagreed with, forty years later. We get to prove a novel legal theory of fraud on the Supreme Court. We get to validate or vindicate our parents who sacrificed so we could go to law school so we could learn enough skills then to turn around and be able to have the chance to vindicate our parents, which is a really interesting circle or cycle that we were able to do in this case. We were able to show through, historically, was that Japanese Americans were not a threat and there was no military necessity. So I realized at that time, in 1982 that, or '83 -- and I told Don this -- that, "You know what? We are never gonna have a case in our life that means as much significantly in so many different ways." And actually I was kinda depressed, 'cause I had done a number of class-actions, and some interesting political cases and I thought, you know, everything else is gonna be anti-climax to some degree. But it's not like that whole Tennyson theory of history where you got to go up and up and up and progress and progress and progress. It's like, you know, I have done other cases since then. But I have to admit it is a little bit harder to see your role specifically as a political litigator after a case like this.

So it's changed me a little bit that way. I've seen my role more in politics and more this, it has kind of shunted me and pushed me into a different role and that role has been to really publicize not only the case, but what the case means. Because the cases have implications for all of civil rights for the United States for every minority group or aggrieved or oppressed group in the country. So lessons of that are universal. And to that extent I've been asked to give speeches year after year after year after year. Sometimes it was a traveling road show with Fred and sometimes it wasn't but as a result it's pushed me into -- not pushed me into -- it has directed me to try to create change through education by speaking and, rather than by litigation. I think that's one change.

I think we never thought it would become this notorious, I guess, or well-known. And partly we wanted it to. That was our, that's what we thought we should try to do but I don't think we understood what that meant practically, that we would be credited for something that we thought we would pay to do anyways. So that's a little bit surprising that we would get credit for something that was so clearly an honor to be able to do and, plus, when you see things that clearly you find yourself in another state of consciousness a lot of times to the degree that you feel, you feel like you're really accomplishing something. I think it's brought me in contact, you know, Fred has changed a lot, he's become more social, he parties, we go out and he still likes to drink and have fun and we get together regularly. We made a set of really good friends that remained friends all this time. I think, but I don't, I can't see myself as an historical figure, even though I've had like, my niece goes, "Uncle Dale, we read about you in the history books." When I hear that it makes me sound really old. But I don't feel old and I don't feel that... I was only, to me, I was a part of this incredible group of people. And that was my work team, that was, it was the Portland group, it was the Seattle group, an incredible group of people who sacrificed a lot who did something miraculous as a group. And even though I, in a sense, got more attention because I was lead counsel, I feel sometimes that other folks don't get as much credit as they should because I felt that we all worked hard together. We never saw this as an individual project. So it surprises me that I think we have gotten the acclaim we have gotten for this case, and it still goes on twenty years later. Because this is a world of "what have you done for me lately," in a way, but I think in that context my role is to continue to do things, and in this case, in education about civil rights.

<End Segment 42> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.