Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Eric K. Yamamoto Interview
Narrator: Eric K. Yamamoto
Interviewer: Lorraine Bannai
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: April 17, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-yeric-01

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

LB: This is Lori Bannai interviewing Eric Yamamoto on April 17, 2009, in Seattle, Washington. Eric, can you start out by telling me your name given to you at birth, and when and where you were born.

EY: Eric Ken Yamamoto. I was born in Hawaii, 1952, in Honolulu, same place my parents were born.

LB: Okay. Tell me a little bit about your mother's family history. Her name, her parents, her parents' immigration.

EY: My mom's Tomiko Tatsuyama, and her parents came from Japan. Farmers, came to Hawaii -- at least the father, a very traditional story, poor in Japan, seeking a better life, moved to Hawaii, work on the plantations. And my grandmother came as a "picture bride" later on. And so they started work on the plantations and actually moved into the urban center of Oahu in Honolulu to work on the pineapple cannery. So my grandfather there was a mechanic and helped fix things. My grandmother worked in the fields. Of course, the men work inside and all the women, she had to work in this backbreaking labor during the summer picking pineapple, and then raised ten children along the way.

LB: And your mother was number...

EY: My mom was, I think, right in the middle. So there were three girls, and she was the middle girl. Very interesting story about my -- with ten kids and both parents working, each kid had to take care of the kids below. And the thought was for the girls, eighth grade education and that's about right, and then after that, go to work. And so that was true of my mom's sister just above her, Auntie Mildred. Then my mom came along, and she liked school. And she went to this Farrington High School, which was one of the very, the second public school in the whole, Honolulu. And because her family lived in the Japanese camp, and there was a Filipino camp, you had all these ethnic camps emerge because these were the people who came off the plantations to then work in the pineapple cannery in the center of Honolulu. So in Kalihi, very poor, urban area, they had these camps. So she learned very young how to take care of young kids. The peddlers would come and they would, she would order the, buy the fish and buy the vegetables because her oldest sister was working. And my grandmother at night would sew the rice bags, sew all their underwear and clothes for the ten kids, so my mom grew up in that environment.

And what really made an impression on her and on me today still is that at that time, there was no social services. But some very important people in the community realized that these ethnic immigrant families had no access to health care, they couldn't afford it. So they started an organization called the Palama Settlement. And it's right in, a stone's throw from where my mom's family lived in the ethnic camps. And it provided the first health care, dental care, taught kids swimming, all kinds of very important things. So that kind of center and that kind of community-based outreach became so significant to the communities. And that's still there, and I've gone to speak at that place many times and have an affinity for it even though I never went there as a kid. And it really kind of helped me realize the significance of communities and helping people who are new to the communities who are struggling.

LB: Tell me about your father, his name, his family background.

EY: Can I finish the story about my mom, too?

LB: Oh, absolutely.

EY: And so my mom, for a variety of reasons, decided that she wanted to go to this new high school, which she did. And then she decided she wanted to go on. And that was a time where women, especially Nisei, didn't really go on to higher education at the university. And her father was very strict and said, "No." And her mother was very compassionate, quietly supported my mother. So my mother, who had no money to go to the university, said, "I'm going to go." And her father said, "If you do," essentially, "we're gonna disown you. Because you need to work, and girls don't go to the university. You're lucky to go to high school." And so my mom still said she wanted to do it. So he pretty much disowned her in the family, but her mother supported her. So it was a very tough time for my mother, who worked very hard, very stubborn, very committed, to earn enough money to go to one semester of the university. And realized, not thinking that, "What happens after one semester?" Well, that was 1941, and so the war broke out in December, the university was closed. So she then went to work ultimately for the provost court -- there was martial law in the courts -- as a stenographer. And so she got to see the inside of, sort of, military justice. And so she was this Asian American woman in the military courts, and developed certain skills. And when the war was over, the university opened, she came back. And then she learned that there's actually such things as scholarships to help poor people without resources coming from Asian American families. And so it was there that she met my dad and a lot of the 442 veterans who had returned from the war, and who were finishing up their undergraduate education. And so it was there that she became part of this, this larger group. And it was also there that she is a very smart and very intelligent but unknown sort of quantity at the school, was tapped by a very famous professor of sociology, Andrew Lind, who was studying race relations in Hawaii as part of a larger national project. And so he gave her a leg up as a research assistant. And so she got to really develop herself and really learn in a very significant way. So that influences what I do as a professor, too, and I really spend a lot of time choosing my research assistants. Not just those who are top of the class, but oftentimes those who have some spark and some real potential, and I try to help bring them along and kind of help open doors for them. So that was my mom's story in a nutshell.

LB: Did she get her degree?

EY: She got her degree.

LB: In sociology?

EY: In sociology, and she helped Professor Lind with these projects. And then she married my dad and they moved to Chicago where my dad was going to graduate school. And so she raised, came back home to raise our family. And after I was ten, she went back to work and she went to work back in the University of Hawaii. And ultimately became the head of the graduate admissions office, and became the Chief Graduate Admissions officer, handing all the applications for graduate admissions at the University of Hawaii. Did that for about twenty-six years, and was much beloved at the university.

LB: So she worked until her, there until her retirement?

EY: Her retirement, yeah.

LB: Pretty remarkable.

EY: And you asked about my dad.

LB: Let me ask one more question about your mom.

EY: Okay.

LB: You said that she was, of sorts, disowned. Did she end up having to move out? Were her relations, did her relations with your grandfather remain strained?

EY: Well, they were strained for a long time. She doesn't talk about it much, but I think that he didn't speak to her for a long period of time. But because of my grandmother's influence, my mom was allowed to stay in the house and be part of the family, somewhat estranged from her father but still part of the family. But then my grandfather warmed up eventually. I was told when he started having grandchildren, when I came along, I got very close to him, he was very good to me. And he did mechanics, carpentry work, so he'd make me little toys and things. And so I just remember him very fondly even though everyone kind of describes him as kind of an ogre of sorts. So things warmed up. The sad thing was both of my grandparents, as was typical in that time, on my mom's side, had worked so hard that they just really had worn themselves out. So by early sixties, they were pretty much worn out. So my grandmother, I used to call her "Bent Grandma" because she had osteoporosis, and early sixties, she couldn't, she was at a right angle. And they both passed away in their mid-sixties within one week of each other. I think just kind of got worn out.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

LB: Tell me about your father's family history, his name and background.

EY: Well, my father was born Katsuichi Yamamoto, later adopted George as his first name. And same family background, coming from poor farming stock, and then coming to Hawaii, trying to get a better life. But we don't know the whole story about my dad's father for a number of reasons. But I think, as I understand it, I can understand a little bit about who I am from that. He came to work on the plantations, we know he went to the Big Island and was working on the plantations there. And that was the time of the first big strike where the, especially the Japanese immigrant workers were organizing, trying to form a union to deal with very harsh working conditions imposed by the plantation owners. And even though it was now illegal to imprison an immigrant worker who violated the work contract, they were still doing it. So there were a lot of things going on. And there was violence as part of that strike. The plantation owners came down and actually killed a number of the strikers. It was a very sore point in Hawaii history and plantation owner history, and shaped the resistance of a lot of Japanese Americans for generations to come. We're not sure, but we think my grandfather was part of that. Because as best we can tell, shortly after the strike, it appears that he fled with another person to another island and changed his name to Yamaoka. So we know he was trying to not be discovered. And ultimately made his way to Oahu, Maunawili, which is on the windward side of the island, very lush, and they're growing sugar there.

So my dad -- and it looks like my grandmother was also a "picture bride," I don't know exactly when she came. And so my dad was actually born in a shack in the middle of a plantation, sugar cane field. And what he remembers is that at a very young age, it was probably him and one of his sisters, his parents taking them in the dead of night with all their belongings on their back and leaving their home, walking down to the, hiking down to the bay and being met by a man in a rowboat, which apparently they had rented. In the dead of night, being rowed across the bay, which is a long way, to this little tiny fishing village in Hau'ula. And at this fishing village, they unloaded, and that became their new home. So it really looks like, for some reason, my grandfather was still on the run. But again, I haven't pieced together all the pieces, but my father and his family were then Yamaoka and not Yamamoto. And so they settle in this little fishing village, four children, very poor, but everyone was sort of poor then. And in this fishing village there was no running water, so my dad remembers going to the stream to brush his teeth. But they all kind of took care of each other.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

EY: And then something really interesting happens. This was during the Prohibition, and it turns out that the moonshiners were operating in that area, and the fishing village pooled their money and had one truck to take their fish from the village across the mountain into Chinatown where the fish market was so they could sell their fish. And so the moonshiners said, "Hey, we'll help you guys out if you take our moonshine over." And then they told my grandfather, apparently, "Well, since you're doing that, why don't you, in off-hours, tend the still also?" And so, of course, my grandfather got busted as a moonshiner. He really was, I think he was involved, but he was tangentially involved. And apparently the deal was, "Don't rat on us and we'll take care of your family." And so he didn't rat on them, and he went to prison because he wouldn't, he sort of took the fall. And so my dad remembers going to visit his father in prison. But he came out and was a convicted moonshiner, so that's part of my heritage, which most people don't know. [Laughs] And he would do his fishing. And one day a friend came by, and Sunday was my grandfather's day off, and the friend said, "I really want to go fishing for fun." And it was bad weather, but my grandfather took him out, and this storm came in and it capsized the boat. So my grandfather, there was one anchor chain, so he wrapped it around the other fellow so the fellow could kind of hang on to the boat, and he tried to hang on but he couldn't, so he drowned. So my dad was about eleven at the time, so four children, this poor village, no money, no resources.

But two interesting things happened. One is, the village, of course, came together to help them. And so my grandmother took over, there was one ofuro, one big bath, and so she would help run the bath and some people helped her. And my dad told me this, and at the time, Hawaii was a territory, but they did have some government assistance or welfare assistance. And this was a small rural community, and so I'm not quite sure how anyone ever figured out that this family really needed it and qualified, but they did. So he said that really helped him. And I really think what it was was they were teachers. My dad was very, very bright, and so he skipped a couple of grades in elementary school, and I think the teachers looked out for him and his family. But my dad started working as a fisherman at age eleven, and doing a lot of heavy lifting. He was a very tiny man, he was, his whole life, 5'1", 104 pounds, and he did this heavy lifting work. After sixth grade, that was the end, there was no more school in the area. But the teachers recognized that he had something special. So they arranged for my dad and maybe a few others, I'm not sure, to take this one taxi, one bus, that went across each day, one away and then back over the mountain. So he went to school, intermediate school, in town. And it was there that his world kind of expanded. He met kids from all over. And it was there that his teacher said, "Well, you folks are American citizens now, and there's a lot of discrimination." And the way Hawaii was was a two-class society. Essentially the plantation owners who controlled all aspects of Hawaii life, certainly finance, jobs, the economy, but also the media, also controlled politics, also controlled social life, who got in, who didn't. It's such a two-class society. And Japanese and the Chinese and the Korean, Filipino immigrants were at the bottom, although native Hawaiians, we learned later, actually get below that. And they were taught at this school, "You know, if you want to do better, you need to at least acknowledge your American identity," so they all adopted American names at that point. And it was then my father learned that the last name he had been going by, Yamaoka, was not actually his real family name. And his father had passed away by then. So I'm not sure that, all the dynamics, but the teachers helped him and he got the whole family name changed back to the correct name, Yamamoto. So he went from Katsuichi Yamaoka to George Yamamoto at that time.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

EY: And he did well there, and so the teachers encouraged him to go to high school. So he went to the other high school, one was Farrington that my mom went to, McKinley was the other. And that's the same school that Dan Inouye went to. A lot of the future leaders, Japanese American leaders in Hawaii went to this school. And so it was there at this school that the teachers again recognized my dad's potential. And because he was having such difficulty now going back and forth, which would take several hours each day, he was ready to quit but doing well. And so the Mid-Pacific Institute, a private school, talking with teachers from McKinley, decided to offer him a residency scholarship. So he moved into this school in Manoa Valley, very tiny private school, and got a really good education. He also picked up smoking as sixteen year old, and had some fun. Played a lot of sports, was a good athlete. But it was there that he really got, his education was fostered. But when he graduated, he had no visions of anything further. And his family needed money, so he went to work in a store in Kalihi, the same area my mom lived in. And so he lived upstairs in the store and worked, he said, 364 days a year, only New Year's Day off. And he said ten to twelve hours a day, and he was lifting heavy, hundred-pound rice bags and just doing all of this work. And he did it for, I think, four years, and he realized that his was not much of a life. And so because he had been encouraged by his teachers, he decided to go to university. So he went and started there, and then the war broke out, same thing, like my mom.

LB: University of Hawaii.

EY: University of Hawaii. And so he was part of the Varsity Victory Volunteers. At first, the Japanese Americans weren't allowed to enlist, and Min Yasui, in particular, was "de-listed." But they formed the Varsity Victory Volunteers, so they built barracks and did all kinds of stuff. And then finally, the government allowed Japanese Americans to enlist, and so my dad was part of that whole group with Dan Inouye, and many of the future Japanese American leaders, and so they volunteered. And so my dad started out in training with the 442nd and that whole group. And then again, because he did well on tests, he was asked to be in the military intelligence. So he moved to a military intelligence unit, which, lot of ironies later on, considering the Korematsu case and all the things that happened later. But he went to the Philippines and Japan, and was in the Pacific for the duration of the war. And so actually interrogated some of the military generals who were captured after the war, was a translator, actually. Then he came back, and with the GI Bill, went to the University of Hawaii. Turns out, according to my mom, without studying much, he was the valedictorian at the university, and she said that's where he developed his bad habits of just waiting until the last minute and just dashing out his papers and exams and doing well.

And so he then -- unlike his colleagues who, many of them went into law -- Spark Matsunaga went to Harvard and Dan Inouye to George Washington and all these people who became future leaders politically in Hawaii went to law school, my dad went to graduate school at the University of Chicago. And there, they had the leading sociology department in the country for graduate studies, and scholars there. So he studied at the University of Chicago, and that's where my mom, my mom went up, and that's where I was conceived, and they came back home to have me.

From there, my dad was hired by the University of Hawaii. And he was one of the first Asian American (professors) there. And the University of Hawaii was created initially as agricultural land grants, which really helped the plantation owners. And it evolved into a full-fledged university, but there was still a real, sort of, division. All the professors, almost all the professors were white, and so it was sort of an interesting environment for him to come in. And it was there that he really got his start. And my dad liked being a professor, but he also struggled. I never understood why it was such a struggle for him all along. And I didn't understand why one of the areas that he really gravitated to was race relations in Hawaii. And so he had picked up where Andrew Lind, the professor who had helped my mom, he picked up where Andrew Lind had left off. And so that was a lot of my dad's interest, and he would tell me things about Hawaii history, things that we wouldn't hear about, didn't learn about in school about the plantation system, what had happened to native Hawaiians, and about the stratification in Hawaii society even as I was growing up.

And then it turns out that I discovered later that my dad's dissertation at the University of Chicago was focused on the Japanese Americans coming back from being educated after going to World War II, getting educated with the GI Bill, coming back as lawyers, and then being excluded from the white law firms in town. So his dissertation was about the continuing segregation of the legal community in Hawaii. So all these were bits and pieces that I heard about but never meant anything to me of significance, other than when I was in high school, my dad telling me about this in the context of a specific news story that hit the newspapers. And there was one very important club, the Pacific Club, which was where all the elite in Hawaii, almost all Caucasian or haole, were members. And it's where all the big deals were done and everything happened at the Pacific Club, and they had excluded Asian people up to that point. And so some people decided it's time now, this was in the late 1960s. And Supreme Court Justice Masaji Marumoto, Republican, conservative, and so he was put up for membership, and they still excluded him. So this is while I was growing up in high school. So that gave my dad a reason to explain the exclusion from law firms and what this meant. So that really stuck with me. And it actually was one of the seeds that kind of helped, helped me sort of grow into what I've become today.

LB: What was your father's discipline? Sociology?

EY: Sociology. And it was sociology of Japan as well as sociology of race relations, particularly in Hawaii.

LB: So when he came to University of Hawaii, what did he teach?

EY: He came to teach -- excuse me. His discipline when he went to University of Chicago was sociology and the High Theory. But when he came back to University of Hawaii, it was basic intro sociology, but then he developed a specialty in Japan, institutions of Japan, and then he focused specifically on race relations in Hawaii.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

LB: How would you describe your father as you look back on him as a father?

EY: That's a very good question. Because for the first nineteen years -- well, my first nine months, he was in Chicago, I didn't know him. So when he came back, I was already almost one year old and I got to know him for the first time. But as we grew up, because he was gone a lot, finishing his PhD dissertation, teaching in Japan, and because we never earned much, he never earned much money, life was tough. And I grew up feeling like he was very insensitive. And I didn't understand the pressures that he was going through just normally, being a professor and that whole thing, getting tenure, getting promoted. But also the setting of being one of the very early people to break the color barrier at the university. I didn't understand all those pressures. And then I think as an Asian American, Japanese American male, he didn't have a lot of communicative ability in terms of personal things and personal struggles, so he kept that in. So I always felt a lot of tension growing up, and I thought he was very, not very sensitive to our family needs, needs of my mom, needs of the kids. And so I had a lot of, sort of, resentment towards him.

Now, the one thing that really helped us bond, though, was that he was a sports fanatic when he was younger, and he followed Major League Baseball and whatnot. So the thing that we would do when I was young was play baseball, I'd throw baseball to him all the time. And he would take me to the Japanese American League in Hawaii, and it was all the Asian, Japanese Americans had formed this really wonderful league, and it was very high profile. And so we'd go on Sundays and we'd watch the games and I'd eat peanuts as a little kids, and he'd explain the game to me. So I really developed a love for it early on. The other thing we did is he took me fishing, and so we used to fish. But otherwise, he was very busy and preoccupied. 'Cause I mentioned he procrastinated everything, so it was always kind of a crisis and trying to get things done. But baseball and sports, he came to all my games, he supported me. Turns out I was a good baseball player, and so... and a lot of the things I learned, things he had taught me or got me to think about, books I had read, I didn't read anything except baseball books until I was about seventh grade. So we had that bonding.

But it wasn't until I was in college that I came to really appreciate him in a different kind of way. Because I went to a small high school, University Lab School, we were experimented on with curriculum. It was very small, very sheltered, and my friends went away to universities, colleges elsewhere. And I kind of wanted to, we didn't have much money in the family, but I didn't want to go to the regular University of Hawaii. And so there was an experimental college called New College that was being sponsored by the university but was separate. Separate faculty, different kind of student body, no tests, very intense interaction with teachers, and so I wanted to go to this school -- and no grades. And my mom said, "No, you can't go there. How are you going to get into graduate school?" No grades, this hippie thing, right? But I said I really want to go. There are some great teachers there and it was a real chance to learn about the world. And I asked my dad and he said, "If you're serious about it, then go do it," which was a really wonderful thing. And I was. And it was there, as I began to feel... all of a sudden I went from a school which was mostly Asian American to a school which was mostly white, the people had come from all over the country to be part of this program, and it was a real culture shock for me, and it was a real learning shock, 'cause these people were so verbally articulate. And so I really had to take stock of myself. And because there wasn't too much structure, I had to figure out what I could be here. It wasn't the classic Asian American everything's set and you know what your goals are and you work really hard and you do well, it was wide open, and you do well, it was wide open, and there's no grades to measure how well you're going to do.

But I realized that this was really an exciting place to be, and I realized that my discomfort with being, now, one of the minority for the first time, was more than just that. It was because Hawaii was changing rapidly at that time. It was the time where there was a great influx of in-migration people from the mainland moving in, and Japanese money was coming in great amounts to Hawaii, buying up a lot of the previously Hawaii-owned lands and developing it. And the Native Hawaiian Movement was just starting as an outgrowth of the African American Civil Rights Movement. So there was a lot of turmoil. Ethnic studies was becoming important in Hawaii. And I realized that there are so many changes, and the communities I had grown up in, and the sense of belonging and what it meant to have a local culture, things were breaking down. And so my discomfort at the New College program was emblematic of this larger discomfort I was feeling in Hawaii, and so I decided I needed to learn about that. And so the school gave me the perfect opportunity. 'Cause upper division, first years are very structured, upper division was independent work. And so I structured a program which was about the sociology of community, the breakdown of community in Hawaii, and it was also one of the first programs called Contemporary Hawaiian Studies about Hawaiian history connected to present-day ethnic relations. And as I structured this and I... it was based on sort of the Oxford graduate school model, I set up tutorials, I get to choose whatever teachers across the university I wanted to, and I did research. And I realized, "Oh, my gosh, this is the stuff my father has been struggling through his whole life." I had cut myself off from that. And so all of a sudden, he was just this, he never pushed me, but all the things he told me and all the things he could point me to were so rich and enriching.

And it was at that time I realized that my dad really wanted us to love him. That he had so much to give, but he just didn't know how to ask for it. And he had so many struggles in his life, and he had kind of put up these barriers, and so we just reacted to that. So when I was nineteen, I just decided I'm going to reach out to him, and I did. And everything changed. It just changed. And our relationship became wonderful after that. And I saw my sister's relationships with him, Jodie and Lori, change, too, and everyone became close to my dad. He really opened up. And so that was a really wonderful and nice thing, he really softened up. He still was himself, and he had his struggles, but I think it really changed the way that our whole family related to him.

And so for me, it was very significant because it enabled me to really get into the heart of Hawaii. Not just the lovely hula hands and the tourist images of the "melting pot," but really understand the racial ethnic tensions. And more important, the sources of where they came from, starting with the overthrow of the Hawaiian nation, the coming of the ethnic groups, and the struggles among the groups in light of how the plantation owners treated the groups. And then to move forward with the rise of the labor union and joining forces with the 442nd, people who had come out and gone to law school, using the democratic process, the vote, to overthrow the republican white oligarchy in 1954. Opening up the society, the creation of new social justice laws which were the first in the country in many respects. But then also seeing how some of those who fought for social justice as part of the Democratic Revolution, continued that work, but others decided, "We need to, this is time to make some money, too." And so seeing kind of a split, and me coming right in the middle of that, saying, "Hey, wait a minute. Some of the people who did so much good might become part of the, might be becoming part of the problem or establishment. So what do we do as a younger generation?" So that's exactly where I emerged in this New College program which gave me the opportunity to take ethnic studies programs, to research about Hawaiian studies, and there was no Hawaiian studies program, there were no Hawaiian studies courses, even. To research, go into communities, to work with the communities there, to see the breakdown, to see the effects of the mass migration of people, and huge development, expansion of tourism, the rise of native Hawaiian consciousness, to really begin to kind of put things together in a very significant way. And then I realized that to do the work I wanted to do in Hawaii, to make Hawaii better, to help everyone understand the dynamics of the racial forces in Hawaii, I needed something more than what I had. So it was there that I decided, "I'll go to law school."

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

LB: Before we go there, can you tell me a little bit about your mother?

EY: My mom was the -- is, she's eighty-six now -- is the wonderful stabilizing force in our family. I think she was very much like her mother, very compassionate but strong. Always telling us not only the right thing to do, but also telling us about people and what people feel and why. And so I remember when I was in third and fourth grade, I was very bad at school. I was the second worst speller in my class, 'cause I didn't read, I didn't like it. I liked to play. Also, I was a very good athlete. So when it was recess or P.E., I'd be running around and organizing people, I'd come back in the classroom, I was very unsure. But I would get these report cards, no grades, but they would say, my mom would sit down and says, "Eric is gonna, he's okay, but he's kind of struggling in spelling, these other things. And in sports he's really good, but he's so quiet in class that outside, he's always yelling at people. And he's telling them what to do and he's..." and so my mom would say, "Eric, you know, when you do that outside the class, you make people feel bad when you yell at them because they're not as good as you." Said, "You know how inside the class you feel like you don't do as well, you don't feel so good? That's how you make people feel." So I remember her telling me, "You have to be more tolerant of people. You have to know how you affect people just as you should know when people affect you a certain way." And I remember her telling me those things in third and fourth grade, it really stuck with me, and really helped shape my approach to relating with people. To really try to listen, to truly kind of see how I'm affecting people.

And then I could see it in her work. She rose to the level of Head Graduate Admissions Officer for the whole University of Hawaii. And when she retired, she just had this undergraduate degree, but all these professors, the chairs of departments, the deans, former deans, they came out of the woodwork just to praise my mom about what a wonderful, compassionate, thoughtful, hardworking person she is. And so she really set the tone for all of us, I think, in the family. And we all have benefitted from that, it continues to this day. She's struggling with her health but doing okay. And I go there two nights a week and help her out with chores and talk with her. But I flew up yesterday, I had to get up at four a.m. in the morning to catch a very early flight. And she said, "Well, you're going to be hungry." I said, "Well, yeah." So anyway, she gets up at four o'clock in the morning with me and makes a turkey sandwich so I'll have two sandwiches, and then she goes back to bed. And it's a very classic thing for my mom, the little tiny thing where she makes her kids feel very loved in that very small way. And I know mothers all over the place do that, but that's my mom. And so she is very proud of her three kids. And my sister Jodie's a professor at the community college, Kapiolani community college teaching English as a second language. And my other sister Lori is a social work counselor at the University of California at Berkeley. So, and we all kind of draw a lot from my mom still.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

LB: Okay, so you started to talk about your decision to go to law school. Tell me how you, why you decided to go and where you ended up going.

EY: The decision to go was really based on that sense that so much in Hawaii was changing, and that I wanted to be a part of that and steering it in a good direction, whereas a lot of it was heading in a bad direction. And so I realized that I needed to learn, I needed to have something more. So actually, one of my projects was to interview lawyers in town just to see what they thought about their careers, and particularly those that might do something significant with their work. And so that's how I started out, and I realized that's what I want to do, but I want to go to a school that would foster a desire to do some kind of justice work, some kind of community-based work. And so Boalt Hall... and I'd heard about the Asian American law students, and, "That's where I want to go." But I thought, "Wow, how am I gonna get in there? I don't have any grades." And I did a very stupid thing. I've sort of... always never followed the straight and narrow course. I didn't go to school with grades, saying, "I don't care if I get into graduate school." Then I wanted to get into graduate school, "What have I done to myself?" So the thing I had to do was do well on the LSAT. Instead of preparing for it, I went the other way and said, "It's an aptitude test, an intelligence test, I'm not going to prepare." Well, for anyone who has taken LSAT, it's very complicated. And just understanding the instructions is really difficult and time-consuming. So I went in to take the exam not having prepared at all. I read that pamphlet when you sign up, it's like twenty questions, that's the only thing I did. And my sister, who was four years younger, did better than me on that one practice. And so I was overwhelmed, and I got my results, and it was very mediocre. And I thought, well, now I've really blown it. No grades, experimental school which actually was closed down by the regents for lack of funding, and a mediocre LSAT score. I said, okay, now I better be serious. And so I went ahead and my mom bought me all these study books, and I just worked through them. And I took it again, and then my score went up really a lot. And so the LSAT people wrote to me, they kind of thought, "Maybe this guy cheated. Because maybe he had someone else take it," 'cause it's not supposed to go up that much. But I explained to them, I wrote to them, and gave them a second sample of my signature and all that stuff, and it was okay.

And I'm really good at big picture things, I'm good at seeing things into the future, and if this happens, then this, and if you do this and work this, then these things can happen. And it's been very helpful for my social justice work. I'm very bad at the detail part of it. So when it came down to six schools that I wanted to apply to, I prepared these big packets describing my history, the written evaluations from my professors for all my courses, a long statement about my justice work in Hawaii and what I wanted to do, it was this thick packet, six of 'em. And I got the checks from my dad, and I mixed them all up. So I sent the wrong checks with the wrong packets. Two of the places out of the six didn't even process my application, and a couple mixed them back and forth. Anyway, long and short of it is Berkeley was one of the two that actually took my application seriously. And I got a letter in the mail and I thought, "There's no chance." And it was just one page, but I got accepted. I don't know exactly why, but I'm sure it was because at that time, there were students on admissions that really wanted people who would do community work, I'm sure of it. And so I got to go to Boalt Hall. And that really changed the whole course of my life, going there.

LB: When was this? When did you start Boalt Hall?

EY: That was 1975. Way before your time, Lori. But 1975 was very significant because I stepped right into the heart of the law school's special admissions controversy, the affirmative action program. And the faculty had abolished Asian American special admissions. It was really looking at special admissions for all the groups. It was really kind of a wedge issue. And so I came to the school, came to the law school there my very first semester, where there were some "giants" to me, sort of "giants," who were law students, who were organizing the struggle. And Lowell Chun-Hoon was from Hawaii, he's now practicing law back in Hawaii, and several other people had written this magnificent study, report, on special admissions in general, Asian American special admissions. And that became sort of the intellectual, political foundation for the political organizing. And people like Don Tamaki, you know, this kind of quiet, self-effacing guy, was just a magnificent speaker. You put him in front of a stadium in front of thousands of people and this guy just brought the house down. And there's so many wonderful Asian American people, and then the bonds forged with the Latino organization, La Raza, and with African American groups. And so it was a really exciting, wonderful time for me to come to law school, exactly what I wanted to do. And there were very few of us from Hawaii, which was probably a good thing. We were very close, but we didn't just stick together as just Hawaii, but we really became integrated into the Asian American Law Student Association. And so it was there I got a very significant kind of grounding and made friends that are, I'm close to forever now. Leigh-Ann Miyasato, Ed Chen, and many others.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

EY: While I was in school, several things happened. One is, I knew I was going to get through it, so I didn't want to go through the traditional program and compete with everybody else to try to get the traditional plums of legal education, I really wanted to learn. So I did several things. One is I decided which classes I wanted to go to and work at and which ones I didn't. Probably shouldn't say that because I'm a law professor now, some of my students might misinterpret that. So I actually read a lot of things outside of the legal class syllabi. And so I read about politics and law, and legal history and legal theory and things that helped me gain a much deeper understanding of how law operates, both as an instrument of oppression and sometimes as an instrument of liberation, and to understand those dynamics. And understand the traditional way of teaching and learning law, about law as neutral and objective, and therefore necessarily producing just results, how that was not an appropriate jurisprudential model. So I really started to train myself in doing that. And had courses that helped me do that. But more importantly, had lawyers who were legal activists. So all the way, this is not that long after the Oakland trials of the Black Panthers, and the political World War II -- not World War II -- Vietnam War protestors and free speech movement. So a lot of the lawyers there were in the community. And more important, there was the Asian Law Caucus that had been formed. And Dale Minami in particular had then just left Asian Law Caucus and formed his own law firm. And so I remember his offices, little tiny offices, and that's where you started work, too. And so I did work with Asian Law Caucus people, but also, Dale told me, "Hey," he said, "you know what? You can come do some work with me." So that was really great.

So that was, it was my second year of law school, second semester, and it really helped change my life, too, again. Because in addition to doing regular work, Dale did some tort work and I did some -- because I didn't know how to -- 'cause I didn't pay attention in the first year -- how to do legal writing very well. But I did memos for him and wrote, and he gave me good critiques and feedback. But more importantly, once a week, he would spend three hours with me talking about political lawyering, and the importance of understanding the dynamics of law, and understanding how law can be really oppressive as well as potentially liberating. And to understand -- so I read Marxist theory, I read all kinds of different theoretical schools, and he and I would talk about all this stuff, and he'd use his experience as a base. And it really helped me understand that to do what I wanted to do, I needed the traditional legal training, but I needed much more. So that was very inspirational to me. And that he would spend so much time, and here I was just a second-year law student, this was Dale Minami, already much older than me, just six years, actually, but accomplished so much. But he was spending the time to help bring me along, which really influenced me in my work right now about the importance of young people who were interested, to really help them and really spend the time. And Dale was a very important role model, and since then we've become really great friends. But he also laid the intellectual foundation for me. And combined with that, the resources at Berkeley, and the political activity and being part of it, really sort of connected all the pieces for me.

And so being at Berkeley law school was just the perfect thing. Because it was also, being a Hawaii boy, even though being at New College was like being away in some respects in terms of the racial environment, it still was Hawaii. So being in Berkeley opened my eyes to politics, to culture, to just travel, to communities that were different from my own. My roommate, Gary Maestes, a Chicano law student, he was very involved with La Raza, Centro Legale in San Francisco, and a leader in the Latino American law student group, and a wonderful person. And so I got to become a member of his community, and in fact, I played a lot of sports, and so I was second baseman for the Latino All-Stars, Chicano All-Stars. It was a group in the Bay Area and they go around and play. And so finally one of the other teams said, "Hey, wait a minute, you guys are Chicano All-Stars, they guy playing second base is not Latino." Said, "Yeah, he's half, his father's Mexican American, his name's Eric Garcia." [Laughs] So I went through part of my law school as Eric Garcia, second baseman for the Chicano All-Stars. But anyway, really formed, helped me understand the significance and the dynamics of reaching across lines.

So Berkeley was just really fabulous in so many ways for me. And I met wonderful professors like Richard Buxbaum, who taught corporations, but who was just this giant international human rights law, who had such a gentle touch. And he really looked out for us struggling law students, and to this day, I'm really grateful to him. To this day, whenever I speak in there he comes out and we talk. And so it turned out to be a fabulous experience for me.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

LB: So can you tell me the first time you learned about the Korematsu case and the internment?

EY: Sure.

LB: Was there a consciousness about the internment in Hawaii?

EY: There wasn't when I was growing up. And I knew about it a little bit, I'm not sure where. We might have had a little bit in the, my social studies class. But it certainly wasn't discussed, it wasn't talked about. I didn't know that there had been a much smaller internment in Hawaii. I didn't have any real sense of what it meant. And so my first real knowledge of it was when I was in New College, realizing that my New College classes were great but also too limited. So I started just sitting in on the new ethnic studies classes that were part of the regular university. And it was there, in a classroom of 150 people and reading the material even though I wasn't in the class, that I became aware of the internment, and I became aware of the political implications of the internment. It wasn't just a horrible human tragedy for an entire group of people, but the implications about how race is handled in American society and in particular through law just jumped out at me. So it was really these ethnic studies programs and ethnic studies teachers that really opened my eyes. So that was still, I was eighteen or nineteen at the time, but I still didn't have a firm grasp on it. And when I did my upper-level study into Hawaii and race relations in Hawaii, I began to realize the significance of this piece. But again, I hadn't really, it wasn't what I focused on.

LB: Do you remember learning, reading Korematsu in law school?

EY: You know, in law school we didn't read Korematsu. And I remember thinking, "Wow. I remember this internment case, are we going to get to it?" And we got to it in a flash, and then it was gone and we didn't study the case. And so it was, it was a compressed Con Law, constitutional law class. Instead of two semesters, it was compressed into one, and so partly it was understandable that we couldn't cover anything in depth. But I remember thinking, "Wow." But I didn't know what to do about it after that.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

LB: Okay, so tell me what you did after law school and how you eventually ended up getting back to Hawaii.

EY: Well, when I was in law school I knew I wanted to go back to Hawaii. I was torn. There were some wonderful things going on in the Bay Area. When I was in law school, several people said, "Gee, maybe you'll be a professor someday," a law professor. And I said, "No." I saw my dad's life and no, I'm not going to be a professor. After my first, during my, ending of my first year in law school, my legal writing instructor, Abby Ginsberg, who is a filmmaker here in the Bay Area now, had told me, she said, "You write really well, and you should try to write into Law Review." She said, "You'll get on if you do it." And I think most of the slots then were, there's a few at the top that got in automatically, but most were write-ons. But at that time, we were politically opposed to Law Review people, the "Red Hots," and they were part of the establishment of the law school, so no. So then she said, "Well, if you're ever going to be a law professor, you need to be in Law Review." So I thought I'd closed that door.

And so I wanted to go back home to Hawaii and I wanted to do some kind of legal services work. But it was right at the time that Legal Aid had its budget cut. And so not only weren't hiring, but they were actually retracting. And there were no other kind of positions that I could really want to do. So what I did was I went back to the firm that I clerked for after my second summer. And it was a regular law firm, but it was a law firm that had a community service emphasis.

LB: And what firm is this?

EY: This was then called Case, Kay & Lynch. And I went to the firm in part because it was a good firm. I had actually several other offers from so-called more prestigious firms that I didn't choose to go there. Because this firm was doing pro bono representation of the very first two native Hawaiian protestors who had trespassed on the island of Kaho'olawe, which was being bombed by the military, in order to stop the bombing. And so they were arrested and it was a big case. And so this law firm was representing them. And so I thought, "Well, that's cool, that's what I want to do." Of course, I went there and the attorneys told me, "Don't think that this is what the law firm does as its law firm work." But I went back there and I got wonderful training in litigation. And it turns out that I wasn't good at a lot of things, I would have been very bad at tax and real estate conveyancing and whatnot, but I was very good at litigation and big picture things, and sort of planning it and seeing strategically how it works. And so that's what I did at the firm, and I very quickly got involved in complex cases, large document kinds of cases.

And the wonderful thing is the firm also, because of its emphasis on community service, said, "Do whatever you want but do something." And so very early on, in fact, my first year, I wanted to join the board of Legal Aid Society. It was a very controversial organization then, it was class-action suits against the state and a whole range of things. And I thought, well, Dan Case was a Republican from Hawaii, head of this pretty big firm, would probably not like it. So I went to talk to him and I said, "Mr. Case, this is what I want to do." And, but I said, "I'm not sure if I should do it or not, and I'm just a beginning attorney." And so he said to me, he said, "You know what? I'm not sure I personally like what Legal Aid is doing right now. It does some very good things providing services, but these big class-action suits are destabilizing government," lot of things. He had a lot of good points. Then he said, "But if you believe that it's important that you use your time and energy, and this is going to make Hawaii better, then go ahead and do it. Then you have the firm's blessing." I thought, "How wonderful is that?" And so I did. And true to life, the firm supported me, he supported me.

So I started to do more and more pro bono work. I served on the board of the native Hawaiian legal corporation that did all the native Hawaiian litigation at the time, for a number of years. I worked on a number of projects, and I took on all these small cases. And, in fact, the sort of joke, my friends in the firm made a card for me. Because I would win these little tiny cases on behalf of poor people or disabled or whatnot. And so they made up this lawyer card which they passed out around town which said, "Eric Yamamoto, Lawyer Extraordinaire. No case too small." [Laughs] It was goofy. I walked in one day and people in the streets had these cards. But it was because I figured, big firm, you might as well do something. And people liked that and supported that. So I got to do all the civil rights, all the good plaintiffs cases, all the discrimination cases on the good side, all this really great stuff. And so it was wonderful training for me in this very intense kind of way. But as I progressed, third year, fourth year, I get more deeply involved in the cases and in managing cases and in managing younger attorneys, paralegals. And it became harder and harder to do the kinds of stuff that I wanted to do. And I realized that I really wanted to do things that had this justice emphasis on it.

And so as good as the firm treated me, I knew that I didn't want to become a partner. I don't want to make this my life's work, and that was fine with me. So I chose an office away from the partners, the head partner, so I could have my friends. It was really a nice, nice working environment. And then I worked on a couple of really big cases and we did pretty well on those cases. And I learned from the partners I worked with that they were planning to make me a partner early. I was into my fourth year, and into my, beginning fifth year, and that created a crisis in me, because that's not what I wanted. It was actually not a good thing to become a partner, especially early. And because I felt like if I did I would be making a commitment, and I believe in living up to my commitments. And so I didn't know what to do. And so I told the firm that I was going to resign, that I didn't want to do this. Because I didn't want to accept the partnership and then resign two years down the road. And that created quite a stir in the law firm. And part of the reason I was able to do that is, I'm trying to think, "What am I gonna do?" It's right at that time that the coram nobis cases were filed.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

LB: Tell me how you first found out about the coram nobis cases, what you thought about the prospect of reopening the cases and how you got involved.

EY: As usual, it was sort of a roundabout way that turned out, actually, to be very wonderful for me. It was either Dale or Leigh-Ann Miyasato who sent me a full stack of a draft, a near-finished draft. So everyone else had been, the team had been working on it, researching it, talking about it, making decisions, writing it up.

LB: The draft of the petition.

EY: The petition, excuse me, the petition and exhibits. And I was not a part of any of that. But it was still a draft, they said, "Take a look at it. And so I was blown away by it. It was just so amazing. And I did give a little bit of feedback, but essentially, it was a wonderful, polished project. Which started me thinking, "Wow, this is great." And these are the people that I worked with, went to school with Leigh-Ann Miyasato, and there was Dale and Don Tamaki, my idols. And so it just sort of made me think, "Wow, wouldn't this be wonderful?"

And then what happened -- this is how everything ties together -- my dad retired after thirty-three years of teaching. And as I mentioned, because our family never had money, compared to his peers who actually had done well financially, my dad's one dream that had never been fulfilled during his whole entire working life was to go to Las Vegas. That's the big thing for Hawaii people, and people go all the time, his peers would go all the time and take their families all around. And we never went; he never went. He just felt like he couldn't quite afford it. So he had just retired, and I told him, "Hey, your retirement present, I'm taking you to Las Vegas. So we went. And this is probably the nerdy part of me, me and my dad. We love to gamble and play poker. I grew up playing poker with my relatives every Sunday. So we get to Las Vegas, in this modest California Hotel, and we're sitting in the room. And what do I bring with me? I bring the whole petition. I'd read it once, I wanted to read it again. And so my dad, of course, he sits, and he and I, for two days, all day during the days, both of us, we read the whole thing. Every page, every exhibit again. So for me, it was the first time reading it really carefully. And my dad is reading it with me. We'd break it up into pieces, you know, it was so fat, right? Take it apart and read it and talk about it. And at the end of two days, my dad is like, "Do you know what this is?" And so we just went at it. And I realized, "Oh, my gosh, this is what I want to do." And so we gambled at night, and we read this Petition for writ of error coram nobis in the days, two days. So we come back, and I had given some feedback to Dale or whatnot.

By this time, things rocked along, and Judge Patel was treating the case as a civil case, and discovery had just started, and a whole bunch of documents were coming over from the government. And I know that one approach that was being thought of to organize the documents was to use a computer system, and to have those documents analyzed and inputted. And that's one of the things that I did, big case. And so I was -- I don't remember the timing of this, and might be a little bit off. But I was on vacation, so I came to the Bay Area as I did, and I remember Leigh-Ann say, "We're just starting up this thing and we have this sheet, can you take a look at it? Maybe you want to help code some documents." And I remember her telling me that, "We have some, a bunch of law students and undergraduate students who are going to be coding these documents." I said, "Sure." So I got a stack and on my vacation, sat at a coffee shop and started to go through them, trying to be helpful. And then I realized that, oh, my goodness. For all the wonderful effort and thought that's gone into this, that the way it's set up is probably not gonna yield the results. Because I know that when we did stuff like that, the quality control, we so rigorously trained the people doing the analysis and inputting, and we oversaw it, two levels, every single piece of every paper that was analyzed, what was going into the computer to make it work right. And so I thought, "Wow, this is going to be a lot of effort, and it might not yield the results, even though it was a really smart thing to do. So after that I went back and I took it upon myself just to write up a different way to handle it that might simplify the process, and yield better results given all the time and effort. And I knew that everybody else on the team was working their regular jobs full-time and then doing this at nights, on the weekends. And I remember talking to you, Lori, when I had come by on that trip, and the excitement and the level of commitment, but also the level of juggling regular, ordinary work, trying to make a living. And you folks were still in the Oakland office, I remember, and then trying to do all of this stuff at the same time, and it was somewhat overwhelming.

And so I wrote, I remember, an eight-page single-spaced thing about what I thought some of the difficulties with the current system were and some of the, alternative way to simplify and handle the system, actually, outside of the computer process. And so I remember then very shortly after, getting a call from Dale and saying, "Hey, we looked at the stuff and we're thinking about it, and we could really, there's something you could do. Can you help out?" And I think he meant to help out the team from Hawaii or come by part of the time. And that was right at the time I was thinking, "I don't want to be partner at the firm." So it was like a divine intervention, or something really putting the pieces together saying, "Look, here's what you're meant to do now." And so I had purposefully not encumbered a big mortgage or expensive car and things, I was very mobile. I paid off my student loans, and I had saved a little bit of money, and so it just made perfect sense.

So I did tell the firm, "I resign," and I did tell Dale, "I will come up if it's okay to join you folks. You folks have already done all this great work, but I can contribute something." And I'm also very good at research and evidence, 'cause I've done a lot of trial work in these big cases. So it turns out that that's one of the things I worked on. And my firm was very wonderful. So Dan Case, again, called me into his office. I'd written a letter telling the firm how much I appreciated them and I was resigning. And he said, "Well," he said, "I think you think I'm gonna ask you to stay." He said, "I'm not." He said, "We really want you here, and we want you to know the door's open for you to come back." But he said, "There are too many attorneys who don't do what they really feel passionately about. And whether it's for financial reasons or family or they can't see what else they want, they just stay at something that they're not entirely happy with. And then ten, fifteen years down the road, they're very unhappy." So he said, "But we do. I support you, we support you. Do and do it well. Do it so that it really is something that you feel proud about and makes a contribution. So hopefully, we hope you'll come back to us, but if not, that's okay, too." And that was the best thing I could possibly hear. Then he said -- this is the wonderful thing about him -- he said, "You know, you're gonna need some support for this, too. Partly because you might want to come back to us, we want you to think well of us, but partly because you just need support." He said, "We'll pay your health insurance and your benefits and all this stuff for a whole another year." And I hadn't even thought about it, that I'm gonna need all that stuff. I said, "Dan, that's wonderful, but I'm not likely to come back. This is not what I want to do. As much as I love doing it right now, it's not what I want to do for my life's work." He said, "That's okay." And so they did it for one year. I was still here in the Bay Area working on the case, the aftermath of the case. And I said, "I'm not ready," they extended it for six more months, and it was a very wonderful thing. So that's how I got involved.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

LB: So when did you come up to the Bay Area?

EY: You know, I don't remember exactly when I came up. 'Cause I actually started doing some of the work back in Hawaii where I started really getting more actively involved, and then I came up. And I remember at this point in time, being here and actively involved, I was responding to the petition, to the government's motion to dismiss, and also how to submit all the documents into evidence for the hearing that Judge Patel was having. So I recall spending time with Bob Rusky, Bob Rusky's office with Margie Barrows, and time with Leigh-Ann, and working on that aspect of the case, how to get the evidence in, what to do about it. Also working on attorney's fees, but I guess that came later.

LB: So it sounds like there was some personal risk to you coming up to the Bay Area to work on this case. You didn't have a job...

EY: Didn't have a job, didn't have any income. I did work four hours a week at Merilyn Wong's office with Lily Kimura and Merilyn Wong, so I earned enough money to go to Europe. I worked through all of my savings. But I didn't think of it as risk. It was really that, something I wanted to do, it was kind of an adventure, it was something that was meaningful to me. And so... and it was wonderful. How I looked at it was, all the things I had done were like training myself technically and skills-wise, but also my intellect, but also my own sort of spirit to do something really important, and this was it. And I think a lot of people felt that. So everybody donated so much of their time and energy. Life was difficult because of that, but it was also great and wonderful.

LB: What was that importance that would make you leave Hawaii to come up and work on the case?

EY: It was because... I could tell two things. One, that I had learned from being up in the Bay Area with my friends and their families, was that the impact of the internment was still so strong in their lives. It affected people's self image, it affected people's ability to talk about their lives and their history, especially for the Nisei who had been interned, but it also affected the Sansei. Because many of my friends said their parents couldn't talk about it, there was a certain gulf, that something about growing up... wonderful support from the parents, but still, something was not right because of that deep history. So I came to see that through my friends. And what I came to really understand being back in Hawaii was the significance of legal decisions and legal opinions and how they cement people's understandings of what was right and just. Or Japanese Americans as "disloyal." Korematsu case upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court must mean that Japanese Americans were disloyal. It's a cultural image that's inscribed, and it's carried forward so it affects people's understanding of an entire group, about Asian Americans in general. And so I realized that this is something bigger even than the Japanese American community who had been interned. It's really about how law operates. And I realized that it's how law could operate in the future. So that was part of my motivation, that there was something, this was really important in and of itself, it was important for the people who had been interned, it was important for Asian Americans, but it was important for how law operates and how we understand if law can do justice. So I think those things combined... and there's a fourth thing. These are my wonderful friends who had been mentors and who were now going to become colleagues. And when I came up I met you, and you were this young attorney who was doing this amazing job of really being the pivot point of coordinating so many things, including the documents, about how this case was going to actually turn out. And there was Don and Dale, and I got to know Bob Rusky and then Leigh-Ann, Ed Chen. And Ed Chen and I, I think, joined the team just about the same time. And so it was this other thing, this community working on the same thing, and people that I respected and liked. That really was just such a draw for me.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

LB: Can you tell me about the first time you met Fred and what your impressions were?

EY: When I first met Fred it wasn't at one of the big -- it was something smaller, I can't remember exactly. It was some kind of smaller event, I don't know if it was a fundraiser... and he's such a gentle man, a humble spirit, and this big old smile. And one of the first things he said to me was, "Oh, Hawaii, you're from Hawaii?" That, just the Hawaii thing just lit his eyes up. And he went right into, "Oh, when I was in jail waiting for my trial, the guy in my jail cell was from Hawaii, and so we talked all about Hawaii. And he told me about the beautiful women." [Laughs] He went on and on. I wanted to ask him about, "What's the case?" And, "Why are you standing up against injustice?" But he wanted to talk about Hawaii. It was just, he was so delightful and so real that it just made this really stark impression on me, like, "What a real person." And there must be something really special about him to be able to stand up in the way he did. And you could just feel for him, why people could really relate to him. He was an ordinary person in so many ways, and yet extraordinary.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

LB: You told me some about the legal team and the members of the team. Can you tell me something about the working relationship and the team? The meetings, how people related to each other.

EY: It was a really wonderful, amazing group. There was probably about a dozen, if I recall. And what was really great is everybody was really... it was two things. People were really professional. Like, "We got a job to do and we got to really be thoughtful and hardnosed and make judgment calls." And at the same time, it was like, "But we're friends and colleagues and we can joke around, and at the right moment, make fun of each other and support each other." So it was this wonderful dynamic that was such a wonderful thing to be in right at the very beginning. And like I said, it was intense because everybody was doing their regular work. And through part of it, then, I think your office was moving, right? So on top of everything, trying to move office. And so all of this stuff was happening so it was a very intense atmosphere, but at the same time, it was so collegial and so warm and so communal.

And so what I remember is in one meeting early on, and people were discussing something, I don't even remember what it was specifically. And I had a slightly different view, and so I said, "Well, I think this," and there was a lot of good discussion. And then at the end I said, "Well, I don't know if I've changed my view." And I thought, "Why don't we just go forward?" And then I forgot who it was, might have been Dennis Hayashi or somebody said, "Well, you know, we don't go forward if people really feel in disagreement. We need to keep talking about it 'til there's consensus." And so I realized, oh, you know, that really is important and is part of this really important dynamic process, which is actually really different from a law firm. 'Cause in a law firm, you say what you want to say, you get outvoted, and you're a little, "Aw," but you go on. But this was different. And so it helped me understand. We could talk it through a little more, then I realized, okay, I'm okay with this, and so there could be consensus. But the process was to make sure everybody's input not only was heard, but everybody personally felt like we've been heard, and this actually is the right decision for the group. So that was very significant.

And I will say that in one way, everybody seemed equal and very collegial. And I will say that I had tremendous respect for three people in particular who, to me, rose above as leaders. And one was Dale. And Dale was so good at articulating what needed to happen, and so good at setting forth kind of a larger agenda. If we do this, then we have to do that, and let's do these things. And being inclusive, but also being willing to kind of stand up at times when we needed to be.

The second person I thought was a really tremendous leader was Don Tamaki. Don was just magnificent at orchestrating the public education aspects of this program, of the legal team's work. And that was so significant because this case -- as Lori has eloquently said in the Densho project interviews that we've put into our Japanese American internment book -- that this case was being tried not only in the court of law, but also in the court of public opinion. And that was tremendously significant. Because the court of opinion mattered in terms of how Japanese Americans were going to be viewed, regardless of what the outcome and the specific coram nobis litigation turned out to be. And equally important, there was a redress movement that had started, that had gained strength as part of the Asian American movement, ethnic studies movement, but that had kind of stalled because it ran right into the obstacle of people saying, "Sure, historically it was bad, it was wrong, we know that now." But they didn't know that then, and the Supreme Court had validated the law. It was legal. And so to try this case in the court of public opinion was so important because it was a way to re-galvanize the redress movement, and it was to sort of shake out this whole notion that it was legal and that it was fine. So it at least exposed why it was so seemingly wrong in legal terms as well as human terms, became so significant. And Don Tamaki was just, just magnificent at doing that. And because I wasn't working at any other job, I got tapped sort of before and after to do some speaking, so I was on the radio. I recall going to Golden Gate and Hall, later on to Stanford University and to speak about the case and whatnot. That became a very significant thing, to reach these audiences in small ways while Don was orchestrating a national media campaign. So it was really opening my eyes to the significance and political lawyering of the political piece as a public education piece.

And the third person that really was a leader was you, Lori. And again, almost fresh out of, relatively fresh out of law school, and it was important in a lot of ways. There was a strong male presence in the coram nobis litigation work, which is probably reflected in, sort of, the legal community at that time. There were not nearly as many women. And so you were a very strong and important guiding light as an Asian American woman, as a new lawyer, who clearly combined the intellectual ability and the legal skills, but also the people skills. And that was a really... I don't think I've ever told you this, but you really, you were so critical to making this thing move forward every day and to really moving it forward in a very positive way. So I think the legal team was equals and it felt like that, but there really were three leaders.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

LB: Can you tell me about any specific moments in working on the case that stand out in your mind, in particular, were you present when Judge Patel issued her ruling in court?

EY: Oh, yes, I was definitely present. That's a moment that will sort of last forever in my mind.

LB: Set the stage for me. Tell me what it was like when you came to the courtroom, what was there, who was there.

EY: Well, I'll set the stage going back about a week before that. And this was the week before the November hearing. And so we had, I had participating in drafting the evidentiary documents and filings with the court and doing the research. And I recall spending a lot of time in Bob Rusky's office there, and Margie Barrows and Leigh-Ann. And we worked really hard, but then joke around. So after all the documents were filed and the government responded, and so there was nothing left to do, but we were just kind of cleaning up. And I remember being in Bob Rusky's... Bob had his firm, Hanson Bridget, donate all this time and space and incredible resource, that was so essential, money. But we were done, but Bob had still reserved the room, 'cause we had met there. So we're just sitting there, and Margie and I got so giddy, and we started playing baseball with wadded up papers -- you know, this is in the conference room of this big law firm, we're throwing this thing around and laughing, because we had so much pent-up energy and anxiety, but also hopefulness. And so that only built for the hearing.

And so I recall for the hearing, all of us congregating in the big ceremonial courtroom. So not the ordinary courtroom, but the big ceremonial courtroom with the big marble columns, very, very grand. And hundreds of people, three, four, maybe five hundred people. And the back was just packed with the Japanese Americans who had been interned, as well as media. And then we the attorneys got to go inside the gate, we sat on a bench there. Then the table, and there was Fred and Dale. Maybe Don was at that table, too, and then Victor Stone on the other side. So it was very intense to be there for this occasion. And no one knew how Patel was going to rule. So it really was this sense of anxiety and of hope. Of fear, too, because what if she, the most forward-looking progressive judge, and if she said no, I mean... so it was very, that kind of hopeful anxiety. And then when Dale got up and he did his opening statement, argument, he was so articulate and so wonderful, the way that only Dale can be so concise and so to the point but in a larger way, and what this is really about and who's being impacted and why. And that's part of Dale's genius. He's able to take the legal arguments but weave in the bigger narrative about why this should come out the way it's going to come out. I don't remember anything about Victor Stone's discussions, because he was kind of lost and half apologizing, half arguing.

And then Fred got up. And I remember this. When Fred got up -- there'd been this mild murmur, but when Fred got up, it got quiet. And with Fred, as you know, as we all know, he's such a wonderful person, and can be a wonderful speaker. But you never know when he's gonna ramble around or when he's gonna just get to the heart of it. He always got to the heart of it, but you didn't know if he's gonna take twenty minutes to get there, and here he only had about two minutes. But he just got right to it, just right to it. And ultimately, he's doing this because he doesn't want it to happen again to anyone. You could hear that he meant not just Japanese Americans, he meant anyone in society, to be treated badly, to have their civil liberties subverted under the false mantle of national security. To be scapegoated just because the government officials thought it would be a neat thing to do and a popular thing to do to sacrifice the civil liberties of particularly a racial group, but any kind of group. He said that in such a powerful way. You could just feel the room go, like, oh, that feeling, you know.

And then it was quiet, and Judge Patel shuffled her papers, and then you could tell she was gonna, she had something prepared, so she's gonna rule from the bench. So we weren't sure what exactly she would do. And then it got super quiet again. And I swear I could feel, at that moment, I could feel the intense energy in the room. It felt to me like everything was vibrating, the walls and the air were having this energy like this. And she was quiet, and then she started to read her opinion from the bench. And as you know, after about three sentences, we knew that she was gonna grant Fred's petition. And then she went on, and then it became better and better and better, and then she read that statement the role of the courts in times of crisis and the importance of standing up and being vigilant, accountability, all this wonderful... so she got what Fred was saying and was reflecting it back. This was about Fred, it was about Japanese American internment, it was about American society and the judiciary's role. It was, couldn't have been better.

And at that moment, the room, I could hear people starting to cry in the back. You can feel the energy, and it was just vibrating back and forth, people starting to cry. I could feel my eyes water, I could see everybody on the legal team and we just had that same feeling. And it was so cute, that I learned later from Dale, in the midst of all of that, then finally Fred turns to Dale and says, "What happened?" [Laughs] "Fred, you won." And so that was, that was a really magical, magical moment, beyond what I think anyone could have really hoped for, and it turned out to be quite wonderful.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

LB: What happened after the hearing, can you remember people's reactions?

EY: Yes. I remember walking outside, and there was just this buzz and this talk. And I remember seeing Don Tamaki being interviewed, and I just remember the, sort of emotion of the Nisei in particular. And it was being expressed through their hugs, or you could still see damp eyes or this sense of wanting to be part, or being part of something. And it was really remarkable, because the Nisei had so much inside them, but 'til that moment, I think, you could visibly see them keeping it inside. And there was a certain formalness and distance. And at that moment, it looked to me like it had broken down. Broken down in tears, broken down in hugs, broken down, just standing close to each other, people being close to Fred and Dale. It was just remarkable to see that. It was really a psychological transformation of a group, I think, at that very moment. And then, of course, there's the media which are all excited, and there was just so much going on at that time.

LB: So if you had to explain why the reaction that the Nisei had, the tears, the joy, why do you think they had that reaction?

EY: I think they had that reaction because they had for so long lost their voice about the internment experience, and about who they were as a people because of that. And it's something that happens a lot to people who have suffered group-based injustice. They haven't done anything wrong, but they are in some way being punished or really severely, harshly oppressed because of their group membership. And so what it does is it takes away their voice, their ability to speak about their identity, about their experience, 'cause they can't explain it. They didn't do anything that causes them to be treated that way except that the society that they belonged to and trusted had betrayed them. And that deep sense of betrayal, the continuing stigma that they feel combines to take away their voice. I think, for the Japanese American community, the Nisei in particular, all of a sudden it was the third generation, their children, standing up to fight for them, making these points in the court of public opinion as well as the court of law, and then having that validated, all of a sudden began to take away the stigma. And to say maybe the country's going to actually undo the harm of its betrayal, and I think it really unlocked their voice.

I remember about a month and a half after the Patel ruling, at Stanford Law School there was a forum. And so, again, because I wasn't working, I went down there to represent the team. It was actually a big forum, and there were several hundred people there. And so I spoke and several people spoke, and then after it was over, a lot of people came down because Don did such a great job, it was all in the news and people wanted to talk about it. And so I spoke to a number of people, they came up, talked to the panelists. And then I saw this woman who looked like my mom, she was probably in her mid-sixties and early sixties, late sixties, waiting in the back, Japanese American woman, Nisei, waiting, waiting, waiting. When everybody was done talking, maybe twenty minutes later, she was still there. So she came up to me and said, "First, thanks to you, all the coram nobis team, litigation team, for what you did." She said, "You folks were our voice." And then she said, "You know, at first, when we were interned, I thought it was terribly wrong because we knew we didn't do anything wrong, and we thought, 'Okay, they'll recognized it's a mistake, and it's bad, but it'll be fixed.' But then it continued and continued. And then," she said, "it was the President saying that we deserved to be interned, and it was the Congress, and it was the media, and it was public, and then finally it was the courts. And so even though we knew we didn't deserve to lose our freedom, to lose our businesses, lose our homes, lose our families, everything outside of us was telling us that was the right thing." She said, "It made me feel like I couldn't talk about it for all these years." But she said, "Now, with the coram nobis cases, it's really freed my soul," I remember her using those terms, "freed my soul." So she said that was the first time she talked about this internment. So I realized how significant the litigation was in that deep, very personal way.

And then it's the power of those stories, about the significance of this form of redress, about correcting the injustice, about getting some kind of acknowledgment, that I think really has touched many, many other groups, too. And I found in my speaking both immediately after the coram nobis cases and then after I became a law professor in large part because of my work on the Korematsu case and my writing about it, in speaking with other groups, African American groups organizing for reparations, Japanese Latin Americans, that it's the power of the stories of the Nisei, about losing their voice from a sense of betrayal, of being stigmatized, and regaining a voice through this sense of bringing some form of justice, that really has touched so many other groups and helped motivate so many other groups to pursue redress as really an important thing to do for them.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

LB: What did working on this case mean to you?

EY: Well, I didn't realize it at the time, but it really set a really wonderful course for my life. Perhaps most important, it created the bonds of deep, deep friendship and love among people like you and Dale and Leigh-Ann and Ed Chen and Bob Rusky, Karen Kai, the whole team. And especially Fred and Kathryn and Karen Korematsu, that wonderful closeness and ties of having shared in something so important and significant. That I treasure the most above everything else. It was also important -- and that's helped me to really have a certain source of -- I don't know what the word is -- love, that I can give to other people that I work with, to the students. To be able to work from that place, that this is something so important and deep, this communal sense.

It was also important to me because not knowing what I was gonna do after I left the law firm, I finally realized, "Oh, I think I do want to teach law school." Said, "Darn, I should have tried to be in Law Review. Now it's coming back to haunt me." [Laughs] But so what can I do at this point, right? I made my choices and they were all the right choices, but it's not pointing me to where I next want to go. But I had more time because I wasn't working. I was recovering from a serious sports injury, so I used half of my day to rehab, and I was living in San Francisco, I would run up and down the stairs and the hills and go to the basketball court, and actually, I did rehab my leg really nicely. And the other half of the day, I went to a little tiny cafe on Twenty-fourth Street. It's called the Meat Market, and it's not what you think. [Laughs] I thought it was kind of a strange name. But it actually was the former meat market that had been converted to a cafe. And it had a room in the very back with a window to the outside, beautiful blue sky and trees. And it was way in the back, so no one went there, so I would go there like my little office, four hours a day. And I collected all the litigation materials, but I also went and got all the cases that -- not only that were discussed in the materials -- but other cases about national security, civil liberty historically and whatnot. And so I just read 'em, and I started to form this picture that tapped into my sort of deep desire to have been part of the coram nobis team to begin with, was what's the impact on the future? And I began to realize that this was a historical pattern. That during times of national crisis, government officials, in order to bolster their political standing, will sometimes do the right thing to provide for the security of the country, which was really important, but oftentimes they would go way overboard. That they would find out who's the most vulnerable group and scapegoat that group in order to make people feel better. Whether it's because people feel safer, or their sense for vengeance or whatever it is, is dealt with. And so I realized that this has happened over and over, and that what happened in internment could happen again unless we really learn some deeper lessons that were translated in broader ways. And then I realized that it was the courts that were allowing this to happen over and over again. So I spent that time examining the national security, civil liberties tensions embodied in American law. And so I spent that time in the cafe every day, not only figuring out the more specific legal lessons of the Korematsu, Hirabayashi, Yasui coram nobis cases, but also trying to see how we could argue that American law, national security, civil liberties, should be altered and why.

And so I spent that time, I didn't have any computer. In fact, there were hardly any computers. So I handwrote on a yellow tablet, and I got my cards, and I wrote notes, and I cut and pasted and did all this stuff. And so I did that for six months, and I came out, I had a manuscript starting with the coram nobis case, Korematsu in particular, but also the national security, civil liberties jurisprudence, and then where it might go into the future. And so I wrote this all up by hand, and I did it just 'cause I wanted to do it. And then someone graciously agreed to type it up for me. It was on a very early computer, I needed a couple drafts. And then it turned out that my law school had an opening for a professor in civil procedure. And that's the one thing I would be qualified for. And, but I wasn't on Law Review. I applied for the position, and they said, "You're not on Law Review, how do we know you can do scholarship? And you were in practice," and I had some really wonderful letters from the attorneys in practice. So I said, "Well, I have this manuscript." I had two manuscripts; one I had written as an undergraduate doing that work, independent study work on Hawaii community and changes and justice issues, and that had won an award, so I showed them that. But then I showed them this other manuscript from the cafe, which was still very rough. But it just happened that Mari Matsuda, who had joined the faculty, was on the hiring committee, and John Mananke, our Con Law professor was on the hiring committee. And they knew what this stuff was about and why it was significant, and that the manuscript, what I was writing about was brand new stuff, and it was very significant for the future of American law, perhaps. And so that opened the door for me, and then I made it to the short list. And at that time, they were hardly hiring people from Hawaii, they wanted people elsewhere. And I was on the short list, even though not having been on Law Review, and I had to give a presentation to the whole law school. That was kind of the test, "Could this guy do it?" And so what did I talk about? I talked about the coram nobis cases, and I talked about the documents, and I talked about the impact. And it was a big hit with the audience. And so it was those two things combined that really got me over this hump that I would not, might not normally have qualified to be a law professor. And so the coram nobis cases and the legal team were just really, were so influential in me being hired. And my first article came out called "Korematsu Revisited," in terms of present-day events. And you know, it got me into working on racial justice issues, human rights, civil rights, and it opened so many doors for me. And I've tied in my civil litigation, civil procedure expertise into that, and it's really meshed really wonderfully.

And for a while I thought, "Well, I need to move on. I can't just do this thing and then sort of live off of this thing." But what I realized is that the coram nobis cases have a life of their own. And because they reflect so much, not only what happened and the importance of correcting injustice, but they also reflect on the future and about how we are likely, if we're not vigilant, to replicate this same type of injustice. And if we do, what do we do about it in terms of repairing the harm through reparations? And so I realized it has a life of its own that continues, especially post-9/11, the significance of all of this work is even more important. And so the Korematsu Justice Center that's opening here at Seattle Law School is so important for that reason. It's not just a historic look backwards, it's a look forward. And so the work that I do now really embraces that Korematsu spirit, at least for me. How do we assure that this kind of injustice or broader injustice doesn't happen to anyone?

LB: This manuscript that you wrote, did you write it because you knew that that might be a way to get into academia, or did you write it because you just needed to?

EY: I just needed to. It was so important, and I had things to say now. And I didn't know what it would do, I didn't know if I could get it published, I didn't know what the purpose of it was, except I just wanted to do it and had the time and energy, and I was sort of consumed by it. In this little tiny room with a window, the Meat Market Cafe. But the interesting thing is that it's still being used and cited because of its relevance right today.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

LB: So one of the things that's often asked is, is Korematsu v. United States still good law, and what effect did the coram nobis cases have on that?

EY: That is a question that's asked a lot, and it's a very important question. As a technical, narrow, jurisprudential method, the Korematsu case from World War II still is good law, because it's never been formally overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court. And several of the United States Supreme Court opinions recently have acknowledged that. But because of the coram nobis cases, the entire factual underpinnings for the Korematsu 1944 ruling have been undercut. Equally important, by showing the prosecutorial misconduct, and also showing the destruction of the crucial evidence showing no military necessity, those two things in combination, there's a real strong, clear sense now that even though the Supreme Court opinion hasn't, decision hasn't been overruled, that it was legally wrong. And that's huge. And so not that, just that it was a mistake but they did the right thing or they followed the law, but that it was actually legally wrong even at the time. And what it showed is that even though the Court in 1944 in the Korematsu case said it was gonna exercise strict scrutiny of the facts and the government's justification for the internment, that it in fact failed to do so. That, in fact, if the Court had exercised strict scrutiny, it would have discovered the underlying fabrication, the suppression of evidence and destruction of key evidence. It would have discovered all the government's lies about military necessity, and therefore the Court would have invalidated the internment. So what's happened is that the Supreme Court itself has now repudiated but not formerly overruled the Korematsu World War II decision. And that's very significant in many ways.

But what the Court has done -- at least some Justices have done -- is they don't refer to Korematsu anymore, but they still replicate the argument that was essentially adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court in the original Korematsu case. That the court should take a hands-off role in reviewing the President's national security decisions. And so in important respects, the bad part of the Korematsu decision, that ultimately the Court should back off from reviewing government military necessity, national security restrictions of civil liberties, that part of the decision is still being replicated by some Justices and some lower court judges. But the good thing is that we have what actually happened in the Korematsu case, and why it was actually wrong, we have that to work with now as a way to challenge what those current Justices and judges are arguing in terms of judicial deference.

And one of the key pieces to that counterargument is Fred Korematsu's amicus brief in the Hamdi and the Rasul cases. And the Rasul case in particular was important. Hamdi was an individual American citizen who had been picked up in the theater of war in Afghanistan and was held as an "enemy combatant." The Rasul case was the case for the so-called "enemy combatants" being held en masse in Guantanamo Bay and deprived of a hearing, charges, access to attorneys, let alone families. And it turns out many of them were picked up for no good reason other than they were Arab ancestry or Muslim. And so Fred's amicus brief -- and Dale and I were two of the co-authors of that amicus brief in the Rasul case -- said, "Look at the history of scapegoating during times of national distress." And then it said, "Look at my case, and look at the scapegoating and look at the false national security justifications, look at the abuse of government power for popular reasons. And courts, you should know this happens over and over, and that's why it's your job to exercise strict scrutiny over the government's actions." And ultimately, to reject this call that, "Oh, the Court should step away and just defer." And in fact, the jurisprudence that's emerging now, although unevenly, but emerging out of the U.S. Supreme Court, is yes indeed, the courts have a special duty as a third branch of government, and it's overseeing the political branches of government to protect the Constitution, to protect the Constitutional rights of all people, and to assure the government doesn't scapegoat under the false mantle of national security. So Fred's voice and his case are being heard. And Fred's voice and his coram nobis case and Gordon's coram nobis case and Min's coram nobis case litigation together really, I think, are having an impact in how law is developing around national security, civil liberties, and around how our government can and will treat Americans.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

LB: Has Fred's case been part of the public dialogue or the judicial dialogue after 9/11 expressly?

EY: Very much so, very much so. And in fact, part of the answer is "yes," and part of the reason is because a number of us continue to speak about it and write about it. And Dale has become a very important person, point person, in speaking about the relevance of the internment to post-9/11 national security, civil liberties. Your writing on the coram nobis cases and on the three men who resisted, the importance of resistance, and your participation and work now with the center here, is becoming so significant. And a lot of the speaking and work that I do really emanates from the sense of why the coram nobis cases and why Fred, Min and Gordon's willingness to stand up and resist, why that's so significant today. So I think we're having our -- the coram nobis team itself is having a tremendous impact today. But also, I think it's much broader. Because of the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund that was created by the 1988 Civil Liberties Act conferring reparations and apology to the internees, that public education fund has sponsored curriculum in the lower schools, sponsored films and documentaries. It's sponsored a law book that I've co-authored with Margaret Chon here at Seattle Law School, and Jerry Kang and Frank Wu and Carol Izumi, and we're doing another edition right now. To get this out not only to the law schools, but also into the undergraduate programs and graduate schools and out into the scholarly world. And so... and then, of course, there are many other people that have picked up the mantle now. And what's become significant is that in my research on reparations and reconciliation after 1988, what I've seen is that especially in the United States but actually elsewhere, that almost every reparations movement that is started up and gained some steam, in part looks to the Japanese American redress as either a model, or at least a form of motivation or inspiration. That this can be done politically, through the legal process, but also political organizing and through public education, and that it's possible for government to try to do the right thing.

And so that's become very significant, I think, in the United States, for African Americans, for example, the Japanese Latin Americans, native Hawaiians, Native Americans, the Latino Bracero workers. On and on, you see it springing up, and you see Japanese American redress as one important piece of that puzzle. Internationally now, reconciliation has become very significant. Whether we're talking about the Korean sex slaves during World War II in Japan, or you're talking about the British treatment of the Maori in New Zealand. You talk about the aboriginal children, the "stolen generation," taken out of their homes and put into horrid government schools in order to "assimilate" them -- really, abuse them. Whether it's Australia or Canada, whether you're talking about what happened in Rwanda or in Chile, Sierra Leone, the language of reparations as part of reconciliation and rebuilding countries, taking injustice and trying to repair the harms of injustice as part of what it means to be a civil society, all of those ideas now have taken hold. They're kind of all over the place, and there's no real clear sense of what it means or how do we measure what's successful and what's not? But at least part of that piece is traceable to Japanese American redress. And part of that piece of Japanese American redress is traceable to the coram nobis cases, and then back further to Fred, Min and Gordon's willingness to stand up and fight, and to the ACLU attorneys who were willing to stand up and fight for them. And so I think we can trace a lot of these things into the present, and perhaps into the future.

LB: After 9/11, have the courts, dealing with issues post-9/11, been citing the Korematsu case? Have they cited it as negative precedent? That is, "Well, we can go ahead and do this," or have they condemned it?

EY: In general now, the courts are not citing Korematsu as support for the government can incarcerated or racially profile. And the cases that do cite Korematsu tend to cite it with a negative spin, saying, "This was actually not good, this was actually wrong." They don't get into the judicial deference and the role of the courts that I talked about very much. Some of them do but most don't. But they don't use Korematsu in a damaging kind of way. Because interestingly enough, Korematsu is cited as the initial case that recognized the strict scrutiny standard of review for invidious racial classifications. That sounds like a law professor mouthful. But it's where a state consciously enacts a racial law that hurts a particular racial group and intends to do so. The strict scrutiny standard of reviews says, essentially, "You can't do it." Now, all the way up until affirmative action was challenged as reverse discrimination, if we leave that aside for a moment, up 'til the 1970s, so from '44 to 1970, every case that was challenged as an invidious racial classification, for example, Jim Crow laws, strict scrutiny was applied in every single case invalidated those racially restrictive laws. The only case which upheld the racially restrictive laws was Korematsu itself. So Korematsu itself is seen as an anomaly in that kind of certain situation. So for all kinds of reasons, it's seen as a bad decision. But because it's still not overruled, it continues to be important for all of us to write, speak, litigate and bring forward the lessons of Korematsu.

LB: Did you talk to Fred about submitting the amicus brief in Rasul v. Bush?

EY: I talked to Fred.

LB: What did he say?

EY: Well, Fred, you know Fred, he says, "You think it's a good idea?" I said, "Yeah, Fred, this is a really good idea." And he had, I talked to him also when he was, the Hamdi brief was coming out. And I said, "Your voice can be really significant here." And so he says, "Well, will you have a voice, you and Dale have a voice in it?" And I said, "We will. We'll make sure it's okay." So he said, "Let's do it." He said, "This is why my case, I litigated my case, and this is why you folks did it, too. Not just for me or not just for what happened before, but we want to stop it from happening in the future to other people." Now, it's so consistent with what Fred had felt and said right from the very beginning. It really was for other people.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

EY: I can tell you sort of one more story that's kind of related to that but goes further back. The people I worked with, we'd invited Fred back to the, back to Hawaii at the University of Hawaii Law School in particular, on several occasions, and he seemed to really, really like that. The most recent time was when our law students had created a Patsy Mink Fellowship in Congress to honor the recently deceased Patsy Mink, by taking a first-year law student during the summer and sending him or her to do justice work in Congress for one of our congresspersons. And so at the second event -- and it was a really big event -- we invited Fred to come speak. And so Fred came with Kathryn and Karen, and of course he was such a huge hit. People just love Fred, and the students just love him. And his speech was so good in so many ways. He tells a story about himself, but he shifted halfway through about the significance post-9/11 of making sure there's no scapegoating of Arabs or Muslims. Of making sure that we used the lessons from the coram nobis cases to make sure that these injustices don't happen in the future. It was such a wonderful way that he took history to the present to the future. And Fred has such an elegant, kind of sweet way, did that so powerfully. A standing ovation, people crying, and it was his last trip to Hawaii and his wife said one of his last major big, kind of, events in that way, where he gave a really major talk. Ten years before that, the Unfinished Business documentary by Steve...

LB: Okazaki.

EY: ...Okazaki, which had been nominated for an Academy Award, was being shown at the International Film Festival in Hawaii. I'm not sure why it's "International," but International Film Festival in Hawaii. And so they had asked, they were gonna show it and they said, "Well, we have speakers after these major films, can you speak?" I said, "Better yet, why don't you bring Fred Korematsu?" They didn't even know he was alive. So they raised money, the JACL Honolulu raised money and they invited Fred. And then they decided they were gonna make this a big event, so they got the Eastwell Center, the big ceremonial room, and Leigh-Ann Miyasato and myself were on the panel with Fred, and Dan Inouye, the senator, introduced it. It was a big deal. So as part of that, I had Fred come down and talk to my class. And it was standing room only, overflowing. All the local media, the school media, everybody was there. And so I give the little opening about the case, a little background, and so Fred can do his thing. So I said, "Fred, you got about twenty-five minutes. That's a long time." So he starts talking, and he starts out okay, "There was this, and I did this, and my family..." then he gets to he was in jail. So he's only five minutes into his talk, into the jail with the Hawaii jailmate. Then he starts talking for the next almost ten minutes about how they really thought the Hawaii girls were really pretty, and about the food in Hawaii was so great, and how he really liked those, those flower shirts. And, you know, he likes being in Hawaii. And he starts talking about the sun and surf. It's like, "Fred," you know, it's a limited time, the room is packed, you haven't even got to your case in World War II, let alone the coram nobis case. And so then after... I can sense everybody's, like, "Okay," and we all know from Fred, like, he can sort of go -- as Don Tamaki said, it'd be like this plane ride, then it starts to stall and starts heading to crash-land. So, "Is he gonna pull it out?" So I stand up, and he's talking, he's at the lectern, and I whisper and say, "Fred, can you kind of speed it up and get to the real good stuff?" That's all I say, right? So he pauses, and he goes, "Hmm." He says, "You know, my counsel, I always listen to my counsel, the legal team. And my counsel tells me that I'm boring you. That I'm talking about irrelevant things, and that I should really get to the, get to the relevant stuff." Everybody turns to me and starts booing me big time. "Boo, ssss," at me. [Laughs] They're so totally... they're kind of wondering where he's going, all of a sudden he's shifted them back onto him, they're totally behind them, and he totally gets into his case and he totally gets into the coram nobis cases, and he just, like, knocks their socks off, and I'm the villain of this whole piece. And he was so good, and when he left, the lesson about what's going to happen in the future just resonated. And so it was in the newspapers. It was just magnificent. And, of course, Kathryn, his wife, who was so wonderful and who just knows everything about everything, so she's scolding him, "Fred, why did you say that?" But he says, "Well..." it was a very sweet moment. It was so classic Fred, and we all know that from seeing him speak.

LB: So what did it mean to you personally to have Fred go speak to your class, speak at your school?

EY: Well, it was... you know, I love Fred and Kathryn and Karen. He had so much love in him. That was the magnificent thing, you could see that his justice struggle came from a belief in what was right or wrong, but out of something deeper in here. And he conveyed it when he spoke to the audience, he shared that with us. And Kathryn, his wife, they're just so loving, and Karen always carried that forward. So I think the main thing is when Fred was there, for me, I just felt like this sharing of this love, and it was really the love for the whole, the whole coram nobis team. He always talked about us, and we're all part of this, everything he did was part, we were part of what we did. And this deep sense that there was this larger mission that we're on, and that it still had important relevance, and needed to tell the story and do it right. But more so, we're just sharing this feeling that's really important and deep, kind of feeling. So I felt that every time, or when I'd come up. Or when Fred passed away, to come up, and we all were a part of his family and what happened. And it was significant on a bigger way, but it was also just so personal to us all. And so Fred came back, I think, three more times, or four times total, and each time it was that same kind of feeling. So I think that's what it meant.

And what it also meant was the students that I work with that now I attempt to mentor in ways that Dale mentored me, to really bring them along. The students really were impacted by Fred, and impacted by this really humble, real person, but who could do something so extraordinary, and who could speak about it in real humble, ordinary terms, but then extraordinary ways, that I know all of us know. And he had such a way about him that I've never seen in any other -- I've worked with all kinds of people, all kinds of public figures, I've never in anybody else. And so that's sort of is, that kind of feeling is carried forth to my students, too, in very important kinds of ways.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

LB: I have just a couple more questions. Fred was rejected by the Japanese American community when he fought his case during World War II. And some have felt that he resisted the internment for only personal reasons, not for, not on principled grounds. How would you respond to those concerns?

EY: Well, first of all, it was really difficult for Fred and for the Japanese American community at the time Fred stood up, and Min and Gordon stood up to say, "No," to the internment. Because you gotta understand their perspective, those who were feeling so afraid and lost so much that, "If we rock the boat, it might get even worse." And it might have. Certainly from the standpoint of Fred, Gordon and Min, they realize that it was wrong, and Fred knew it was wrong. And, of course, he wanted to, for himself, to have his freedom for personal reasons like everybody would. But the moment he was picked up and the moment he was gonna be charged, he had a very easy -- well, he had a choice that would have made life easier, which is simply to go to internment camps, that's it, like everybody else. But he said no, and he said, "I'm going to challenge this," so they said, "We're gonna charge you, we're gonna try you." And he said it then and he's reiterated that ever since, that he knew it was wrong, not just against him, but against all Japanese Americans. And so I think some of the criticism about Fred only doing it for himself, that's not correct. Because he did it for himself but not only for himself. I think part of that is still from that, that sense of anxiety at that time, like, "Why are you doing this? You're making it worse." My gut sense is that some of that criticism has lessened, that as with redress and the significance of Fred's actions as part of redress, I think it helped lessen that somewhat. And I think the story of Fred Korematsu is coming out more and more and realizing that, sure, he did it for himself, but he did it for everyone, is surfacing. I think that's really important. And then I think what's really important also is that, for example, the Heart Mountain draft resisters in Wyoming, Frank Emi and that group, who I had a chance to talk with not too long ago, their resistance to being drafted was very significant and they were prosecuted. And many of the Japanese American internees felt the same way towards them as they felt towards Fred, like, "Don't make it worse, why are you resisting?" And it's only been much later that people have come to recognize the significance of that kind of resistance. And of course, they're doing it for themselves, but they're doing it for something larger for everyone else. And so I think the JACL has begun to recognize that there have been apologies, and I think that, more and more, that kind of feeling of criticism has softened. I'm not sure in your experience how that is now, but that's been my experience. So it really shows that to stand up is really hard. 'Cause you're not only standing up to the power, you're standing up sometimes to your own people and your own group, and you have to really exist almost alone for a long time. And so it really underscores -- this is what I call courage, and I think they really had it, and Fred certainly had it.

LB: So you may have actually already answered this question, and the last question. How would you, how would you describe or characterize Fred's legacy?

EY: I think it's in his own words. That he did what he did, that we helped him with what he did so that this kind of injustice wouldn't happen again to anyone anywhere.

LB: Is there anything else that you'd like to share with me about, about Fred, about your, the things that have influenced you in your work?

EY: No. I think, I think I pretty much said what I feel. This process has been very good because it's enabled me to say some things I've never said before, to also hear from you and others things that I didn't know about the legal team or people that I work so closely with. And it's really underscored for me that to do this kind of work, it has to come from a place of connection, of almost having the spirit feeling connected to the work and to the people you're with, to come out of that deeper sense of love for what you're doing and who you are. And that gives you the kind of strength to deal with the adversity, the difficulties, and have hope even when things look a little dark. And then to take the good and the bad and move forward with that. And so just this process right here has been really wonderful, and I thank you and Densho for that.

LB: Thank you.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.