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Title: Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga Interview II
Narrator: Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Torrance, California
Date: July 7, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-haiko-03-0025

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TI: But when you think of the work you did in terms of the... I look through the reports and things, and the enormity. I mean, I've been in archives before, and it's not a nice and tidy type of work. I mean, it's opening boxes, looking through things, and it's so easy to miss something or not look at something, and realize the importance of it. It is almost like looking and finding the needle in a haystack sometimes in terms of looking at this. And I'm wondering, in terms of what happened especially in the '80s, with the coram nobis or redress, I mean, it's pretty clear to me, without some of these key documents, it would have been very difficult to have made the case. How, as a community, how close were we not to finding some of these documents? I mean, how, I mean, when I listen, I talk to Peter Irons sometimes, he says, he'll call it outright luck sometimes.

AH: Oh, yes.

TI: That when he met you and his example of getting lucky, and how lucky were we as a community that all these pieces came together?

AH: That's right. I consider it lucky, too. And if it weren't for the fact that I had met Peter, and the fact that Peter had discovered many documents, and especially a few key documents that connected what I found to what he found. So it took, it took us as a team to do that, and it was luck of the Irish, luck of the Japanese, I guess, that I saw this one report sitting on this archivist's desk. Ah, you know, I didn't recognize it right away, but as soon as I opened, it, wow. I said, "Pow, this is it." And it was luck, it was luck. If I hadn't walked in that day, it might not have been there. And if I hadn't happened to know about the first version having taken place, just a few weeks before I think I happened to read the file on it, I would not have recognized it. So it was a coming together of all these fortunate instances that made it possible.

TI: Yeah, because I feel so fortunate, in some ways, coming after the work that you and others did. Because the grassroots effort during redress was so important in getting the community energized. But the fact that the case was just so well-documented made it so much easier. It wasn't like we were, the community was just going to these places and just raising their voices, it was raising their voices with a well-documented sort of case. Which I think really made a huge difference.

AH: I think so. I agree with you, and that was why I took it upon myself to do what some people call unnecessary extra work. But I documented everything I got exactly where it, what file, what box, what record group and everything else, so that when the Commission wrote its report, people couldn't say, "How can that be?" Here's proof officially written by top government, top government, here's proof. So it took a lot of extra time on my part, and I know people were saying, "Oh, you're just so piddly about details." But that helped to augment and strengthen the report so people couldn't deny it.

TI: I mean, was there ever times when you thought that this work would have been part of an effort to, I guess, in some ways, recover over a billion dollars in redress payments, overturn Hirabayashi, Yasui, Korematsu? I mean, were those things kind of going through your mind when you were doing this kind of research?

AH: Not when I first started, no. Later on, when I was asked to help the coram nobis and class-action suit and all that, I thought, "Gee, maybe some of this stuff will help vacate the convictions or help get more for redress. But at the very beginning, I didn't. All I was interested, I was being very selfish. I wanted to find out more myself, you know, about all of this. So it turned out to be a plus, even though I think that the compensation was inadequate for the number of incidents and suffering the people went through. But it was an acknowledgement of some sort that this country had not done right.

TI: When you think back to your contribution, is there anything else, is there any one or two things that really comes to mind in terms of, where you feel really good about what you did?

AH: You mean any particular action?

TI: Yeah, action, anything.

AH: Well, I think the only thing is that I think about, this was sort of like a second career for me. I had not trained to do this. But that things happened to fall my way, and so I was glad, because of the political awakening that I experienced in New York through the AAA, that I was really, I think, happy to have had that kind of experience with AAA that opened my mind to all the possibilities of the historical importance, and that I was able to unearth some of this with the help of Michi Weglyn, of course, and her initial opening of the doors, as to the importance of proving the government misconduct. So I'm very, I'm happy about that, and I'm happy that I had the opportunity. Getting married and going down there, "Oh, what am I gonna do now? Okay, I'll look at the archives." And then in my amateurish way, starting to collect some of these and saying, "Oh, this sounds very interesting and important. I think I'll save a copy." And having that small notebook accumulate to a total of 154 boxes that I sent, that UCLA has, I still have a few more boxes to go through, but it was, I think, (152) boxes that we donated, mostly documents. So I feel good about, if there is, whatever can be called contribution, that I had a little part in it.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.