Densho Digital Archive
Steven Okazaki Collection
Title: Peter Irons Interview
Narrator: Peter Irons
Location: San Francisco, California
Date: November 11, 1983
Densho ID: denshovh-ipeter-03-0003

<Begin Segment 3>

Q: How are they symbols for Japanese American people?

PI: I think all three of these men are symbols for the entire Japanese American community. One respect, that they're the only three out of 120,000 who took a legal challenge to the internment to the Supreme Court. I think that's important to Japanese Americans, particularly because many of them I think feel that there should've been more who challenged. I think that a lot of them feel that they missed their own opportunity to do this. Of course, if it happened again, many more people would have resisted and would have brought legal challenges. So they become special in the sense that there were so few of them, just three. Also in the sense that because the Supreme Court upheld their convictions, they're singled out. They feel that the judicial system in this country marked them for some wrong they had committed. So all of these factors together, I think the Japanese American community looks at Gordon and Fred and Min as very special symbols of what happened to them during the internment.

Q: Can you tell us about maybe some others who were convicted or resisted the orders and what maybe happened to them?

PI: There aren't any real lists of people who resisted the internment or violated the curfew orders. We know from the government records that there are at least several dozen. All of the others, of course, either pleaded guilty

when they were charged or the charges were dropped when they agreed to go to the camps. We don't know much about these people. The few that we do know anything about, for example, when Fred was arrested, there were three or four other Japanese Americans who'd been picked up for violating the exclusion order. One of these was a young student who'd come back from East Coast to pick up his belongings and had got caught. Another one was a guy who had worked as a houseboy for a Caucasian family. When the evacuation order came, rather than report, he hid in the basement of the family and stayed there for three weeks, and he'd come up at night to get food from the kitchen. And one night he was caught when the owner heard noises and came down. He was very weak, and in fact, they had to take him to the hospital to recover. They were all later charged and pleaded guilty and received short sentences. But we really don't know what other kinds of people, and why they weren't willing to press their cases. Because at least the cases in the San Francisco area, the ACLU was willing to represent them, so they had the chance to bring the challenges. We don't know why they weren't willing to do that, why Fred was the only one.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.