Densho Digital Archive
Steven Okazaki Collection
Title: Dale Minami Interview II
Narrator: Dale Minami
Location: Oakland, California
Date: February 18, 1984
Densho ID: denshovh-mdale-03

<Begin Segment 1>

DM: I think for many years, the Nisei, or second generation, who are our parents -- we are Sansei, which is third generation -- I think our parents felt shame or guilt about being involved in the camps. And as a result, they didn't really pass their stories on to their children until, I think there was more ethnic consciousness among Asian Americans and Japanese Americans. At that point, I think Sansei became more curious about their, quote, "roots," to find out what the history was involved with their parents who really didn't really talk about this very much. And as a result, there was generated, I think, tremendous interest by the Sansei of their Nisei parents. Through questioning and answers that you didn't receive before, you learn more and more about what happened because they didn't talk about it before. And they started talking about it and most recently, well, I guess I can't even use that with the Commission. Anyways, the parents, our parents became talking about the camp experience much, much more, and it's generated tremendous interest I think because it's a part of our heritage and our past that we never knew about. And it was, in a sense, like kind of a mystery unfolding, there's a whole period in your parents' life that you may have read about intellectually through books, but... learned about it in depth through the emotional experiences they went through, through their personal experiences being communicated to you. And I think it's been kind of a real dialectic thing, where the parents have become much more open about talking about it. And as a result, the children, or Sansei, would become much more curious. We'd ask more questions, we'd get much more information, create more questions, result in more answers.

Q: How is the three men viewed by the younger generations?

DM: I think the three Supreme Court cases involving what we call the resisters, Hirabayashi, Yasui and Korematsu, I think their cases are very symbolic of I think the type of courage that we now learn that our parents and everyone else went through. I think these men were just really unusual men in that most of the Japanese went along, there was so much confusion at the time, there was the threat of military force being applied, so nearly everybody went to camps. These three men chose to take their cases to court. I think their cases kind of have been symbolic of the type of resistance people really felt in their hearts but were unable to do because they were either too old, too tired, too young, too frightened to resist.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1984, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

Q: Dale, could you tell us about Fred, describe Fred as a person, his shyness, or his discomfort with this attention, how's he's been reacting to what's been going on.

DM: It's been kind of interesting to me because I think what I've seen through Fred, go through like an evolutionary process. When I first met Fred, his shyness was legendary. We, he hardly invited us into his house when we came to his door. He took us in, we talked a little about his case. He was very guarded, very, he didn't talk a lot about his experience, asked some questions. And as I left, though, I got a hint to his personality from his wife, Kathryn. She said, "Fred is a very deep person. He's not real talkative, but he's real deep." And I thought about that and I thought about what he had to go through during the camp experience, during the jail experience, and it occurred to me that it made a lot of sense to me. In the first meeting, they were, Fred and his wife were very adamant against any kind of publicity. They didn't want reporters calling up, they didn't want to necessarily have to go to a press conference. We told them at the start you could do as much or as little as you want. You know, we will protect you if you need to be protected, we would not give out your phone number. As it turned out, though, Fred became more willing to take some risks in terms of talk to the press. And it the past year and a half or two years that we've been working on the case, Fred has really, really changed in my mind. And I think his initial shyness has really been overcome by his sense of, his sense of right, I think by the support he's been given through the Japanese American and other communities, I think Fred now feels he's able and willing to talk about these experiences very openly. And as a result, I don't, I couldn't classify him as shy anymore. I think the man is, has exhibited the strength personally, that he always had, but was not about to let just anybody come into his world. And now he's much more willing to talk about the types of things he had to go through, what he thought, what he felt, etcetera.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1984, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

Q: Could you talk to us about Fred's ideas in taking a stance not to go, as it transformed from a personal decision to a moral one?

DM: I think initially, the way Fred even explains it is he had a girlfriend at the time, and they had plans to get married. He was, wanted to stay in the area, and the way he described it to us is that he would, the day after the exclusion order came out, there was tremendous confusion. All his family was preoccupied, everyone was leaving the area, and Fred didn't want to go because of his girlfriend and other personal reasons. So he said he, the day after everybody left, he went outside and walked around and nobody said anything, so he went and got a job. And nobody said anything. The next few days or so during that week he'd walk around outside and nobody said anything. So, he thought, "Hey, maybe no one will ever say anything about this." Well, he did get caught, and of course, while he was in jail, he was visited by a guy named Ernest Besig, from the American Civil Liberties Union. And Besig asked Fred if he were interested in fighting his case. Fred said sure, because one of the basic foundation assumptions I think Fred made is that, "There is no reason for me to go. There is no reason that I, as a citizen, as a loyal American citizen, should be taken away." And I think that is the basis for the reason he did not go. And the person reasons, of course, there were some of those, too, as he mentions. But somebody who did not have some convictions like Fred would not be willing to go through a court process like that, suffer a conviction, go to jail, as Fred did, without feeling something, something more than just a personal regard, I think, or a personal reason.


DM: I think in contrast to Gordon and Min, Fred did not really articulate an intellectual reason why he would resist like they were able to do. From Fred, and the hint that I got from Kathryn about Fred being really deep, I think it's really true, that he just felt it was wrong. And it's just about as simple as that. "It's wrong, then I'm not gonna go." And he did get caught, and I think during the period of time, the reasons why it was wrong crystalized, became more clear to Fred, as far as the fact that he was a loyal American citizen, he had committed no crime and there was no reason for him to go.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1984, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

Q: Dale, how has this experience with the case enhanced your understanding of the camp experience and the effect on your parents' generation?

DM: I think one of the most interesting surprises for me, one that I'm still trying to sort out, is the reception we've received from the Nisei community when we went to give talks. I'd go with Fred, or Min or Gordon, and we'd give a talk to a community, let's say in Gardena, where I grew up. And this happened everywhere we went, is that the Nisei people would come up, men and women, they'd cry, they would thank us, they'd shake our hands, they'd say, "Thank you very much for what you've done." To me, it was, of course, a privilege. And so I couldn't quite understand why these men and their cases represented that much to the Nisei. And I think what I realized from that is that what they've gone through had been suppressed or repressed for years and years and years, and it was not a very simple experience. It wasn't like, oh we just went to camp and then came back. It was a very complex one with a lot of emotional depth to it. And I think only now when people can openly talk about it and openly relate their feelings and how they survived through this ordeal, did I begin to learn what a serious and I guess real deep effect the camp experience had on the Nisei. I think for them to come up and openly cry and also to thank us profusely, really indicated to me that the resistance by Fred and Gordon and Min, which fairly unusual, I mean very unusual in those days, took on a symbolic meaning to the Nisei and represented I think to a great, great degree their aspirations. I think everybody now, looking back, would like to have resisted to a much greater degree than they were able to at the time.

Q: What would say has been the psychological effect of the camp experience on the Japanese American community?

DM: That's a tough one, I think.

Q Briefly. [Laughs]

DM: Judging, I think I have to judge a lot of that from my own experience with my own parents. But understanding from talking to other Nisei parents and other Sansei, I really think that the experience had some real positive and negative consequences. I think from the positive side it really, really forced them to work harder to survive. That doesn't sound like a positive thing, but on one hand it really made them, it required them to adapt fast to making a living and just surviving. I mean, the negative parts of it are just overwhelming, I would say, in the sense that it changed people's personalities, I think it put pressures on families. I don't know, hard for me to answer that one, not being as much involved with either the Commission or some of the other work.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1984, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

Q: The Korematsu decision was a victory, but how much larger can the issue go, and what would a real victory be?

DM: think in the end you've got to talk about redress and reparations. What we've wanted, with the Korematsu case and the other cases was a legal victory. And to that degree we have undercut some of the basic laws that we thought were unfair. Laws that were created by the Supreme Court in 1943 and '44. What I feel is that the issue is much larger than these three men, these three men being symbolic of a whole generation of people who were taken away without just cause. I think the only way that a real victory could be considered a real victory if they were to receive redress and reparations for some of the... or compensation, at least, for some of the troubles they went through, unjustly.

Q: Would you tell us how this is opening the way for redress?

DM: Well, I think it has set a precedent to the degree that the court in our case, Judge Patel, said that in a sense, that the evacuation was basically illegal. I think that creates a kind of, or undercuts the legal foundation of what was done to the Japanese Americans during World War II. Without a legal sanction, it could be argued easily that what was done was legally wrong, as well as morally and ethically wrong. And from that point of view, anytime you have a wrong, you should have relief, and that relief has to be some type of compensation.


DM: I think we have received a total victory on this particular case, the Korematsu case. That's because we got all the relief we asked for, the petition was granted. But as far as the issue, the issue of what was done to Japanese Americans, will they receive relief for what was done to them? I think the victory is yet to come. A total victory to me in this context means for Japanese Americans some kind of compensation, redress and reparations. And I think for this country, total victory is not going to be had until we really do win the struggle against discrimination, against racism. From that point of view, it's going to be a long time coming. There's a lot of struggles left to go through. I think at least with this legal victory, though, in Korematsu, there... it's been shown that there's some hope, even though legally we won the case that was maybe forty years too late in being won, at least we did win it. And while I consider that a legal victory, I think in a moral sense, we haven't really won and we won't have won until we bring compensation to the victims and unless we eradicate the kind of initial racism and discrimination that caused this whole episode in the first place.


DM: What Judge Patel did on November 10th of 1983, was basically to deny the government's request and grant ours. In that sense what she did is deny their motion to dismiss and granted our petition. She held that the government's failure to respond was tantamount to an admission that our allegations were, in fact, correct, our allegations of misconduct by the prosecution and governmental agencies. The reasons behind, the reasons she gave for her ruling, in denying the government's petition and granting ours, I mean, denying the government's motion and granting ours, was that the evacuation, the exclusion of Japanese Americans, in a larger sense was illegal, and that the cases and the convictions obtained on Fred Korematsu were done through prosecutorial misconduct, and that the orders themselves were tainted by racism. And because of that she felt the appropriate remedy was to grant our petition and afford us all appropriate relief, which is vacation of the conviction and dismissal of the underlying indictment.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1984, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.