Discover Nikkei

https://www.discovernikkei.org/en/interviews/clips/664/

The importance of Japanese American role models in childhood community

Gardena was about, I think, a third Japanese American when I was growing up, so when I was growing up I, it was very comfortable. I mean, there were many people around me who looked the same as I did, who spoke the same broken Japanese as I did, who ate the same foods I did, and on top of that, there were a number of community leaders who were Japanese American. We had a Japanese American mayor and city councilman, and Japanese American banks. There were a number of Japanese American churches. There was the Methodist Church, the Baptist Church, the Buddhist Church. So we had a lot of role models and leaders.

I realize now how exceptional that was for me to be able to grow up with really strong, great Japanese American role models because it really made me feel like there were few things that I couldn't do. I mean I could grow up and be mayor, I suppose. And, and growing up and believing that you could be a banker or believing that you could be mayor certainly makes you grow up thinking that, well, maybe I could even be more than that. And, I suppose that was something really important to me and my siblings [was] being able to grow up without feeling automatically outcast or marginalized because we were surrounded by a community that supported us with good, good role models, which is a good thing.


communities community organizations identity organizations role models

Date: March 23 & 24, 2000

Location: Washington, US

Interviewer: Margaret Chon, Alice Ito

Contributed by: Denshō: The Japanese American Legacy Project.

Interviewee Bio

Sansei female. Born 1955 in Los Angeles, CA. Grew up in Gardena, CA, surrounded by a large Japanese American community. Influenced by father's role in community and politics, and mother's emphasis on education. Attended University of California, Santa Barbara where she became increasingly aware of Japanese American history, issues of ethnic identity and racial inequality. Attended the University of San Francisco School of Law where she honed her commitment to political and social activism.

Only a few years out of law school, she joined a team of lawyers working to reopen the Supreme Court's 1944 decision in Korematsu v. United States. Convicted of violating the exclusion order during World War II, Mr. Korematsu's case went all the way to the Supreme Court where the exclusion and incarceration of Japanese Americans was upheld as constitutional, based on the government's argument of 'military necessity.' Through a petition for writ of error coram nobis (establishing that the case was premised on errors of fact withheld from the judge and the defense by the prosecution), the legal team reopened the case, provided evidence that the factual underpinnings to the exclusion orders were fraudulent, and successfully had the Korematsu conviction vacated, as well as a handful of other similar convictions. In this interview, Ms. Bannai discusses the coram nobis legal team, the support for the effort among the Japanese American community, and personal lessons gained from being a part of this effort. (March 24, 2000)

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