WASHINGTON, D.C. (Jan. 30, 2017) — Last week’s Executive order suspending Muslims from Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and Iraq from entering the United States is not the first time in our nation’s history when our government singled out and barred a particular group from coming to our shores.
In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act targeted Chinese laborers and denied them entry for ten years. The law was made permanent in 1902 and would not be repealed until 1943.
Nor is last week’s Executive Order the first to single out a particular ethnic group due to fear of terrorism or fifth column activities. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Americans and our government were dubious of Japanese Americans’ loyalty to the United States. Executive Order 9066 relocated 120,000 Japanese American citizens from the West Coast into internment camps located within the interior of the country. Aside from losing their civil rights and liberties, many lost their homes and livelihood. It was against this back drop when a 23-year old Japanese American, Fred Korematsu, stepped forward to challenge the legality of the executive order.
Unlike the outpouring of support we witnessed for the Muslim detainees in airports across the country, Fred Korematsu stood nearly alone. He appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court which ruled against him in 1944. Although his conviction would be overturned in 1983, the Court’s ruling still stands today.
As we celebrate Fred Korematsu Day 75 years after the signing of Executive Order 9066, we can draw many lessons from our nation’s history—how difference and fear affect how we uphold our civil rights and civil liberties. In honor of Fred Korematsu, APIAVote offers five ways we can honor his bravery and our communities as he had:
- Volunteer. The first step to becoming civically engaged is be an active part of your community. Go to the local soup kitchen or community center. Become a board member of a service organization. Invite your family and friends to join you. Giving one’s time and energy for the well being of others is what Fred Korematsu did throughout his life.
- Express your opinion about an issue near you care about. For example, write a letter to the editor about local school funding. The freedom to take a position and lay out your argument for it, even when it goes against popular opinion, is a cornerstone of our democracy. Despite his family’s and the community’s wishes that he comply with the Order, Fred Korematsu decided to challenge its legality.
- Know what is going on in your neighborhood. Attend a local city council meeting or neighborhood block club. Meet your neighbors to find out what issues you may have in common and discuss possible solutions. If you disagree on an issues, you will find the discussion more productive and civil than a Facebook comment section.
- Contact your elected officials. Call their district office and ask them to support a bill you’re in favor of or to vote “no” on a measure you disagree with. A phone call can be one of the most effective ways to lobby your elected representative. You may speak directly with your senator or a least a staff person. Elected offices track the number of calls they receive on a particular issue so you call does count! Not sure who your elected representatives are or how to contact them? Visit http://www.house.gov/
representatives/find/ and https://www.senate.gov/ senators/contact/.
- Run for office. “Throwing your hat into the ring” is one of the most courageous and most humbling ways we can participate in our democracy. Run on a platform of the causes and issues you believe in, propose your policy solutions, and ask strangers for their vote.