On Friday, November 4, the AABANY Trial Reenactment team presented at the NAPABA National Convention its tenth reenactment, “This Land is Our Land: Oyama v. California” at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront.

Inspired by Prof. Rose Cuison Villazor’s law review article, “Rediscovering Oyama v. California: At the Intersection of Property, Race, and Citizenship,” 87 Wash. U. L. Rev. 979 (2010), the reenactment dealt with the California Alien Land Law which prevented “aliens ineligible from citizenship” – i.e., Japanese – from owning land. The case explored the ways in which denial of property rights also served to promote racial discrimination against the Japanese in California. In the case, Kajiro Oyama, a Japanese immigrant who was ineligible for United States citizenship at the time, bought a parcel of farm land which he deeded to his minor son Fred, who was born in the United States and was thus a citizen. Under the Alien Land Laws, this transaction was deemed a fraud and the State of California brought suit against Fred Oyama to escheat the property. The case went all the way up to the United States Supreme Court, where the statute’s constitutionality was placed before the Court for its review.

Using actual trial transcripts and a reconstruction of the argument before the United States Supreme Court, illustrated with photos from the time, this reenactment brought back to life an important but nearly forgotten case in the annals of the civil rights struggle in the United States and the part played by Asian Americans in that movement. The doctrines and alliances formed in litigating the Oyama case laid the groundwork for later cases that dealt with equal rights and equal treatment under the law, including Brown v. Board of Education.

In the cast for this premiere performance of “This Land is Our Land: Oyama v. California” were:

  • Vincent T. Chang
  • Yang Chen
  • Theodore K. Cheng
  • Francis H. Chin
  • Andrew T. Hahn
  • Lauren U.Y. Lee
  • Linda S. Lin
  • Kiyo A. Matsumoto
  • Concepcion A. Montoya
  • Clara J. Ohr
  • Vinoo Varghese
  • Ona T. Wang
  • Jessica Wong

Once again, Hon. Denny Chin, United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, and Kathy Hirata Chin, Partner, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, led the AABANY Trial Reenactment Team in pulling together the record and historical background to produce yet another compelling script to recount an all but forgotten yet no less significant episode in Asian American history that played a vital part in America’s civil rights struggle.

AABANY gratefully acknowledges the assistance and support of David Weinberg and the Jurygroup for creating the PowerPoint slides that accompanied this reenactment (and prior reenactments).

For more about the AABANY Trial Reenactments, visit the trial reenactments website at reenactments.aabany.org where you can request to download the scripts and PowerPoint slides to produce and perform your own reenactment in your local communities.

For the full album of photos from the reenactment, click on the image at the top of this post.