Inaugural NYC Celebration of Fred T. Korematsu Day

On Tuesday, January 30th, at the NYU Cantor Film Center, AABANY co-sponsored the inaugural Korematsu Day Celebration. January 30 is Fred Korematsu’s birthday. The event featured prominent speakers such as Jack Tchen, founding director of the A/P/A Institute at NYU; Daniel Dromm, an openly gay City Councilman who helped pass a resolution that established Jan. 30th as the Fred T. Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution in New York City, and Karen Korematsu, long-time activist and daughter of Fred Korematsu.

Fred Korematsu was a Japanese American man who lived during the era of Japanese internment. Under FDR’s Executive Order 9066, more than 110,000 Japanese Americans were sent to concentration camps in rural America without any hearing or due process. Fred Korematsu was the first man to challenge the order when he refused to go to the concentration camp he was assigned to; his case made it all the way to the Supreme Court in Korematsu v. United States. The Court, however, deferred to the Executive Order and ruled in a 6-3 landmark decision that internment was based on “military necessity.” Korematsu’s conviction was eventually overturned in 1984 in a coram nobis proceeding in which the court found that the government deliberately misstated facts or provided misleading information in obtaining the conviction of Fred Korematsu.

Throughout the event, guest speakers remarked on the importance of Korematsu in Asian Pacific American History, connecting his legacy to APA community outreach and condemning the parallels between Korematsu’s case and the current Administration’s stances on immigration, deportation, and detention. As moderator and AABANY co-founder Rocky Chin stated in the panel, “We are taking one step forward but two steps back.” While each speaker brought their own expertise to the table—whether it was government, law, or activism—all topics were united around the theme of standing up for what is right. Students from public NYC high schools participating in the Asian American Student Advocacy Program (ASAP) remarked on the importance of ethnic studies curriculums at schools, while panelists from various non-profit organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY) emphasized the consequences of current legal decisions on immigrant deportation and detention.

The event was a fantastic way to celebrate Korematsu’s legacy. The audience even sang “Happy Birthday” at the end to mark what would have been Fred Korematsu’s 99th birthday.

AABANY was proud to be part of this historic inaugural celebration of Korematsu Day in New York. We were particularly pleased to be joined by Hon. Kiyo Matsumoto, United States District Judge, Eastern District of New York, and Kathy Hirata Chin, Senior Counsel at Cadwalader. Kathy, with her husband Hon. Denny Chin, had led AABANY in its Trial Reenactment project for over a  decade. Most recently the AABANY Trial Reenactment team performed the Korematsu Trial Reenactment at the NAPABA National Convention in November in Washington, D.C.

We invite everyone to learn more about Fred Korematsu and his legacy by visiting the Korematsu Institute website.