Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga To Receive 2011 Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy Award at 42nd Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage

Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga
Photo: Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga

LOS ANGELES — On April 8, the Los Angeles-based Manzanar Committee announced that Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, one of the seminal figures in the Japanese American community’s fight for redress and reparations, has been chosen as the 2011 recipient of the Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy Award.

The award, named after the late chair of the Manzanar Committee who was one of the founders of the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage and was the driving force behind the creation of the Manzanar National Historic Site, will be presented at the 42nd Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, scheduled for 12:00 PM PDT on Saturday, April 30, 2011, at the Manzanar National Historic Site, located on US Highway 395 in California’s Owens Valley, between the towns of Lone Pine and Independence, approximately 230 miles north of Los Angeles (see map below).

Herzig-Yoshinaga, 87, a native of Sacramento, California, moved to Los Angeles during the Great Depression, only to be uprooted at the age of 17, along with the rest of the Japanese American community on the West Coast, and was unjustly imprisoned in an American concentration camp during World War II.

Incarcerated first at Manzanar, Herzig-Yoshinaga was transferred to the camps at Jerome and, later Rohwer, Arkansas.

Herzig went on to become a community activist in New York, but is best known for her dedicated, tireless work in the National Archives, along with her late husband, Jack Herzig, uncovering “smoking gun” evidence that the government had suppressed, altered and destroyed that detailed the racist, unconstitutional arguments used to justify the internment.

This evidence was not only crucial to the 1984 coram nobis cases of Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi and Minoru Yasui, as well as the $27 million class-action law suit filed by the National Coalition for Japanese American Redress, it was also provided the legal foundation the Japanese American community needed to push for redress at a grass-roots level.

Currently, Herzig-Yoshinaga is at the heart of the push for the use of accurate, non-euphemistic terminology to describe the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans. Her paper, Words Can Lie Or Clarify: Terminology Of The World War II Incarceration Of Japanese Americans, details the euphemisms that have long been used to describe the experience.

“I learned that ‘relocation center,’ ‘non-aliens,’ and ‘evacuation’ were only a few of many euphemisms that were deliberately used to obscure and conceal what was done to American citizens under the fraudulent rationale of ‘military necessity,’” she wrote. “I am certainly not alone, nor among the first, to be concerned about the power of words to lie or clarify, and the need to identify and replace inaccurate and misleading euphemisms that were used by government officials at all levels and perpetuated by many Nikkei as well.”

“Aiko is amazing,” said Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey. “The fact that she unearthed the truth in the government archives about the real character and intent of our incarceration, along with the fact that she still continues to educate and agitate for a thorough understanding of the camp experience, it’s incredible.”

“When you talk about perseverance, when you talk about patience and determination, her commitment to democracy, to social justice, and to right the wrongs of the past, Aiko epitomizes all of that,” added Embrey. “She is a giant in our community.”

For more information about the Pilgrimage, including bus transportation, and the popular Manzanar At Dusk program scheduled for 5:00 PM that same evening at Lone Pine High School, check the Manzanar Committee’s official blog at http://blog.manzanarcommittee.org, call (323) 662-5102, or send e-mail to 42ndpilgrimage@manzanarcommittee.org. You can also follow the Manzanar Committee on Facebook and Twitter.

The Manzanar Committee is dedicated to educating and raising public awareness about the incarceration and violation of civil rights of persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II and to the continuing struggle of all peoples when Constitutional rights are in danger. A non-profit organization that has sponsored the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage since 1969, along with other educational programs, the Manzanar Committee has also played a key role in the establishment and continued development of the Manzanar National Historic Site.

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