By KENDRA SITTON | La Mesa Courier
La Mesa joined other regional governments, including National City, the City of San Diego and County of San Diego in declaring Jan. 30 Fred Korematsu Day.
The date would have been the 102nd birthday of Fred Korematsu who defied the executive order sending Japanese Americans to internment camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He took his case to the Supreme Court to challenge the order and eventually lost, although the Supreme Court later apologized decades later.
At the City Council meeting that resulted in the commemoration, major state and national figures came to speak about the importance of Korematsu’s legacy, including “Star Trek” actor and former internment prisoner George Takei.
“70 years ago, America was in chaos with fear and suspicion. Panic laced with racial prejudice swept the nation… We were sent to the swamps of Arkansas. There was no trial. There were no charges. Fred Korematsu defied the executive order and took on the full might of the United States government because he held dearly the core principles of our democracy: rule of law, equal justice under the law and due process,” Takei said. “Fred Korematsu took this all on and he challenged it all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States and in 1944 while the war was still raging, the highest court in the land ruled against him. This history is both a tribute to Fred Korematsu’s determination and faith in the ideals of democracy as well as the ultimate resilience of our principles of democracy. Ultimately, they prevailed.”
Takei recently wrote a graphic novel titled “They Called Us Enemy” about his time in the internment camps that is a part of the One Book, One San Diego challenge through the library.
The City Council was enamored by the celebrity guest. Councilman Colin Parent wore a Star Trek pin on his lapel in Takei’s honor. Mayor Mark Arapostathis interrupted the proceedings to thank Takei for being the first person ever to pronounce his name correctly with the proper Greek dialect.
Korematsu’s daughter, Karen Korematsu, who helped champion the State of California declaring Jan. 30 Fred Korematsu Day alongside San Diego then-Assembly member Marty Block 10 years ago, also spoke.
“We feel now especially we need to teach about American history so it leads to civic participation that is meaningful,” the younger Korematsu said.
The holiday is meant to promote historical education as well as advocating for preserving civil liberties and upholding the constitution even in times of terror.
The proclamation was brought forward by La Mesa’s newest City Councilman Jack Shu who is Asian American.
“History is not just dates, times and names. History is a tool — the story of Fred Korematsu to help us deal with racial tensions in our community, to look at how we can improve government, how we can move ahead and not just deal with hate and fear in our community. This is our start to move our communities forward from all the commotion we had this last year,” Shu said.
“It ultimately seems fitting that tonight the City of La Mesa, with an Asian-American City Councilman, will declare Jan. 30 as Fred Korematsu Day,” Takei said.
— Reach contributing editor Kendra Sitton at email@example.com.