Korematsu v. United States is easily one of the worst Supreme Court decisions of all time, and one that people are often unaware of until they get to the strict scrutiny aspect of their Constitutional Law class. In fact, I distinctly remember getting to the World War II portion of history in APUSH back in high school, seeing a brief mention of this case, asking about it in class, only to be brushed off because it “wasn’t important.”
Yesterday was January 30th, 2022: Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution, a day that is mostly only observed in California. On the anniversary of Korematsu, I’d like to draw attention to the article my APALSA mentor, Rosa Kim, wrote up a year ago–and also to weigh in with my own thoughts on the matter.
Korematsu is, undoubtedly, an ugly portion of US History that is often swept under the rug. Fred Korematsu was only 23 when he was ordered by the US Government to evacuate his residence and move into one of the Japanese internment camps prepared in the wake of Pearl Harbor, designed to herd the Japanese American population into controlled areas to supervise them. Anyone “at least 1/16th Japanese” were evacuated. Korematsu was the age many of us students are today when he changed his name and had plastic surgery done to try to avoid this mandate. As a US citizen, he did not understand why he was being herded off to camps as a prisoner merely for the way he looked. He chose to stay at home rather than relocate and was eventually arrested for his violation of the order. Korematsu then courageously appealed his case until it reached the Supreme Court, maintaining that the evacuation order was a violation of his 5th Amendment right.
It’s hard to believe that just four months ago, we were nervously waiting in line to pick up our name cards in the Law Library. In a way, that first day of school in August was a lot like the first day of kindergarten, in that we were completely alone in a room full of strangers with nothing but a homemade sandwich in our lunchboxes and a nametag on our chests.
I was told by many upperclassmen that the first semester of 1L year would probably be the most difficult in terms of the steep learning curve–and they were right. I’ve mentioned this in a previous post; what makes 1L such a difficult time for many students is not only the new way of learning material, but also the uncertainty of a new city, new environment, with new people you have never met before. September was the worst period of adjustment for many people, including me. I had nights where I doubted whether or not law school was truly for me. Could I really see myself reading convoluted legal jargon for the rest of my life? Was this really what I wanted to do?
Thankfully, because it was such a prevalent sentiment, I was able to bond with like-minded people who ended up becoming some of my closest friends, and we constantly pushed and supported each other whenever things became difficult.
An integral part of law school is the friends we make along the way. I know, it’s cheesy, but let’s face it; law school can be a very isolating experience. For many of us non-Bostonians, we moved all the way from our comfort zones to a new city with new faces. A big part of this transition is figuring out where we belong, and who we belong with. No longer do we have the privilege of knowing what kinds of jokes will stick, nor do we know who has the same interests or hobbies. We watch Instagram stories of our friends back at home hanging out and long to be there with them. They think we’re doing something amazing, which we are; but most of us are just trying to stay afloat. There never seems to be any time to catch up with friends, and we can only hope that Thanksgiving break will give us a bit of an opportunity to see old faces. Bottom line: we miss our friends and families, yet just as their lives go on without us, so must ours.
I want to make it clear that this article is not reflective of every single immigrant student’s story here at BC Law. Every experience is different, but I hope that my fellow immigrant first-gen students who read this article might relate to the internal conflict I feel as a student in law school. I also fully believe that one does not have to be an immigrant to relate to the sentiments here. I hope this can help other students feel heard and not alone.
Whether it’s the sentiment of feeling like I don’t quite belong, or the constant internal turmoil concerning my career path, a big portion of my experience as a law student has been shaped by my immigrant identity–and perhaps not in the healthiest way.
My mother works from 9AM to 7PM, 7 days a week in her small beauty supply store in Brooklyn. She moved here over 20 years ago when the “American Dream” was still a prevalent sentiment that encouraged immigrants to move and seek out better lives for their children, notwithstanding the fact that the “American Dream” is mostly a myth for people who are not on equal footing with those who were already born with qualities that are favored in this country. While she worries about affording the next rent payment on the store or ordering enough products to stock her shelves, my worries mostly lie with struggling to understand the Rule of Perpetuities.