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.
Today I am hosting a guest post from my friend and classmate, Yeram Choi. -Ian Ramsey-North
A vast majority of us have been called by an incorrect name, other than the one assigned to us at birth, for a myriad of reasons. As a Korean American, however, it is a common occurrence for me as I bear “The Cost of Being an ‘Interchangeable Asian.” The weight of this burden ranges from a quick laugh at Starbucks when I see the wrong name on my order, to a deep sense of shame when others call me by an incorrect name in the classroom or at the workplace. In every instance, I am called by the name of another Asian individual in the room.
Growing up, I heard every phonetic variation of “Yeram” you could possibly imagine, but I did not really mind. I unabashedly corrected others when they mispronounced it because I was proud of my unique name. Every day promised a new adventure as I heard yet another version of my name. But, I eventually hit a wall in high school. Fueled by teenage angst on top of years of exacerbation, I assigned myself an “English name” and vowed to live the rest of my life as “Leah.”
Admittedly, this abrupt decision spawned a disjointed approach to my identity. On the one hand, “Yeram” desired to stay loyal to her Korean heritage. This would be the natural thing to do, since she was born and raised in South Korea. On the other hand, “Leah” simply wanted others to get her name right, without unnecessary, emotional exertion. In that moment when I decided to go by an “easier” name, however, my sense of urgency to assimilate as “Leah” trumped my desire to stay true to my cultural roots as “Yeram.”
I find it almost impossible not to acknowledge the recent attacks on the Asian American community. The same way I desire every conscious soul to affirm that Black lives matter- I must also affirm that the life of each Sister and Brother in every beautiful culture within the Asian American community matters.
Vulnerable conversations are powerful because it forces us to acknowledge our deficits and choose our mode of liability. That is, we can choose to ignore our own complicity in a system that breeds hatred and systemically condones discrimination, or we can actively work to dismantle this evil. I’m afraid that far too many people in our society, perhaps subconsciously, perhaps even myself, have fallen into the former.
Dr. King forcefully condemned this passivity in a Letter from Birmingham Jail when he blamed the stagnated progress of civil rights on White moderates, who were more devoted to a “negative peace in the absence of tension” than a “positive peace in the presence of justice.” Although his purpose, at the time, was to rally around the agitating methods of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King’s rhetoric echoes today as a condemnation of complicit silence.
Where are you, CNN?
Where are you, my fellow activists and leaders of social justice?
Deafening silence from the news media and our so-called allies
Feigned outrage only when it’s trendy
I am traumatized by your apathy
(Excerpt from Not Your Model Minority)