By Marsha Aizumi
Recently, I attended a book launch for “Fred Korematsu Speaks Up,” sponsored by Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Los Angeles and written by Stan Yogi and Laura Atkins. Stan Yogi and I worked on Okaeri 2016 together, and I wanted to support him. I also wanted to learn more about this courageous man whose image I recently saw Google change their home page icon to on Jan. 30. This day had been chosen because in 2010, the Governor of California signed the legislative bill establishing Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution. It was also Fred’s birthday. This was the first statewide day in U.S. History named after an Asian American.
What struck me deeply at this book event was that Fred’s children did not know what their father had done until they heard about him from others. He had stayed silent about his defiance of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which allowed the military to imprison close to 120,000 Japanese American citizens and send them off to desolate areas of the country.
It showed me that he was a man who stood up for what he believed in at his core, not for publicity or fame, but for a cause he felt was unjust. It also felt like when he lost his case at the Supreme Court, it hurt him deeply. How could the Supreme Court rule that it was legal to round up Japanese American citizens and make them virtual prisoners? It was a hurtful betrayal of all Fred thought to be true for a country he loved.
I was also struck by the passion and commitment of Karen Korematsu, who worked so hard to keep her father’s story alive so that Fred could become a role model in doing what is right. When her father died, his actions could have died with him, but Karen and her brother continued to bring visibility and voice to his story. When I saw the Google home page honor Mr. Korematsu, I was sure this didn’t just magically happen. It took someone to speak up and advocate for Fred.
At a time like we are living in, there are so many opportunities to stand up for what is right. For me, I don’t mind sharing our story and thoughts through my writing, attending protests and traveling around the country to speak about transgender issues and family acceptance.
But that is not the way my husband fights for justice.
He fights through his pocketbook, through his support of me travelling and as silly as it may seem to others, by staying home and caring for our dog, Mochi.
If I feel sad about leaving Mochi, I can’t take my whole heart with me on my travels or speak with my whole heart when I give presentations. Tad will wake up at 4:30 a.m. to take me to the airport, so I don’t have to drive at that early hour, and he will pick me up, often late at night with Mochi, so after my travels, I can just relax with my dog, who cries when she sees me because I am finally home.
I remember a time when I didn’t think it was possible that I could do the things I do today. And yet, my journey as an advocate has taken me down a path of social justice and human rights. I hope that we will all find ways to bring greater humanity to this world.
If you are a young person or an educator who sees bullying at school, please speak up for those who may not be strong enough to speak up for themselves.
Once I saw a high school student commenting to some friends that another student was gay. One of his friends gently said, “So, what is wrong with that?” The student making the homophobic comment responded, “Oh, nothing . … I’m just saying.” One young girl speaking up shut down homophobia in just six words.
I was also touched by a student who came up to me after I shared how Aiden was bullied and harassed in high school. I had emotionally described the anguish of a mother when her son becomes depressed, withdrawn and suicidal. This young boy quietly and hesitantly came up to me and shared he was a bully. He said going forward, he is going to be different. Words can change the hearts of those who are
willing to listen.
If you see a marginalized person being harassed, I hope you will stand up for them. A smile or kind word can go a long way to reassure them that you are supportive. If you see a transgender person bullied in a restroom, I hope you will step in to say something. And please don’t let harmful legislation against transgender or any individuals become a reality. If you have a chance to contact your congressman or senator, please be courageous and make the call. I was nervous the first time I called, but when I hung up, I was so proud of myself.
We cannot be everywhere, but we can choose to be somewhere. Perhaps you will find small ways like my husband that are big to others. Maybe in quiet ways like Fred Korematsu that speak loudly for justice. Or there may be visible ways like Karen Korematsu to do what is right.
I love this quote by Mother Teresa, “Not all of us can do great things, but we can all do small things with great love.” And if all of us did one small thing with great love, how different would this world be.
Marsha Aizumi is an advocate in the LGBT community and the author of the book “Two Spirits, One Heart: A Mother, Her Transgender Son and Their Journey to Love and Acceptance.”