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From the Japanese American Internment to 9/11

By October 27, 2014No Comments

John Tateishi will offer an insider’s view of the redress campaign in the OLLI@Berkeley course.

By Deanne Stone

In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, U.S. federal agents detained 2,000 people of Arab, Muslim and South Asian heritage. For many in the Japanese American community, rounding up people based solely on their country of origin or ancestry was too reminiscent of the internment of Japanese Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Groups like the JACL, led by then-executive director John Tateishi, sprang into action, contacting members of Congress and offering help to Arab Americans on how to respond to the mounting hysteria in the country.

“It seemed like World War II all over again,” said Tateishi. “We heard the same conversations targeting one group of people as potential terrorists without any charges brought against them. Our government failed the Constitutional test in 1942. We didn’t want it to happen again.”

Tateishi gained national prominence in 1978 when, as the national redress director of the JACL, he launched a campaign to seek redress for Japanese Americans interned in U.S. detention camps during WWII. He spent the next eight years lobbying in Washington, D.C.

When Tateishi was 3, he, his parents and three brothers were sent to Manzanar in the California dessert, where they stayed throughout the war. When they were released, Tateishi remembers his father saying to his sons, “Never forget this place. If you ever have the opportunity to make it right, you have to do it.”

In 1988, the Japanese American community won a landmark victory when President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, which paid $20,000 to each of the 80,000 survivors of Japanese descent who were detained during the war. “This wasn’t just about money,” said Tateishi, “but about writing a wrong, getting a formal apology and educating Americans about a shameful time in American history.”

Tateishi is often asked, “How did you pull this off?” This fall, he will give an insider’s view of the redress campaign in the OLLI@Berkeley course “From the Japanese American Internment to 9/11.”

“I want students to think about how fragile democracy is and how, in the wrong circumstances, it can easily go astray if we aren’t vigilant in protecting it,” said Tateishi.

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of California, Berkeley is a community of inquiring adults, age 50 and above, that explores new areas of knowledge through courses, lectures and events. There are no examinations or grades. OLLI @Berkeley invites members to discover new friends, knowledge, capacities and ways to bring meaning and enjoyment to life.

“From the Japanese American Internment to 9/11” meets Tuesdays at 10 a.m.-Noon from Sept. 30-Nov. 4 at the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse in downtown Berkeley, Calif. Register online at

Originally published on September 19, 2014