You Be the Judge
The Struggle Continues
Faces of Freedom
Marketplace of Ideas
Censorship: What Is It?
Musical Hit List
Draw the Line
Faces of Freedom> Mary Tsukamoto
Even before the war, Tsukamoto faced racial discrimination growing up in Florin, Calif. When she was in high school, Tsukamoto became one of nine qualifying competitors in the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West’s annual oratorical contest. But because she was Japanese-American, the principal told her she couldn’t compete because of her ancestry. Tsukamoto said her teacher tried to stand up for her but that the Native Sons wouldn’t change their minds. Angry that a student faced this discrimination, Tsukamoto said her teacher later helped her secure a scholarship and admission into the College of the Pacific. Tsukamoto said this inspired her to become a teacher. In 1939, Tsukamoto and her husband Al, led a successful effort to desegregate Florin Elementary School.
The U.S. joined World War II following the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese military on December 7, 1941. As the country prepared for war in the Pacific, some began to look at people who were or physically appeared to be Asian suspiciously.
On February 19, 1942 President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the military to relocate any civilians from areas of the country where national security may be threatened. It was the first step in the removal of more than 100,000 residents of Japanese descent from the west coast to internment camps. Tsukamoto and others were told to take only what they could carry, leaving behind personal items such as family heirlooms, toys and other mementos from their lives. Located in isolated areas under the steady watch of armed guards, the internment camps were home for about four years.
After the war, Tsukamoto continued her career as a teacher and was active in her community in the Florin Japanese American Citizens League. In 1983 Tsukamoto helped to create the Time of Remembrance Program, which brings former internees to classrooms to tell their stories and talk to students about what it means to be an American. The program continues today through resources available on a Web site and at the California Museum for History, Women, and the Arts.
Tsukamoto was also a civil rights activist, who played an instrumental role in legislation that led to the 1988 Civil Liberties Act. The act officially acknowledged the government’s “violations of the basic civil liberties and constitutional rights of these individuals of Japanese ancestry,” through its relocation and internment order during World War II.
National security and race
Throughout this nation’s history, new groups of immigrants have faced various challenges in being recognized as residents protected by the First Amendment and Constitution. Although Mary Tsukamoto was an American citizen, she was judged by her race at a time when Japanese-Americans were seen as a threat to national security.
Historically, national security has often been used as a reason for the government to use judgments based on race, religion and other associations to infringe upon civil liberties. In these cases, courts use the strict scrutiny standard to decide whether a law involving those judgments was passed to further a “compelling governmental interest” and show that the law achieved this interest.
During the late 1940s and early 1950s, fears about communism caused one senator, Joseph McCarthy, to lead a hunt for communists among the American people. McCarthy convened congressional hearings, where alleged Communist sympathizers were subjected to harsh questioning and allegations about their loyalty to the U.S. More than 300 writers and entertainers had their lives and careers destroyed by these hearings. Some had their passports taken away and others were jailed for refusing to give names of other alleged Communists. The hearings came to an end in 1953 after McCarthy began questioning alleged Communist infiltration in the U.S. Army. This climate of fear where people can be publicly singled out and accused of activities to undermine the government became known as McCarthyism.
Today, in a post-9/11 world some have looked at Muslims and those who are, or perceived to be, of Middle Eastern descent as potential threats to security. In March 2011, U.S. House Rep. Peter King (R-NY) held hearings on the radicalization of Muslims in the U.S. King argued that the U.S. needed to recognize a growing threat of homegrown terrorism as al-Qaida worked to recruit American Muslims within our borders. Opponents compared the hearings to McCarthy’s hunt for Communists and said that it would stigmatize American Muslims. A few weeks later, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) held hearings to focus on civil rights issues facing American Muslims. Durbin said anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. appears to be rising as evidenced through things such as restrictions on mosque construction and hate crimes.
back to Faces of Freedom
Mary Tsukamoto, biography
National Women’s History Project
Time of Remembrance Program
Time of Remembrance Program
Video and audio: Mary Tsukamoto clips
Time of Remembrance Program
Primary source: Mary Tsukamoto, excerpt from book
And Justice for All: an oral history of the Japanese American detention camps
A More Perfect Union: Japanese-Americans and the U.S. Constitution
Video: President Reagan Signs the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.
Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress, YouTube
Lesson plan: Japanese American Internment during World War II
Library of Congress
Lesson plan: Japanese American Experience: Constitutional Issues and Connections Today
Japanese American National Museum
Japanese American Relocation Digital Archives
University of California
Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project
Primary source: Fred Korematsu’s amicus curiae briefs to the Supreme Court.
Fred Korematsu Institute
Fred Korematsu: All American hero online comic book
Fred Korematsu: All American hero
Primary source: U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal, Confession of Error
U.S. Department of Justice