Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga


Name Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga
Born August 5 1924
Birth Location Sacramento, CA
Generational Identifier

Nisei

Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga (born 1925) played a crucial role in the redress movement by discovering critical evidence of premeditated governmental misconduct during the war, and making it available to multiple groups of activists. Her expertise and findings were essential to the coram nobis cases, the NCJAR lawsuit and to Personal Justice Denied, as she provided much of the documentary evidence that these efforts were founded upon. In addition to finding incontrovertible documentation of knowing violations of the law, Herzig-Yoshinaga organized the research of the CWRIC, and became the foremost expert on the records available on the camps.

Incarceration and Activism[edit]

Herzig-Yoshinaga was a high school senior in Los Angeles when she was imprisoned at Manzanar, where she began her married life and gave birth to her first child. She later transferred to Jerome and then to Rohwer. She eventually settled in New York City with her widowed mother and four siblings. After another marriage and divorce, she became the single parent of two daughters and a son, supporting her family by becoming an accomplished clerical worker, in the process developing a deep understanding of bureaucratic language and its uses.

In the sixties, Herzig-Yoshinaga began to move toward greater political involvement through her participation in Asian Americans for Action (AAA), an organization composed mainly of Nisei women. AAA engaged in a variety of activities and protests, including efforts to end the war in Vietnam, demonstrations against nuclear research, and consciousness-raising. Shortly after joining AAA, Herzig-Yoshinaga began a new job at Jazzmobile, a Harlem-based nonprofit organization devoted to jazz music and education, which broadened her understandings of racism. She later became a recording secretary at the headquarters of a mainline religious denomination, where she came to realize that individuals might hold high morals and still act in ways that did not support justice.

Redress Movement Researcher[edit]

In 1978 Herzig-Yoshinaga married John "Jack" Herzig and moved to the Washington D.C. area where he worked. Inspired by Michi Weglyn's work, Herzig-Yoshinaga began looking through the information on the wartime exclusion and incarceration, which was publicly accessible in the National Archives. Utilizing her decades of experience as a clerical worker, she dove into this vast sea of records, and began to systematically retrieve and catalog items she found significant. Herzig-Yoshinaga examined documents in the archives whenever they were open, working Monday through Saturday, putting in fifty and sixty hours per week for years. She was joined in this work by her husband, who also authoritatively debunked fraudulent claims that the highly classified wartime MAGIC documents contained evidence of Japanese American espionage and sabotage.

As a result of her intensive work in the archives, Herzig-Yoshinaga was poised to become a pivotal figure in the movement for redress. In 1980, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC), was created, which was to be the foundation for legislative redress. That year, she also joined the National Council for Japanese American Redress (NCJAR), supporting its $27 billion class-action lawsuit with her archival research and documentation. The next year, she was hired by the CWRIC, and became its lead researcher. Her catalog and index were adopted by the commission for its work, and the thousands of pages she had amassed, along with contributions from Weglyn, formed the core of the CWRIC's primary documentation.

In addition to documenting the evidentiary trails of when, why and by whom decisions were made, she also unearthed an additional and indispensable piece of evidence while working at the CWRIC. In 1943, the military had attempted to destroy all the evidence of its original Final Report due to its unconstitutional statements, but memos showed that they were never able to find and destroy the tenth copy of the original printing. After years of work, Herzig-Yoshinaga found that tenth copy, which provided concrete proof that the army had seen no "military necessity" to deprive 120,000 Americans of their rights.

Herzig-Yoshinaga became an instrumental contributor to the CWRIC's 1983 final report, Personal Justice Denied. This document incorporated the historical and legal scholarship on the issue, the testimony of over seven hundred witnesses, and the information contained in the tens of thousands of pages of primary documents gathered by the commission. Angus Macbeth, the report's chief author, noted a "special debt" owed to Herzig-Yoshinaga, as she "in large part found and organized and remembered the vast array of primary documents from which the report was written."[1]

Coram Nobis Cases[edit]

In January 1982, a team of lawyers led by Peter Irons had informed Yasui, Hirabayashi, and Korematsu that it might be possible to reopen their wartime Supreme Court cases through coram nobis. In these cases, the government had knowingly concealed, destroyed, and misrepresented evidence before the Supreme Court. Documents unearthed by Irons, together with Herzig-Yoshinaga's discovery of the one surviving copy of the original Final Report and the documents of the CWRIC formed the basis for filing the coram nobis suits.

In 1983, Korematsu's conviction was set aside. Korematsu's courtroom victory, while it did not overturn the Supreme Court's ruling, effectively destroyed the legal foundation upon which much of the legitimacy of the government's actions had been based. Korematsu's success was followed the next year by Yasui's victory. In the Hirabayashi case, however, the government raised an issue that crucially depended on Herzig-Yoshinaga's research expertise, charging that he had lost his right to file suit due to the time lag since his conviction. After considering the evidence, District Judge Donald S. Voorhees granted Hirabayashi's coram nobis petition, specifically noting Herzig-Yoshinaga's testimony in his decision, finding that it would have been exceedingly difficult for Hirabayashi, who held a Ph.D., to have found the crucial evidence when it was originally deposited years earlier.

Herzig-Yoshinaga's evidence was instrumental in NCJAR lawsuit, and its potential political embarrassment and huge monetary cost remained a threat until after the Congress passed redress, allowing these efforts to be cast as moderate responses to the issue. The commission's report and the two legal efforts were the foundation for the passage of redress and cemented the present-day popular understanding of the camps as a civil rights disaster and an illegal abuse of government power, and it was the documentary evidence found and organized by Herzig-Yoshinaga that made that victory possible.

Authored by Thomas Y. Fujita-Rony, California State University, Fullerton

For More Information[edit]

Fujita-Rony, Thomas Y. "'Destructive Force': Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga's Gendered Labor in the Japanese American Redress Movement." Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 24.1 (2003): 38-60.

Hohri, William Minoru. Repairing America: An Account of the Movement for Japanese-American Redress. Pullman: Washington State University Press, 1988.

Irons, Peter. Justice Delayed: The Record of the Japanese American Internment Cases. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1989.

__________. Justice at War: The Story of the Japanese American Internment Cases. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Maki, Mitchell T., Harry H. L. Kitano, and S. Megan Berthold. Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1982), xxix.