Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Fighting for Justice: Fred Korematsu Speaks Up

Review by Elisa Gall
This is the first of three posts spotlighting the “Fighting for Justice” series from Heyday Books. Click here to learn more about the publisher and its upcoming releases.

Fighting for Justice: Fred Korematsu Speaks Up
By Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi
Illustrated by Yutaka Houlette
ISBN: 9781597143684
Click here to purchase.

“Have you ever spoken up when you saw something that wasn’t right?” This is the first sentence readers encounter in Fighting for Justice: Fred Korematsu Speaks Up. The pages that follow illustrate Korematsu’s life and legacy in a unique and engaging blend of narrative nonfiction and informational, textbook-like pages.

Cover of Fred Korematsu Speaks Up.
Fred Korematsu was born in 1919 and raised in Oakland, CA. He endured racism and discrimination as a Japanese American and at the same time felt less connected to Japan and Japanese culture than his Issei (first generation) parents. He fell in love with a White woman, and planned for a future with her; but, all hopes and plans were derailed in 1942 when U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants were forced into concentration camps. Korematsu knew that internment was not right and defied the order.

He used a fake identity to avoid relocation, but was caught and arrested in May of 1942. At that time, the White woman he loved deserted him. A lawyer with the ACLU approached Korematsu and together they challenged the case and the unconstitutional imprisonment of Japanese Americans. After making bail, Korematsu was taken to Tanforan, and later Topaz, where many of his fellow imprisoned Japanese and Japanese Americans did not support him (some feared the legal fight was causing the community even more trouble). As Korematsu faced hardship, heartbreak, and isolation, his case moved from “one court to the next” until 1944, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the government, saying that internment was legal due to “military necessity.” Korematsu lost.

Over time, the war ended and Korematsu moved to Michigan, fell in love, and started a family. It wasn’t until 1982, almost 40 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, that the case was reopened after a group of lawyers found proof that the U.S. government lied about the threat posed by Japanese Americans during World War II. This time, Korematsu won the case. Several years later, the U.S. government apologized and committed to paying reparations to survivors of internment, and in 1998, Korematsu was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. For the the rest of his life, Korematsu traveled and spoke about his experiences, encouraging people to speak up and fight injustice wherever and whenever they see it.

In the book, visceral details about Korematsu’s life are shared through poems, which are separated into chapters and offer readers the opportunity to consider the events from his perspective. Co-authors Atkins and Yogi employ a direct, intentional voice. For example, the text in one poem reads:
What the government calls
“Assembly Centers.”

Really Prisons.

This makes clear the gap between what the U.S. government messaging was and the reality of what was happening.

Illustrations, rendered digitally by Yutaka Houlette, start each chapter off by showcasing important moments in Korematsu’s life on each spread’s verso page.

In between the chapters are nonfiction pages. A series of definitions, timelines, photographs, poems, artworks, and other primary documents give these pages a museum exhibit-like feel, and interactive questions push readers to recognize and consider what they are thinking and feeling as they read and reflect.

Hefty back matter includes a note from Karen Korematsu about her father and information about the Korematsu Institute, including a link to where readers can order a free teaching kit. Materials for young activists are also included: resources for further information, ideas about working together, and tools to take action towards equity.  There are many names (educators, librarians, writers, and more) listed in the acknowledgements, showing that this project was a collaborative one.

This book shines in its accessibility and how it bridges the gap between then and now, inviting reflection on the past and motivating change in the present day. It is honest and unique in its balancing of straight-up facts and personal, emotive story (as reflected through the narrative poetry).

Today is January 30. It is Fred Korematsu’s birthday and it is also Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution. This book celebrates Korematsu and inspires readers to reflect on what they know and what they can do--and will do--to fight unfairness and to create positive change. Fighting for Justice: Fred Korematsu Speaks Up is highly recommended.
-Elisa Gall

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