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Journal of Asian American Studies 5.1 (2002) 73-78

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Achieving the Impossible Dream:
How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress

Born in Seattle:
The Campaign for Japanese American Redress

Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress. By Mitchell T. Maki, Harry H. L. Kitano, and S. Megan Berthold. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999.
Born in Seattle: The Campaign for Japanese American Redress. By Robert Sadamu Shimabukuro. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001.

The story of how Japanese Americans obtained redress for their incarceration during World War II is a complex tale of grassroots organizing and political maneuvering, unanimity and internal strife, setbacks and triumphs. Making sense of the two decades-long process and drawing lessons from it is no small feat, but two recent publications—Mitchell T. Maki, Harry H. L. Kitano, and S. Megan Berthold's Achieving the Impossible Dream and Robert Sadamu Shimabukuro's Born in Seattle—admirably accomplish that task, albeit by using divergent yet complementary methodologies. 1 Maki et al. present a comprehensive account, national in scope, while Shimabukuro focuses more directly on the redress movement in Seattle.

Maki, Kitano, and Berthold adopt a social science framework and deploy the "Kitano-Maki proper alignment model for public policy" to explain how a small minority group could obtain passage of a major piece of federal legislation, and an expensive one at that. They identify six "streams of influence" that must be "properly aligned" for federal legislation to pass. These streams are divided into two major categories: historical (Japanese American community attitudes and organization, and mainstream U.S. attitudes) and governmental (the Senate, House of Representatives, Judiciary, and Executive branch). At any moment, a stream can range from negative to positive with regard to the proposed public policy, but a new policy is most likely to be enacted when all of the streams align as positive (or at least neutral/positive) (16-19). The authors divide the redress [End Page 73] process into six time periods and evaluate each stream in each period. Not until 1987-88 did all streams align as at least neutral/positive.

The book begins with a brief overview, drawn primarily from previously published sources, of Japanese American history from immigration through incarceration and the post-war years. The authors judge the "modern redress movement" to have begun in 1970, when Edison Uno introduced a resolution at the national Japanese American Citizens League convention calling for the federal government to pay monetary reparations to Japanese Americans for exclusion and incarceration (64). Although the JACL adopted the resolution, it took no further action, and many Japanese Americans remained tepid toward redress. However, the 1970s did see various other attempts to address wartime injustices, including: campaigns to repeal Title II of the Internal Security Act, revoke Executive Order 9066, and obtain a pardon for Iva Toguri d'Aquino; publication of several historical examinations of incarceration; and the commemoration of the first Days of Remembrance.

By 1979, four Japanese American proponents of redress sat in Congress: Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga in the Senate, and Norman Mineta and Robert Matsui in the House (significantly, a fifth Japanese American, Senator S. I. Hayakawa was staunchly opposed). At this point, Inouye's political savvy came into play. The Capitol Hill veteran, loath to undertake the risk of direct redress legislation, proposed a commission to study exclusion and incarceration and present its findings and recommendations to Congress (86-87). The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) was formed by federal law in 1980 and held hearings in ten cities throughout the U.S. in mid-to-late 1981. Over 750 witnesses testified "before packed audiences" and the hearings garnered much positive press coverage (99). The CWRIC findings, delivered in the February 1983 report Personal Justice Denied, included recognition of the injustice of the exclusion and incarceration, along with documentation of suffering and property losses. Four months later, the commission released its recommendations, which included an apology and monetary compensation to...


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