As I think back on the 2013 National Convention in Washington, D.C. commemorating the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, also known as Redress, what I remember most is the two plenary sessions. They both addressed the relevancy of JACL today because of our history, and they both had excellent speakers.
The first panel consisted of Secretary Norm Mineta; John Tateishi, former JACL National Executive Director and chairman of JACL’s National Redress Committee; and Wade Henderson, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund.
The second panel consisted of Hilary Shelton, Director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau; Stuart Ishimaru, Director of Minority and Women Inclusion, formerly of the EEOC and Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice; and Mee Moua, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and also the first Hmong American elected to the Minnesota State Legislature.
And just as a side note, if you ever get a chance to hear Wade Henderson or Mee Moua, do so. They are both very inspirational.
The important points brought up in both panels was how the JACL has earned the moral right to speak out, and how we all benefit from the legacy of other civil rights organizations. Both Wade Henderson and Hilary Shelton spoke about the importance of coalitions and how their organizations have reached out to JACL, OCA, La Raza and others on working on legislation to counteract the Supreme Court’s decision in overturning vital parts of the Voting Rights Act.
Hilary Shelton spoke about how foreigners think of Americans as white, and until that perception changes both here and abroad, there will always be Asian Americans, Black Americans and Latino Americans instead of just Americans.
We must be constantly vigilant and fight suppression whenever and wherever we see it. First and foremost on everyone’s mind was again the suppression of the minority vote. Wade Henderson spoke eloquently about if we lose the vote, we’ve lost everything.
Secretary Mineta spoke about how vital it is that all minorities get a seat at the table where decisions are made. You don’t have to run for Congress. Volunteer to be on your local commissions and boards.
There was, of course, a very interesting discussion on the long struggle to get Redress passed. It was very controversial when the idea first was brought up, and a majority of the community was against it. But John Tateishi’s plan to get the Nisei to finally open up and talk about their experience was vital, and Congressman Norm Mineta never gave up.
Redress was about apologizing for a huge violation of fundamental American principles, and that’s why it passed in 1988’s 100th Congress. Of over 11,000 bills introduced in that session, 761 were enacted, including the Redress bill.
They also addressed the current fight over immigration reform and how it’s not about public policy but about racism and keeping others out.
Sometimes it’s good to be reminded why I’m a member of JACL.
Article by: Portland JACL Co-President, Susan Leedham