Media Room

JULY 18, 2015

Good evening. Thank you for the invitation to share in tonight’s celebration. 

It is my great pleasure to offer my congratulations to the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center on the 25th anniversary of the Japanese-American Historical Plaza and the Bill of Rights Memorial on the Portland Waterfront.  

Our state’s relationship with Japan is strong and long-standing, dating back to the 1850s. The Portland-Japan Consulate is the 6th oldest in the United States, established 215 years ago in 1900.

Historically, however, the experiences of members of Japanese-American community in Oregon have been uneven at best, and at times, quite negative. During World War II, when Oregon’s Japanese-Americans were forcibly denied freedoms afforded to other citizens, a few courageous Oregonians fought hard to restore those freedoms. 

One such individual was Minoru Yasui.

Mr. Yasui was born in Hood River in 1916 and grew up as part of a family of fruit-growers living in the region.  After earning bachelor and law degrees at the University of Oregon, he eventually went to work for the Japanese government at its consulate in Chicago. However, after the events of December 8, 1941, he resigned his position and returned to Oregon.  

Upon his return, Mr. Yasui set up a law practice, serving primarily a Japanese-American clientele.  Soon after President Roosevelt’s Executive Order establishing exclusion zones, curfews – and ultimately the internment – of Japanese Americans, Mr. Yasui did a very brave and risky thing:  He deliberately violated curfew in Portland to test the legality of the executive order.  
He was arrested, tried and sentenced to a year in prison.  He appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court, but ultimately lost.  

After the war, Mr. Yasui continued his distinguished law career and became a community leader, serving as chairman of the Japanese American Citizens League.  In 1984, he sought action in federal district court to have his prior curfew conviction overturned. The court ruled in his favor in 1986, just before his death.

I am pleased that Senator Mazie Hirono has nominated Minoru Yasui for a 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom award. He truly is an Oregon hero who was willing to put everything on the line and take a stand against discrimination. And his principles cost him dearly – a year of his life lost to wrongful incarceration, and a criminal record that followed him like a dark cloud throughout his career.

It is said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. As a state, we owe it to future generations to share Mr. Yasui’s story and other important stories like his as part of our determination to end discrimination; to embrace equity and inclusion as core Oregon values. 

Until all Oregonians live with dignity and equality, we cannot afford to be complacent. We must actively work to end ignorance, prejudice and discrimination.

Thanks to the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, current and future generations of Oregonians have the opportunity to learn important lessons from the experiences of Japanese-Americans in our state. For the past 25 years, the Nikkei Legacy Center has brought their stories to life as part of its mission to share and preserve Japanese-American history.

I congratulate the Center on its many successes, and for 25 years of enhancing Oregon’s culture and quality of life.  And here’s to at least 125 more.  

Thank you.  Enjoy your evening.