Who counts as real Americans? What does it mean to be patriotic? This weekend, as part of its annual law and policy conference, the Harvard Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA) invites you to reflect upon these questions through the perspective of Americans of Japanese descent in 1944. Drafted to serve in the Second World War even though their families continued to be imprisoned in the harsh, unforgiving concentration camps of the inland West, should these Americans prove their loyalty to the United States by agreeing to join the Armed Forces, or should they resist the draft and challenge the constitutionality of the government’s actions?
On Saturday, February 3, APALSA is performing “Heart Mountain: Conscience, Loyalty and the Constitution,” an acclaimed reenactment of the trials and the events surrounding the internment and drafting of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War. Like last year’s performance of, “The Murder of Vincent Chin,” this year’s reenactment of the Heart Mountain trials will also showcase a pivotal moment in Asian American history. Professors, administrators, and students from various campus organizations will bring to life a trial which raised questions about achieving genuine racial justice in our legal system. The reenactment scripts were developed by the Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY), under the leadership of the Honorable Judge Denny Chin of the Second Circuit and Kathy Hirata Chin, Senior Counsel at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP.
Alicia Guo, APALSA conference co-chair, commented: “The reenactment is one of the most exciting parts of our annual conference, and we are delighted to bring it back for a second year. It corresponds perfectly with our theme this year, which is ‘Asian America: Seen, Heard, Known,’ since the reenactment will be an opportunity for our audience to expand their knowledge and engage with American history in an immersive and memorable way.” Kevin Ratana Patumwat, conference co-chair, also added “As a newly naturalized citizen myself, the questions of what it means to be American, particularly what it means to be a part of this country as a minority, really hangs heavily on me. I’m very glad that the HLS community will have the chance to explore these questions at this exciting event.” This year’s reenactment is managed by Eliot Kim.
“I’m really honored to take part in the reenactment of this pivotal case. I hope it will let people remember the critical importance of our civil liberties.” said Julien Tunney, a second-year student who took part in the reenactment.
The Honorable Judge Kiyo Matsumoto of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York will also take part in the reenactment.
In his controversial Executive Order 9066, issued in February 1942, two months after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt effectively authorized the eviction and incarceration of Japanese-Americans, German-Americans, and Italian-Americans living in broad swathes of the country. However, federal and state officials responsible for implementing the policy systematically reserved the harshest treatment for Japanese-Americans, influenced by the prevailing racially discriminatory attitude of that time. At least 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry, both US citizens and non-citizens, were forcibly relocated and incarcerated in concentration camps across the West. The camps were often located in rural areas in states such as Arizona, Utah, and Wyoming. Internees included those who were 1/8 or 1/16 Japanese.
“Heart Mountain” will be performed on Saturday, February 3 from 4:00pm to 5:00pm in the Ames Courtroom, and it will be followed by a Q&A session with Judge Chin, Ms. Kathy Chin, and Judge Matsumoto. The event is open to all, including those who have not registered for the APALSA conference.