TrucAnh Elliott, Senior Project Engineer
I recently read about an Asian American named Dr. Võ Đình Tuấn. Originally from Vietnam, he studied engineering in Europe and then immigrated to the United States in 1975. As a published biomedical engineering professor at Duke University, he patented many new technologies to detect cancer earlier than before and developed new methods to treat the cancer differently from any other method that had been discovered before. As an Asian American, my family and I also immigrated from Vietnam in 1975 (the same year he did), so I really appreciate the accomplishments from my fellow immigrants who came over at the same time. He used his overseas education, combined it with the resources that he had here in the United States, and was able to invent new ways to look at a problem that is faced worldwide.
Julie Lee, Corporate Counsel
I am a lawyer for Gannett Fleming, and an individual who comes to mind is Fred Korematsu. In 1941 during World War II, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. In response to that, in 1942, President Roosevelt enacted an executive order permitting the internment of over 100,000 Japanese-American citizens to internment camps, primarily in the western Pacific U.S. Fred Korematsu, an American citizen at the age of 23, did not abide by that internment order, left his hometown, and was later on found and convicted of a felony based upon a violation of that order. Mister Korematsu, instead of just agreeing to serve out his time, decided to try to fight what he thought was – and what he rightfully thought was – an injustice and a violation of his civil liberties to the Supreme Court in 1944. In a decision 6-3, the Supreme Court actually upheld his conviction. Mr. Korematsu ended up leaving the internment camp but used that experience to continue to promote and fight for social and racial justice. It’s actually not only until 1983 when his specific conviction was overturned after research and investigation that there had been no specific basis for mass incarceration of a specific race and no finding of treasonous activity among the Japanese-American population. So, while Mr. Korematsu’s conviction was overturned specifically, there has been no instance to date where the Supreme Court has had the chance to specifically weigh in on the overturning of the Korematsu decision itself, so it still stands.
We, as a society, have come some way from that decision and that type of government response of mass racial discrimination; however, it’s something that has been brought up more recently in the Muslim travel ban, so we still have a way to go. Mr. Korematsu sticks out in my mind as someone who has significantly contributed to not only the AAPI community but to the American community as a whole.
Hilary Lentz, Digital Communications Strategist
I think Kamala Harris is a great example of an Asian American who is currently making significant contributions to equality in the United States. By being elected the first Asian American, Black, and female vice president in our history, she is helping to open doors for other minority communities to seek office and create change for future generations.
William Roman, Chief Geologist
I admire Gordon Hirabayashi, who I learned about during a visit to the Gordon Hirabayashi Campground in the Coronado National Forest in southeastern Arizona in 2017. Hirabayashi was a Japanese American who challenged the constitutionality of the internment of Japanese Americans based on race or ancestry during World War II. In 1942, Hirabayashi was a senior at the University of Washington, and rather than reporting for relocation, he turned himself in to the FBI. He was convicted of curfew violation and sentenced to serve 90 days of hard labor at the Federal Honor Camp in the Santa Catalina Mountains. The government would not transport him or even provide train fare for his trip from Washington to southeastern Arizona, so Hirabayashi hitchhiked to the prison camp.
In 1987, Hirabayashi’s case was overturned because evidence arose that the Solicitor General’s office had cited examples of Japanese-American sabotage in its arguments, despite having researched and debunked all the rumored incidents. A federal commission determined that the internment had been motivated by racial prejudice and wartime hysteria. In 1988, the Civil Liberties Act was signed by President Ronald Reagan, which acknowledged the injustice and apologized for the internment. In 1999, the Coronado National Forest renamed the prison camp site in honor of Gordon Hirabayashi and the other resisters of conscience who were imprisoned there. In May 2012, President Obama posthumously awarded Gordon Hirabayashi the Presidential Medal of Freedom.