Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Kansha (gratitude)

For my last guest post here at the LHB, I’d like to express my gratitude. Thanks to Mary Dudziak for giving me this opportunity. Thanks to you, the readers, for allowing me to share my modest collection of tips and treasures. And – if you will indulge a personal story – thanks to Yoshi Tani, who helped me appreciate the intersection of law and history.
In 1994, my grandma Yoshi joined other women from the local Japanese American community to pen a collective memoir. The authors described their families, their experiences in the internment camps during World War II, their relocation to Minnesota, and their lives since. My grandma’s chapter stands out for including a lot of law. For example, she wrote about Executive Order 9066, Gordon Hirabayashi’s court case, the 1983 Washington state statute that provided compensation to some evacuees, and the 1988 federal law that awarded monetary reparations to all. These citations illustrate her experience with the diverse ways in which law is power: the power to include and exclude, the power to enact physical violence, the power to reward and restore. They also illustrate her faith that ultimately law and justice would intersect. She capped her narrative with the observation that through legislation, “injustice ha[d] been addressed” and “redress” made “a reality.”*
But that was just one ending. In other tellings, she affirmed Mari Matsuda’s argument that for people who have been “on the bottom,” “criticism, transformation and validation of law are all part of the same project.”** Shortly after contributing to the book, she gave a talk about her experience at a forum at her church. She concluded her remarks with a quote from former Chief Justice Charles Evan Hughes:
You may think that the Constitution is your security – it is nothing but a bit of paper. You may think that the statutes are your security – they are nothing but words in a book. You may think that elaborate mechanism of government is your security – it is nothing at all, unless you have sound and uncorrupted public opinion to give life to your Constitution, to give vitality to your statutes, to make efficient your government machinery.***
She drew from these words the inspiration to move beyond guarantees of individual rights and rise to Hughes’ civic challenge. I take from her the inspiration to do this work -- to both explore the life people gave to the law and to look hard at that “bit of paper,” those “words in a book,” that “nothing at all” that so marked her memories. It has been a pleasure to connect here with others doing the same.


*Yoshi Uchiyama Tani, “Yoshi Uchiyama Tani
,” in Reflections: Memoirs of Japanese American Women in Minnesota, ed. John Nobuya Tsuchida (Covina, Ca.: Pacific Asia Press, 1994), 127-54.

**Mari J. Matsuda, “Looking to the Bottom: Critical Legal Studies and Reparations,” Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 22 (1987): 323-99, 342.
***The Hughes quote is from a 1906 campaign speech and is fascinating in its own context. It was part of a larger critique of “the public service corporations” (the Gas Commission, the Banking Department, the Insurance Department, etc.), which Hughes accused of not behaving as “public servants.

image credit