Ontario cultural center to explore WWII defiance of Min Yasui

Minoru Yasui at his desk at his Denver law firm, in an undated photo.
Minoru Yasui at his desk at his Denver law firm, in an undated photo. Associated Press

The Four Rivers Cultural Center on Saturday will examine the civil rights fight by an Oregon attorney who defied a World War II curfew imposed against West Coast residents of Japanese descent.

Minoru Yasui, a Hood River native, was in his third year of his Portland law practice when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order on Feb. 19, 1942, that imposed a curfew and eventually led to the forced incarceration of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans.

Yasui, a graduate of the University of Oregon Law School and the first Oregon attorney of Japanese descent, believed the law was unconstitutional. He intentionally broke the curfew and ordered Portland police to arrest him. He was jailed, convicted and later sent to the Minidoka Internment Camp north of Twin Falls.

Yasui fought valiantly for his cause with virtually no support from anyone in power, said Matt Stringer, the center’s executive director. His conviction stood for decades before being overturned by a federal court in Oregon in 1986, the same year he died.

“Min Yasui is an American hero in the true sense of the word. All his life he was concerned for people and civil rights and demonstrated it time and time again,” Stringer said. “He is an inspiration, not only to Japanese Americans, but to all of us who appreciate our country because of the freedom and protection it does or is supposed to provide.”

Saturday’s program will include readings by community leaders from a play, “Citizen Min,” created by Yasui’s daughter, Holly Yasui, who will be in attendance. It will also include a photo display, a screening of an unfinished film “Never Give Up: Minoru Yasui and the Fight for Justice,” by Holly Yasui and Will Doolittle. There will also be a discussion on human rights tied to current events.

He valiantly fought for his cause with virtually no support from anyone who was in power. He kept up the good fight for people – all people, Christians, Jews, Muslims, African Americans, Japanese Americans, all his life.

Matt Stringer, Four Rivers Cultural Center

It will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. at the center, 676 SW 5th Ave.

“In today’s world, where we are so concerned with homeland security, how do we take information from our past and carry it to the future so that we do not make mistakes? How do we make sure Donald Trump doesn’t imprison 120,000 Muslims? How do we ensure that the Mexican high school valedictorian who moved here when she was 3 because her mom was getting away from an abusive husband but lives in fear every day that she will be kicked out of the country gets to stay? How do we protect homosexuals who are murdered in the space they consider the safest?” Stringer asked.

Among those taking part in the program will be state Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, and Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, Malheur County Circuit Judges Frank Yraguen, Lung Hung and Patricia Sullivan, Ontario Mayor Ron Verini and members of the city council.

Late last year, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Yasui the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And in February, the Oregon Legislature passed a bill declaring March 28 as an annual Min Yasui Day. That marks the day in 1942 when Yasui defied the curfew and was arrested.

John Sowell: 208-377-6423, @IDS_Sowell