By: Ayesha Mirzakhail & Simone Downs
There have been instances in United States History when injustice was happening to only a few individuals, innocent individuals, yet overlooked by the majority. These moments are at times actions committed by the government and left unchecked until a group or individual stands against it. In particular when discussing Asian American activists, litigants, the individuals whose cases gave judges the opportunity to interpret the Constitution are often left out. In conjunction with direct actions, such as disputing Japanese Americans living in internment camps and forcing them to abide by curfews that other groups did not have, these Asian American litigants also fought to secure a more just union for all. Mitsuye Endo’s decision to forgo her own freedom and remain in the internment camp to continue the fight against injustice at the Supreme Court level to ensure that all U.S. citizens were afford the same rights and respect by the government was an important moment in United States history.
Mitsuye Endo’s integrity in the face of adversity should be an example to other Asian-Americans that they, too, are part of the American fabric and have voices that demand to be heard. Endo was born May 10, 1920 in California. During her youth and young adult life, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1924 that halted immigration from Japan. This coninsided with active practices to discriminate Japanese Americans access to employment, services, housing, and other necessities granted to Americans considered “white.” She was working for the California Department of Motor Vehicles when World War Two broke out. As anti-Japanese sentiment grew following the Pearl Harbor attack, she was fired from her job like thousands of other Japanese-Americans and later sent to a detention camp. Unlike the majority of her peers, she worked to challenge her termination with the legal guidance of the Japanese American Citizens League. After relocation was issued, which became the more urgent issue facing Japanese Americans, Endo accepted the offer to be the plaintiff for the federal case against detainment. Her positionally was especially appealing since she was a Methodist, employed prior to increased anti-Japanese sentiment, did not speak or read Japanese, and her brother was enrolled in U.S Army. She was interned at Tule Lake, the camp that was specifically designated for “disloyal” individuals of Japanese decent. The government realized that it could not justify her detention as a loyal American and thus offered to release her if she would drop the suit. Endo refused their offer and remained imprisoned for two more years while her case went up to the Supreme Court in order to speak for the unlawful detention of all loyal Japanese Americans.
[Pictured above is Tule Lake, where Mitsuye Endo was interned with fellow “disloyal” individuals]
By winning her trial, Endo, forced the government to change the laws that were injust to Asian Americans, setting a precedence for future civil rights cases. In 1944, during the EX PARTE MITSUYE ENDO trial, the Supreme Court side with Endo and asserted that American citizens could not be detained without a reason to doubt their loyalty. Justice Roberts wrote in his concurrence:
“An admittedly loyal citizen has been deprived of her liberty for a period of years. Under the Constitution she should be free to come and go as she pleases. Instead, her liberty of motion and other innocent activities have been prohibited and conditioned. She should be discharged.”
Unlike other cases like that of Yasui, Hirabayashi, and Korematsu, where detainment or restrictions were constitutional—Ex Parte Mitsuye Endo is important because it protects the rights of every American, no matter ancestry, creed, religion, sexuality, or other categories, prohibiting detainment by the government based on those differences.
[Watch a video of Wendy Weiner and Wayne Tsutsumi (pictured together above second to the left at the third annual Korematsu Day event at San Francisco’s historic Herbst Theatre) speak about their Mother, Endo, receiving recognition for her ligitant activism]
Mitsuye Endo’s strength to keep fighting for the liberties of her fellow citizens, instead of protecting her own, should place her in the same light as the more well-known civil rights leaders. She is a national hero, and choose not to broadcast her activist history-even to her children. Her courage to seek legal justice and to stay the course is one of the reasons Japanese Americans were released from the camps. To this day, supporters of her story and audacity aim for her to be posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom.
Endo Name of Justice, 2016.
Creative piece: Seen above is a digital collage of Mitsuye Endo. We reapplied her image, the photo of her and the typewriter, and place her next to other empowering, symbolic femme figures Lady Justice and the Statue of Liberty to align her story and activism with these figures symbolic importance. Another facet of the visual work will articulate this relationship between repression and resistance struggle that has manufactured the way the United States is today, especially since Endo became a litigant due to racist employment decisions and the US government’s denial of human rights.
1.Letter of August 11, 1942, General De Witt Authorized the War Relocation Authority
to Issue Permits for Persons to Leave These Areas. By Virtue of That Delegation and the Authority Conferred by Executive Order No. 9102, the War Relocation Authority Was given Control over the Ingress and Egress of Evacuees from the Relocation Centers Where Mitsuye Endo Was Confined., Mr. Justice DOUGLAS. “FindLaw’s United States Supreme Court Case and Opinions.”Findlaw. Thomson Reuters, n.d. http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/323/283.html Web. 12 Sept. 2016.
2.Kai-Hwa Wang, Frances. “Supporters Push for Mitsuye Endo’s Presidential Medal of
Freedom.” NBC News. NBC Asian America, 14 July 2015. http://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/supporters-recommend-presidential-medal-freedom-mitsuye-endo-n391736Web. 01 Sept. 2016.
3.”Mitsuye Endo Persevering for Justice/ Women’s Leadership in America History.”
Mitsuye Endo Persevering for Justice/ Women’s Leadership in America History. The City University of New York, n.d. https://www1.cuny.edu/portal_ur/content/womens_leadership/mitsuye_endo.html Web. 11 Sept. 2016.
4.Niiya, Bryan. “Mitsuye Endo: The Woman Behind the Landmark Supreme Court Case – Densho: Japanese American Incarceration and Japanese Internment.” Densho Japanese American Incarceration and Japanese Internment. N.p., 24 Mar. 2016. http://www.densho.org/mitsuye-endo/ Web. 02 Sept. 2016.