Back in the 1940s, Japanese Americans were forced from their homes, their livelihoods into internment camps. During World War II by President Franklin D. Roosevelt through his Executive Order 9066 from 1942 to 1945, people of Japanese descent, including U.S. citizens, would be incarcerated in isolated camps.
Decades later the U.S. decided to provide survivors with repair for the monetary loss. In 1998, the Office of Redress Administration (ORA) was established with the task of administering a 10-year program to provide a tax-free restitution payment of $20,000 to eligible individuals of Japanese ancestry for the fundamental injustices of the evacuation, relocation, and internment during World War II, according to the National Archives.
Don Tamaki, a Bay Area-based attorney, worked for redress and reparations for Japanese Americans following their forced incarceration during World War II.
Now, he’s working to help African Americans receive reparations.
Tamaki, who received his BA, Phi Beta Kappa, from the University of California at Berkeley in 1973 and also received his JD from Berkeley in 1976, is Managing Partner of Minami Tamaki LLP in San Francisco, representing business and non-profit clients, according to his bio on the Stop Repeating History website.
He participated in the recent-wrapped California Reparations Task Force as one of the nine task force members. The task force released their final report on July 1. Tamaki was the group’s only non-Black member, and he told NBC News that he sees some throughlines between Japanese Americans’ fight and Black Americans’ movement for compensation for the harms of slavery.
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“If it wasn’t for the Black Civil Rights Movement, where would we be?” Tamaki said, in reference to the movement’s impact on the Japanese American community. “That whole movement changed the culture a lot. And it changed us. And so it began this movement toward redress and reparations.”
When Tamaki was 31 he was part of the legal team that helped reopen and overturn the 1944 landmark Supreme Court case Korematsu v. United States, which upheld the constitutionality of the forced relocation and incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans.
“The term ‘Asian American’ was not coined yet. And we called ourselves ‘Orientals,’ and we just assumed we were second-class citizens. What woke us up was Martin Luther King on national television, leading peaceful demonstrators,” said Tamaki, whose parents had been among those forcibly incarcerated during the war.
During the time Tamaki worked on Korematsu’s legal team, he attended hearings and testified in front of a commission established to explore reparations, eventually receiving monetary compensation because of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Each internment cap survivor received $20,000 and a formal presidential apology.
“I don’t think we knew who we were. The term ‘Asian American’ was not coined yet. And we called ourselves ‘Orientals,’ and we just assumed we were second-class citizens,” Tamaki said. “What woke us up was Martin Luther King on national television, leading peaceful demonstrators and being sicced on by dogs and being beaten by police with clubs … just to be able to go to a school, just to be able to sit in a restaurant or be in an integrated bus, and that was followed by a more militant call for Black power.”
He also acknowledged the influence of the African-American community.
“Redress would never have happened without the assistance of African Americans, particularly on the legislative side.”
But, he said, he realizes the two fights are different.
Tamaki said that there continues to be a lack of understanding around how the racism and discrimination of slavery evolved into different modern-day forms.
“It stems from this idea that reparations are for an aggrieved minority that’s undeserving, and this is a handout,” he said. “Rather, this is really a debt. This is a societal obligation resulting from when we go back to 1619 — stolen wages, stolen property, stolen opportunities.”
Don Tamaki, photo: https://www.stoprepeatinghistory.org/don-tamaki