Esther Takei Nishio with a photo of herself from the 1940s. (Photo by Mario G. Reyes/Rafu Shimpo)

PASADENA — Pasadena’s first Fred Korematsu Day program will take place on Monday, Jan. 30, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Donald Wright Auditorium, Main Public Library, in Pasadena.

Jan. 30 has been designated Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution in California and was first observed last year. That date is the birthday of Korematsu, who passed away in 2005 at the age of 86.

At the invitation of Cherry Blossom Festival of Southern California co-founder Wendy Fujihara Anderson, Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard will deliver the welcome message. A panel discussion will feature Associate Professor Susie Ling of Pasadena City College and Pasadena resident Esther Takei Nishio.

Ling will speak about Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi and Min Yasui and the significant stands they all took for civil rights during World War II by challenging the government’s treatment of Japanese Americans. Soji Kashiwagi of the Pasadena Human Relations Commission will serve as moderator.

Nishio, a Nisei, was 19 years old when she was summoned from the Amache, Colo. concentration camp in September 1944 and served as a “test case” for Japanese Americans returning to California and the West Coast. Assisted by local Quakers, the idea was to enroll her into Pasadena City College to see how the community would react to a Japanese American in their midst.

“If Esther was accepted, they figured, it would be okay for other JAs to return as well,” said Kashiwagi. “However, when word of her return and a front-page photo appeared in a local paper, all hell broke loose. A local man formed a ‘Ban the Japs’ Committee; a little old lady spit on her face at a bus stop one day, and slapped her across the face the next. Esther knew that she was representing our community, and that her actions would affect the return of others, so she took every abuse with dignity and non-violence.

“After two intense weeks, things got so hot that Dillon Myer, director of the War Relocation Authority, was called in to speak to over 300 irate residents about the loyalty, patriotism and heroic military service of Japanese Americans. The day after this meeting, the man who formed the ‘Ban the Japs’ Committee admitted he was wrong, resigned his position, and joined a local group that was fighting for civil rights for all.

“The site of this meeting 68 years ago? The Donald Wright Auditorium at Main Public Library in Pasadena. You’ve heard of the ‘Little Rock Nine.’ Come meet the ‘Pasadena One.’”

Also scheduled to speak are Alan Nishio, a founding member of Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress (originally the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations), and Patty Kinaga, who made a documentary about the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, in which her father served.

The event is free, but seating is limited. For more information, go to or contact Wendy Anderson at or (626) 683-8243. No parking is allowed in the library parking lot for this event.

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