Photo of wedding dress next to the guard tower and barbed wire fence at Manzanar (Credits:  Kevin Kuromi, Pixel Graphic Design & Steve Nagano)
Chiyomi and Kaz Ogawa’s wedding photo superimposed against barbed wire and a guard tower at Manzanar, the camp where they were held. (Graphic design by Pixel Graphic Design)

PASADENA — Fred Korematsu Day will be observed on Saturday, Jan. 31, from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Pasadena High School, 2925 E. Sierra Madre Blvd. in Pasadena.

This year’s event will feature the following:

  • Performances by Kathy Bee, singing her original song “I’m an American,” and Kodama Taiko.
  • “Six Weddings and a Dress,” filmmaker Steve Nagano’s eight-minute documentary that tells the story of Chiyomi Ogawa’s wedding dress, which was worn by six women who were incarcerated at Manzanar during World War II and upon their release relocated to Pasadena to marry and bring up their families. The documentary has been featured at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival and San Diego Asian American Film Festival, and will be at the Seattle Asian American Film Festival in February.
  • “Six Weddings and a Dress” exhibit. Meet the original and only surviving bride, who will be at the exhibit from 8 to 10 a.m.
  • “Internment Camp Photos, 1942-1944” by Stone Ishimaru, educator, photographer and former Poston inmate.
  • Exhibit of the Akabeko (Red Cow) Project benefiting children with disabilities in Fukushima Prefecture by father-and-daughter team Bryan and Lauren Takeda.
  • Exhibit by Pasadena Japanese Cultural Center and a craft area where kids will create a koi kite out of paper, crayons and chopsticks.
  • “Camp Stories,” which provides a unique look at history in a compelling and heartfelt glimpse of what life was like for Americans of Japanese descent who were labeled as enemies of the United States.

Steve Nagano narrates the story of Chiyomi and Kaz Ogawa, residents of Altadena/Pasadena, and their three children, who attended Pasadena High School. Chiyomi was sent to Japan to attend high school. When the war broke out, she was desperate to return to America. Hear the story of how she got back, and how she met and married her husband while interned at Manzanar.

Pasadena artist and “M*A*S*H” co-star Kellye Nakahara Wallett shares the story of her grandfather, Buntaro Nakamura, a fisherman who was arrested when the government thought he was providing fuel to submarines at Pokai Bay Wainae. He was sent to a detention camp in Santa Fe, N.M., where he died. The family still does not know where he is buried. Find out the unusual circumstances of this camp and his death.

Altadena resident Ellen Snortland shares the experience of a most unusual find in her rental home, a photo album that belonged to a Japanese American family and included photos from one of the camps. Find out how legendary columnist “Dear Abby” was instrumental in the search fir the family.

Pasadena resident Wendy Anderson tells the story of her parents, Tadashi and Harumi Fujihara, who were both incarcerated at Manzanar but did not know each other until after the war. Haru attended Manzanar High School, where she was homecoming queen and graduated the year the war ended. Tad was an artist who helped carve the now-infamous Manzanar sign that was posted at the entrance to the camp. After both their families relocated to Pasadena, Tad and Haru met and married, with Haru wearing Chiyomi Ogawa’s wedding dress. Find out which Pasadena museum has a glimpse of their life at the “Mystery History” exhibit.

Soji Kashiwagi, Pasadena resident, journalist, playwright, and executive producer of the Grateful Crane Ensemble, shares the courage of his father, Hiroshi Kashiwagi, who was incarcerated at Tule Lake after taking a stand as a “no-no boy.” Find out what caused someone to be labeled a “no-no boy” and the personal freedom it cost.

Pasadena resident and attorney Patricia Kinaga tells the story of her father, Thomas Kinaga, who was an internee in Heart Mountain, Wyo. when Army recruiters asked for volunteers to join the segregated 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He was one of the first to step forward, and became a seasoned soldier in the battlefields. Find out how his 442nd service shaped his life.

Event sponsors: Pasadena Unified School District (Dr. Brian McDonald, superintendent), Pasadena High School (Gilbert Barraza Jr., principal, and Andrew John King, assistant principal), and Pasadena City College (Dr. Robert Miller, interim president).

Volunteer production team: producer Wendy Anderson, WOW! Event Productions; associate producers Dr. Stephanie King, Dedicated to Health, Pasadena, and La Quetta Shamblee, MAD Catfish Blues Festival.

Parking is free. For auditorium drop off, pull into the front lot from Sierra Madre Boulevard. The Farmers Market is held in the parking lot in front of the auditorium every Saturday, so parking may be limited. Additional parking is available in the back lot by entering through the gates from Washington Boulevard (east side of Pasadena High School); walk back toward the large building (south) through the campus to reach the auditorium.

About Fred Korematsu Day

When the State of California passed the Fred Korematsu Day bill in 2010, he became the first Asian American in the U.S. to have a day named in his honor. Pasadena was the first city in Southern California to establish an annual Fred Korematsu Day to be recognized on Jan. 30, the date of his birth. The resolution was passed by the Pasadena City Council on Feb. 28, 2011, followed by a resolution from the Pasadena Unified School District and Pasadena City College.

Fred Korematsu (1919-2005) was a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Fred Korematsu (1919-2005) was a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Fred Korematsu (1919-2005) was a national civil rights hero. In 1942, at the age of 23, he refused to go to the government’s incarceration camps for Japanese Americans. After he was arrested and convicted of defying the government’s order, he appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1944, the Supreme Court ruled against him, arguing that the incarceration was justified due to military necessity.

In 1983, Professor Peter Irons, a legal historian, together with researcher Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, discovered key documents that government intelligence agencies had hidden from the Supreme Court in 1944. The documents consistently showed that Japanese Americans had committed no acts of treason to justify mass incarceration. With this new evidence, a pro-bono legal team that included the Asian Law Caucus reopened Korematsu’s 40-year-old case on the basis of government misconduct.

On Nov. 10, 1983, Korematsu’s conviction was overturned in a federal court in San Francisco. It was a pivotal moment in civil rights history.

Korematsu remained an activist throughout his life. In 1998, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Bill Clinton. Since the establishment of Fred Korematsu Day in California, other state and local governments have followed. Korematsu’s growing legacy continues to inspire people of all backgrounds and demonstrates the importance of speaking up to fight injustice.

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