The Japanese American National Museum mourns the passing of trailblazing political activist Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga, who died July 18 at the age of 93.
JANM honored Herzig Yoshinaga with its Award of Excellence at its Gala Dinner in April.
Herzig Yoshinaga was long recognized as a hero of the successful redress campaign that culminated in the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. This act provided an official government apology and monetary compensation to victims of the forced removal and incarceration of West Coast residents of Japanese ancestry during World War II.
“Aiko was an extraordinary individual whose determination and activism had profound impact in the United States,” said Norman Y. Mineta, chair of the JANM Board of Trustees. “We are about to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, legislation that might not have been possible without the tremendous work and commitment of Aiko. As we celebrate the anniversary next month and in all the years to come, Aiko will remain in our hearts. Her legacy will endure forever.”
“It was truly a privilege to have Aiko on stage at our most recent Gala Dinner. She brought the entire audience of more than 1,000 people to their feet,” said JANM President and CEO Ann Burroughs. “No matter their age or background, everyone should know of Aiko’s accomplishments and recognize how much difference one person can make in the world. She was truly inspirational and we will miss her dearly.”
Herzig Yoshinaga was a high school senior when she was incarcerated with her family in the concentration camp for Japanese Americans at Manzanar during World War II. After the war, while living in New York in the 1960s, she became involved with Asian Americans for Action (AAA). This was the start of her political involvement.
After moving to Washington, D.C., Herzig Yoshinaga began looking through National Archives records on the wartime exclusion and incarceration. Over several years, with the help and support of her husband Jack Herzig, she retrieved and cataloged thousands of significant documents.
In 1980, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) was created. Its report was to be the foundation for legislative redress. The same year, Herzig Yoshinaga joined the National Council for Japanese American Redress (NCJAR) and her extensive research supported its class-action lawsuit seeking reparations from the government. The following year, she was hired by the CWRIC and became its lead researcher.
Crucial to the cause of redress was Herzig Yoshinaga’s discovery of the 10th and only still-existing copy of the original printing of the 1942 Final Report on Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast, which provided proof that the Army had seen no military necessity to deprive 120,000 individuals of their rights.
Herzig Yoshinaga was an important contributor to the CWRIC’s 1983 final report, “Personal Justice Denied.” The Civil Liberties Act of 1988, signed by President Ronald Reagan, finally brought redress and a formal apology from the government to survivors of the incarceration.
Herzig Yoshinaga is survived by her brother John Yoshinaga (Lucienne); sister-in-law Reiko Yoshinaga; daughters Lisa Abe Furutani (Warren) and Gerrie Miyazaki; son David Abe; grandchildren Joey Furutani, Sei Furutani (Traci), Laurence Toshiro Moore, David Abe Jr., Kimberly Abe, and Lea Krogman; and great-grandchildren Harlee Furutani and Kiyomi Pizarro. Her husband Jack died in 2005.