The Japanese American National Museum (JANM) mourns the death of Holly Yasui, 67, a writer, editor, and documentary filmmaker. She died Oct. 31 in Mexico from complications of COVID-19 and was the youngest daughter of Minoru Yasui, the legendary Japanese American lawyer and civil rights activist.
“The museum is deeply saddened to learn about the passing of Holly Yasui, whose film about her father keeps the legacy of his groundbreaking civil rights activism alive,” said Ann Burroughs, president and CEO of JANM. “Holly’s film memorializes the remarkable efforts of how one man – her father – was fearless in his drive to correct a terrible injustice. His spirit lived on in Holly’s own deep commitment to social justice.”
A native of Denver, Yasui was a writer, editor and translator (Spanish to English) who resided for many years in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Holly Yasui produced a 2017 documentary film about her father, “Never Give Up! Minoru Yasui and the Fight for Justice.” It recounts the life of Minoru Yasui, the son of Japanese immigrants in Oregon, who later became the first Japanese American attorney in that state.
During World War II, and after Executive Order 9066 led to the forced removal and incarceration of more than 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, it was Minoru Yasui who initiated the first legal test of the order. He spent nine months in solitary confinement awaiting his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but ultimately lost the appeal and was sent to Minidoka concentration camp in Idaho.
A longtime friend of Holly Yasui, mourned the loss of a vigilant advocate for human rights. “Holly lived her father’s words, ‘We are all placed on this earth to make it a better place for everyone,’” said June Berk. “She carried out her father’s wishes in extraordinary ways.”
In a 2017 interview with Discover Nikkei, Yasui was asked about the kind of advice her father might give to today’s young activists. She harkened back to her father’s fire in the belly.
“Never give up! Keep on fighting, stand up and speak out!” she said. “Work for the common good, help to make the world a better place in whatever way you can, according to your own convictions and passions and life experiences.”
Survivors include sisters, Laurie Yasui and Iris Yasui.
Japanese American Citizens League
JACL is saddened to learn that Holly Yasui has passed away due to complications from COVID-19. While Holly is best known for her father, Min Yasui, who challenged the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II all the way to the Supreme Court, she was also a fierce fighter for civil rights on her own. In the past few years, her passion was bringing to life the film “Never Give Up! Minoru Yasui and the Fight for Justice” and telling the story of her father’s crusade and how it applied to the modern struggles of the Muslim ban and immigrant family incarceration and separation.
JACL Executive Director David Inoue fondly recalls Holly: “When I first met Holly at a rally in Washington, D.C., she was especially enthusiastic about JACL’s leadership in fighting on behalf of other communities. This was not only her father’s legacy and his strong belief in JACL’s purpose, but she made fighting for justice her own mission. Her unexpected passing is a shock and tragic loss to us all.”
Filmmaker Frank Abe
Holly Yasui was so gracious in approaching me at the 2018 Films of Remembrance in San Francisco. Turned out we both were kind of worried about what the other thought of our work. I was glad to tell her I thought her film about her father Min, “Never Give Up,” had strong writing that reframed his narrative in my mind, an excellent piece of timely filmmaking that stands on its own as far more than a daughter’s loving tribute to her father.
So we had a great talk and found so much we had in common. She reminded me how she was once involved with a draft resister, and how that put her at odds with her father’s stance against the Nisei draft resisters, while still respecting his reasoning that one should obey the law first, then you have a stronger position from which to argue your case.
So let me add my sorrow to learn of her passage. She will be greatly missed.