By Lisa Fernandez
Google is celebrating the late Fred Toyosaburo Korematsu as its Google Doodle on Monday, paying tribute to the Oakland-born civil rights activist who refused to go to the government’s incarceration camps for Japanese Americans.
And according to his daughter, his debut appearance on the world's largest search engine is especially relevant in today's atmosphere regarding immigrants.
Korematsu, who would have turned 98 on Monday, was the first Asian–American to get a day named after him in the United States. Since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation establishing the day into law in 2010, Hawaii, Virginia and Florida now also recognize Jan. 30 as Fred Korematsu Day.
But Monday was his first debut as a Google Doodle, according to his daughter, Karen Korematsu, the founder of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute in San Francisco.
“In my opinion, when you have made a Google Doodle, you have made it,” she said in a phone interview Monday on her way to Sacramento, where her father's memory will be honored.
She said that her family tried to get her dad to be represented by Google last year, but it was unsuccessful.
This time, her brother, Kenneth, knew artist Sophie Diao, herself a child of Asian immigrants, who drew the patriotic portrait of Korematsu. In the picture, he's wearing his Presidential Medal of Freedom given to him by then President Bill Clinton with a scene of the internment camps to his back. He's surrounded by cherry blossoms and flowers that have come to be symbols of peace and friendship between the United States and Japan.
Fred Korematsu was born to Japanese parents in Oakland and graduated from Castlemont High School, which is where his daughter said he learned about the Constitution.
When the United States entered WWII, he tried to enlist in the U.S. National Guard and Coast Guard, but was turned away because he was Japanese, according to the institute.
He was 23 years old and working as a foreman when Executive Order 9066 was signed in 1942 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The order sent more than 115,000 people of Japanese descent living in the United States to incarceration.
Rather than relocate to an internment camp, Korematsu went into hiding. He was arrested in 1942 and despite the help of organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, his conviction was upheld in the landmark Supreme Court case of Korematsu v. United States. Because of that, he and his family were sent to the Central Utah War Relocation Center at Topaz, Utah, until the end of WWII in 1945.
In 1976, President Gerald Ford formally ended Executive Order 9066 and apologized for the internment, stating "We now know what we should have known then — not only was that evacuation wrong but Japanese-Americans were and are loyal Americans.”
Fred Korematsu’s conviction was overturned in 1983 in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco after evidence came to light that disputed the necessity of the internment. Some of his lawyers who represented him then, Dale Manami and Don Tamaki, formed a law firm, and he was also represented by the Asian Law Caucus, among other attorneys. Many lawyers from that firm and the law caucus were at the San Francisco International Airport this weekend providing free legal service to Muslim refugees detained there briefly.
To Karen Korematsu, the choosing of her father’s image to be represented as a Google Doodle is highly relevant as the Donald Trump administration has issued travel bans to citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries.
“I think one of the main reasons he was chosen by Google was the opportunity to educate people on the mistakes of our past history,” his daughter said. “This new order is very scary. This is not what America is about. You don’t put the fear of God into people. This is not right.”