Obituary: Holly Yasui, 67; Worked to preserve the father’s civil rights legacy

Holly Yasui and her father, Minoru Yasui.

Holly Yasui of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico died of COVID-19 on October 31, according to Seattle-based Densho. She was 67 years old.

The youngest daughter of Minoru Yasui (1916-1986), a civil rights hero who challenged the World War II curfew order targeting Japanese Americans on the West Coast, she was a tireless advocate to preserve the memory of his father’s historic Supreme Court case and to link his case to current affairs.

The Supreme Court ruled against Min Yasui and two other Nisei who challenged the government, Fred Korematsu and Gordon Hirabayashi. In the early 1980s, all three cases were reopened by a team consisting mostly of lawyers from Sansei through a “coram nobis error summons” based on newly uncovered evidence that the war government knowingly gave the court false information about the loyalty of Japanese Americans.

Yasui died at the age of 70 while his case was still pending, but his conviction in 1942 for violating the curfew order was overturned.

His legal team appealed because he also wanted a hearing of the evidence on the substantive allegations of the petition, particularly the introduction of documents showing the government was aware of the exculpatory material evidence. The case challenging the constitutionality of his conviction was pending in a federal appeals court at the time of his death.

Holly Yasui wrote a play, “Unvanquished”, and produced a film, “Never Give Up”, about her father’s life, and also co-led a successful campaign in 2015 for her father to receive the Presidential Medal. freedom in 2015 from the president. Barack Obama, with his daughter Laurie accepting on his behalf. Korematsu received President Bill Clinton’s medal in 1998 and Hirabayashi was posthumously honored by Obama in 2012.

Holly Yasui and Peggy Nagae, senior lawyer for Min Yasui, at JANM in 2014 (JK YAMAMOTO / Rafu Shimpo)

Barbara Yasui, education consultant for Densho, shared this memory: “Holly was my cousin and I knew how dedicated she was to honoring the memory of my Uncle Min. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that she was just as passionate and committed to working for social justice for others. She was just a piece of the old block, and her father would have been so proud of her.

Holly Yasui was born to Min and True Yasui on December 29, 1953 in Denver, where her father served on the Commission on Community Relations. Her sisters Iris and Laurie were also born there. She graduated from South High School in Denver in 1971.

She studied Fine Arts at the University of Colorado, Film at USC, and Comparative Literature and Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but did not continue to work in these fields. . Instead, she focused on writing, editing, and graphic design, which she practiced and taught in Seattle before moving to Mexico in 1991.

Yasui won the Mulicultural Playwright’s Award in 1992 for “Unvanquished,” which was first performed in 1990 at the Annex Theater in Seattle.

Since retiring from a community development center in 2013, she has dedicated herself full time to the Minoru Yasui Legacy Project, co-founded with Peggy Nagae, Min Yasui’s lead lawyer in the 1980s.

“Holly Yasui and I have been walking the path of righteousness for many years,” Nagae said. “We co-founded the Minoru Yasui Tribute Project, then the Minoru Yasui Legacy Project. The first to feature Min’s successful nomination for a Presidential Medal of Freedom, which was awarded posthumously by President Obama in 2015, followed by his film, “Never Give Up: Minoru Yasui and the Fight for Justice “.

Photo of Gordon Hirabayashi, Min Yasui and Fred Korematsu taken in the early 1980s when their coram nobis cases were filed. They were the subject of Steven Okazaki’s Oscar nominated documentary “Unfinished Business”.

“In addition, she worked on Minoru Yasui’s successful shift from a permanent day to Oregon, followed by later efforts on amicus briefs, a school name change movement and a host of other projects. . She has dedicated many years to ensuring that Min’s legacy – defending justice in WWII and his civil and human rights efforts in Denver and elsewhere – is remembered so that future generations of leaders, especially the leaders of the AAPI, know his life’s work.

“She was a friend, colleague and travel companion on this road. As a tribute to Holly, may we live our best lives, strive for justice and never give up. I will miss you, my friend.

Zainab F. Chaudary, Director of Communications at the Hive Fund for Climate & Gender Justice, said: “I had the absolute honor of moderating a discussion before the screening of Holly Yasui’s film ‘Never Give Up!’ … The roundtable, held in one of the Smithsonians, was my second chance to work with her, and I still remember her sweet warmth greeting me and asking if the baby was growing in my womb (Musa ), but its ferocity in describing it the fight of the fathers and the duty that we all have to fight for each other, especially with regard to Muslims and the Muslim ban in 2018 …

“She was such a beautiful light, and I know she made her father proud.”

Barbara Wishingrad from Sweetwater Collaborative in Santa Barbara posted: “The last time I saw Holly was in July 2018, when she came to Santa Barbara to screen the movie she produced about her father Minoru. Yasui, ‘Never Give Up’, sponsored by our Asian local. American Association. Previously, the film was screened at the Japanese (American National) Museum in Los Angeles in July 2017.

“Holly was a social justice warrior who followed in her father’s footsteps; however, she was reluctant to accept recognition for her own work. For her, it was about the communities she served, not that she did anything. If Holly had a fault, sometimes it was not being able to say no when asked to do something for someone else. She was a loving and generous being.

Karen Korematsu (daughter of Fred Korematsu), Lane Hirabayashi (nephew of Gordon Hirabayashi) and Holly Yasui (daughter of Minoru Yasui) at the Min Yasui centenary celebration at the Japanese American National Museum in April 2016 (JK YAMAMOTO / Rafu Shimpo )

“Holly and I were also close friends for about 30 years. We met in San Miguel de Allende, central Mexico, in the early 90s, and stayed in touch when I returned to live in the United States. in 1999. We had similar tastes in literature and have shared book recommendations over the years. The causes we have championed in the field of the environment and social justice were often mirrored, although the activities of Holly to make the world a better place have overtaken mine.

“Visiting Holly at her eco-house at Cedesa in Dolores Hidalgo was a highlight of my visit to Mexico in 2010, and she gave me many resources for my water work in the United States.

“We also shared deep feelings, as do friends. Over the past year and a half, we’ve emailed more frequently and started vaguely planning my next visit to Mexico. Although Holly had major surgery last year and spent some time bedridden, she had made progress in her recovery. The hews that she was dead took me totally by surprise. I mourn her loss and I know the world, though enriched by her presence, will miss what she could have given had she spent more years on this plane.

“May his spirit guide and inspire us. “

In a 2014 article for Discover Nikkei, Yasui wrote that he grew up being well aware of what happened to Japanese Americans during the war: curfew proclaimed by General (John) DeWitt, trying to get arrested, but to no avail. He animatedly recounted how he entered police headquarters with the proclamation and his birth certificate in hand, insisting that it was the duty of the police to arrest him.

“We always laughed at the hitting line, when the officer said, ‘Come home, son, or you’re going to be in trouble.’

“This anecdote has found its way into many accounts of my father’s arrest, and I still love reading it because I clearly remember its tone and expression when he told it. He was aware of his tendency to be somewhat pompous and didn’t hesitate to make fun of himself a little.

“Also, I think it was important for him to remind people that not all authorities were prejudiced – some, like this condescending but well-meaning cop, were even somewhat sympathetic.

“Another family story, about my grandmother, Shidzuyo Yasui, deeply impressed me. In 1942, she had run the household on her own since my grandfather was kidnapped by the FBI on the first try. My father was arrested on a Friday night, and over the weekend there were pictures of him on the front page of the newspaper with the blazing headline “JAP SPY ARRESTED.”

“On Monday he called his mother in Hood River and apologized for causing her so much concern. She replied: ** ‘Shimpai dokoro ka, susumeru yo! Ganbatte! ‘** (I’m not worried. I support you! Persevere!)

“This, from a woman whose husband had disappeared and, in his absence and without a word of English, she managed the family farm and the store in the face of great uncertainty and hostilities. She didn’t scold or complain about her son’s arrest, but encouraged him!

“I think that says a lot about where Min Yasui had his courage and willingness to see his case through.”

In addition to his sisters and their families, survivors include his partner, Gerardo Armenta Ojeda.

For those who want to honor Yasui, his sisters are asking for donations to be made to the Minoru Yasui Legacy Project at:

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