Commentary, 1218 UTBJ, Vol. 31, No. 6. 21

AuthorSteffen Thomas.
PositionVol. 31 6 Pg. 21


Vol. 31 No. 6 Pg. 21

Utah Bar Journal

December, 2018

November, 2018.

Legal History in the Utah Desert, Reflecting on Topaz.

Steffen Thomas.

Beneath the sprawling shadow of Swasey Peak, there is a place in the central Utah desert that stands as a living memorial to one of the most significant decisions in American legal history: Korematsu v. United States. What was once home to more than 11,000 Japanese Americans is now a collection of fragments. What’s left of Topaz is stitched together by roads made from black volcanic stone. The ground surrounding these makeshift roads is littered. Amongst the nails, brush, and blow snakes are the aged bric-a-brac of everyday life. Buttons, shower heads, rings, furnace legs, and bottles are all evidence of the lives that Japanese Americans made for themselves within the barbed wire boundaries of their concentration camp.

The ACLU of Utah, in partnership with the Constitutional Law, Appellate Practice, and Litigation Sections of the Utah State Bar, brought a group of Utah attorneys, law students, and their families together this spring for a day trip to the Topaz Museum and concentration camp in Delta, Utah. The plan was that the group would visit the site, take a tour of the Topaz Museum, and attend a screening of the film Never Give Up! The Minoru Yasui Story. This group, which included former internee Judge Raymond Uno, the first ethnic minority to serve in the judiciary in Utah, came together to reflect on one of the most significant legal proceedings in our nation’s history from the location where in 1944, more than 11,000 Japanese Americans were stripped of their fundamental rights and left to combat the elements of the unfamiliar Utah desert.

Never Give Up! The Minoru Yasui Story

The day began with the film and a panel discussion with Holly Yasui, the director and daughter of the film's hero. The film told the story of Min Yasui, a Japanese-Oregonian attorney who, in an effort to bring test litigation challenging the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066, violated the curfew imposed by the order itself. As a result of the violation, Min Yasui spent nine months in solitary confinement before being sent to camps like the one at Topaz. Like many of his peers in camp, Min was not only loyal to his country but wanted to join the war effort like many other Japanese American men who were drafted and served honorably. However, because of Min's curfew violation he could not be accepted for renewed military service. This contradiction served as a major theme in the discussion that followed.

After the film, Holly hosted a short panel discussion where she explained the patriotism that drove Japanese Americans to serve their country despite their confinement behind barbed wire fences. Holly also spoke about George Takei's involvement (narration) and how they themselves are evidence of the lasting generational impacts of internment.

The Internment Site: Beauty and Brilliance, Dust and Death

The Topaz Museum offers a glimpse into the lives of the...

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