Before my interview with Washington State Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos, I admit I wasn’t completely knowledgeable about the tragic history of the Japanese incarceration camps. I knew the incarceration was a great stain upon America. As a nation, we denied 120,000 people of Japanese heritage (the majority of them were citizens) their constitutional rights of due process and equal protection. Naively, I thought everything was neatly sorted out: reparations were made, the government officially apologized and the Supreme Court must have ruled it unconstitutional to incarcerate Japanese Americans without due process. However, as I dug deeper, I found that the story is far more complicated, especially the Supreme Court component.
With the headlines of the legality of a Muslim registry and the Japanese internment camps cited as a precedent by Carl Higbie, a Trump surrogate during his presidential election campaign, I decided to reexamine Representative Santos’s interview in 2015, when she posed for her Power in Place portrait. Her maternal family (mother and grandparents) had been forcefully relocated to an incarceration camp in 1942. As a child, Representative Santos grew up with the sense that a great injustice had been committed against her community. Sorting through her interview, I started to realize that this incredible woman was a witness to the post-incarceration rebuilding and healing of her community and the legal battles to follow. As she put it: “History unfolded and I happened to be there, like the Tom Hank’s movie Forrest Gump, where he's getting to be a witness throughout history. I was a Japanese American female Forrest Gump, in this case."
As much as her parents shielded Sharon Tomiko from the family’s economic and psychological repercussions of incarceration, she grew up feeling the continued discrimination toward Seattle’s Japanese-Americans. “People in the community were very angry about being mistreated, not heard, effectively patted on the head and told to go away.” Combined with early civic engagement and a personal call to action, Sharon Tomiko was part of a larger community discussion "about how do we get a place at the table.” It first began as a fight for redress—obtaining an official governmental acknowledgment that a great injustice was perpetrated upon her fellow Japanese Americans by incarcerating them during World War II. "Seattle achieved renown for having organized the very first Day of Remembrance in the country. As a high school student, I was able to galvanize my fellow students to help organize and volunteer at the event. We were, collectively, as the organizing committee, very surprised at the overwhelming response we received from the greater Seattle area. We thought we would be lucky to have ten/twenty cars show up, but a caravan stretched several miles long from Seattle to Puyallup, which was the first assembly center where they assembled all the Japanese Americans,” for mass detention.
Later on in college, as a student of history and specifically governmental and constitutional history, Sharon Tomiko's senior project focused upon the coram nobis case of Gordan Hirabayashi.
"Since Gordon Hirabayashi is a Seattle person, his coram nobis case actually took place right downtown, in our federal courthouse. So as a college student, I was able to watch history unfold.”
Gordon Hirabayashi’s initial case was heard by the US Supreme Court in 1943. He had openly defied Roosevelt’s imposed wartime curfew upon Japanese Americans. His resistance challenged the very premise of the executive order of exclusion, as well as deportation and incarceration. At the time, the Supreme Court’s decision focused around a narrow legal interpretation of the necessity of allowing curfew policies if our national security is threatened during wartime.
In 1982, newly unearthed documents suggested that US government officials did indeed hide evidence that demonstrated there was no true military reason for Roosevelt’s exclusion order. Thereby, Japanese Americans were denied due process under US law when they were forcefully deported to camps.
Using a writ of coram nobis (a legal order allowing for a correction in judgment of court cases when new information surfaces that proves key evidence was concealed during the initial court proceedings), Hirabayashi’s case was reopened by US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. In 1984, his conviction was subsequently overturned. As a result, his case never made it back to the US Supreme Court, thus the high court never had the opportunity to rule on the constitutionality of the policy of Japanese American incarceration. Thus, technically, the wartime exclusion order still stands today.
Sharon Tomiko and her people’s fight for redress wasn’t in vain. To compensate the victims who suffered gross injustice and hardship caused by wartime incarceration, Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act in 1988 when she was in graduate school. It was a formal presidential apology to every surviving US citizen or legal resident immigrant of Japanese ancestry incarcerated during World War II. The Act also provided a provision for a public education fund to prevent a future recurrence of forced incarceration and the loss of one’s inalienable rights. Two governmental agencies were established to implement reparations payments to eligible individuals.
Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos never forgot the lessons of her community’s trials and tribulations. To this day, she remains a vocal advocate for her legislative district’s diverse population. In particular, she holds special regard for the elderly—“the immigrant Japanese pioneers who, with nothing more than just hopes, came to the United States, like so many other immigrants and found that there was opportunity here. But because of rampant racism and discrimination, the dreams for opportunities were really not theirs to be able to reach and achieve. These elderly pioneers managed to still work very hard on behalf of their children’s opportunity. Their resilience, the lessons that they imparted to their children, and ultimately to their grandchildren, is why I've been able to succeed, and become a voice for those who are under-represented. Most importantly, I try to serve as a reminder to my colleagues about the deep meaning of the Constitution and our obligation, not just by words, but by real actions to continue to hold its relevance for future generations.”
Thank you, Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos, for imparting your family’s historic and personal narrative to Power in Place. Your story isn’t a relic of the past. It is as relevant as it was in 1942 and 1988. I’m reminded to stay vigilant and never assume that civil liberties are unassailable or guaranteed by our courts and government. The suppressed history of transgression against freedom must always be unearthed and understood as a warning for future generations who believe in true democracy.
For further study & understanding the history of the Japanese American community and their World War II experiences, Rep. Santos highly recommends Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project www.densho.org
By: Aishwarya Cozby , Mayor Barb Miranda’s PiP’s Youth Nominee
"I want to nominate you." These are powerful words; words that hold a humongous responsibility. Whether it’s for a student government or a city council position, you are asked to be a part of something important in your life and the lives of the people around you. It’s a big decision to make: to accept the responsibility they are asking and make them proud. So, when Mayor Barb Miranda pulled me outside at Sunnyside (where I work part-time) and spoke those five words to me, a million things raced through my mind. But the thought that will continue to stay with me is She thought of me. She asked me. It will be a moment I will forever cherish.
As I drove home after our conversation, I became extremely nervous. This is an important privilege. A chance to make a difference. Questions and doubts ran through my mind. What if I am not the right person to ask? What if I say the wrong thing or present myself differently than what others know? It wasn't until I met Katrina Hajagos at the interview and photo shoot that I began to worry less. Katrina soothed my doubts and fears. She made it simple by taking things slow and one step at a time.
The photoshoot was beautiful. She asked me to pose on an island of sand at Gustavus Beach that was slowly being washed away by the incoming tide. I felt vulnerable, exposed, excited, and empowered all at once. All while trying to follow Katrina’s directions, the ocean was taking the island away. By the end, we were surrounded by water; we had to cross shin deep in water to shore. But Katrina captured the moment perfectly: the sunlight on my skin, the strong mountain view behind me, and the power of the ocean all in one shot. We were in the right place and the right time.
After drying out at Katrina’s cabin, we began the interview. I have never been more nervous. My hands were sweaty and shaky, my heart was pounding against my chest, and my brain was overloading of the different questions she was going to ask. The questions opened new doors for me to have a better understanding of myself and my role as a young female. The interview was a moving moment for me. But my interview wasn’t close to the highlight of this experience.
I have known Barb Miranda for over ten years. She started out as my neighbor, but soon transformed into a person I admire and care for deeply. Barb is a driven, nurturing, and powerful woman. A strong woman that inspires me! I had no doubt when I learned she was being interviewed as an influential woman figure in our community. I was proud. Knowing that I was coming from a community with strong females from every corner makes me extremely honored to call this place my home. And being a part of Barb’s interview and photoshoot showcased the change she will make.
Throughout Barb’s interview, I listened to her talk about her past, how she came to Gustavus, why she built Sunnyside Market and Deli, our town’s health-food store, and why she ran for mayor. I had the privilege of learning all the steps and decisions she made that has shaped the leader Barb is today. It was an inspiring moment. One that brought me closer to Barb. A moment that made my respect for her grow. Watching her shine as she talks about her beliefs and her goals made me want to conquer the mountains. She made me beyond excited for where my life is going and the changes I will make. She gave me the confidence to start out strong and never stop fighting. I had a moment to think about what types of leadership roles I want to pursue and take, in college and in life. And as we both move on with our lives, we will always have this moment to share and look back on.
Power in Place is an inspirational organization. Its goal is to share the unique stories of females in politics of small towns to large cities. By sharing these stories, it gives not only the future generations of powerful women but the current generations role models. Power in Place provides hope. It creates opportunity. It will spark change. And I am incredibly honored to be a part of the change.
Aishwarya Cozby was born in Mumbai, India on April 1, 1999. At the age of two, she was adopted by a loving family. Aishwarya has grown up in Gustavus, Alaska, a remote town in Southeast Alaska that is only assessable by boat or plane, for sixteen years. Her favorite things to do is participate in sports, explore surrounding scenery, and spend time with family and friends. Now, Aishwarya is working towards a BSN at the University of Alaska in Anchorage. Her life goal is to become a traveling nurse, all while fighting for the rights of all people, no matter their gender, race, sexual orientation, religion.
Yesterday I was feeling exhilarated after watching the new Wonder Woman movie (a superb, action-packed superhero blockbuster.) However, reality quickly set in when I read about our President's tweets attacking the accomplished savvy female TV host, Mika Brzezinski.
Trump’s vulgarity is just another unfortunate reminder that all Americans have much work to do in combating the "villainous" misogynists in our midst. And while the Hollywood hutzpah of Wonder Woman is a refreshing change in a male-dominated genre, we all know it doesn’t take superpowers to combat sexism. It just takes a sense of equality, human decency, and respect.
When I was eight years old, I decided I wanted to get a doctoral degree. I had just spent some time going through one of my favorite books at the time, Kiss My Math by Danica McKellar, when I noticed that by the author’s name was a suffix I had never seen before: “PhD”. I ran into my parents’ room and asked them what these three little letters meant, listening as my mom explained how they were reserved for very smart people who contributed a unique theory to their field of study.
Wanting to be like the amazing woman who wrote this book, I whipped out my rainbow notepad and sparkly pen and got to work.
After an hour of struggling through my fourth-grade-level arithmetic, the conclusion of my basic calculations showed that 1= 0. Thinking I had broken math and would surely get that coveted “PhD” for my efforts, I tucked the paper with all my mathematical scribbles onto my bookshelf for safekeeping.
Though I didn’t get that doctorate at age eight, I kept that same curiosity and determination through all of my studies. In my imagination, there was no goal too high, no ambition unachievable. Eventually, my interest in science and math led me to discover my love of astronomy. By the time I was in high school, I knew that to become a research professor in astronomy, I would need to understand physics. It wasn’t until my first day in a formal high school physics class, eight years after learning what a PhD was, that I started to doubt my abilities. As one of three female students out of more than 20 in my class, I had my first experience with the gender gap in STEM. Though I was slightly more intimidated by the journey to become an astronomer after that first course ended, I stuck with my original intentions as I graduated high school, went to college, and chose to major in physics.
The introductory STEM courses at most universities are often considered to be the “weed out” courses, designed to separate those truly interested in pursuing a subject from those who are not as serious. Research has demonstrated that this process affects women more than in does men; despite taking similar courses in their K-12 education, significantly fewer women than men graduate from almost every scientific area of study. My freshman year calculus and physics classes hit me hard, and I found myself wondering if I was cut out for STEM as I struggled to grasp the concepts in the most foundational classes our school offered.
Later that year, I became a part of the Women in Physics group on campus. As I began participating more in their events, I realized that those feelings of insecurity and self-doubt had also been felt by many of the female physicists I consider to be role models, including fellow students and professors. Finally, I had found my place as a physics major, both getting and giving support in this community of strong women, who just happened to have a love of science.
Last fall, I realized that my journey in STEM was pushing me in a new direction. As I began thinking about where I would apply for summer research or internships, I found myself searching for opportunities that would allow me to use my physics background indirectly. The idea of advocating for STEM from through public policy was not something I had considered for my own goals before but was something I immediately found interesting. Deciding that pursuing science policy had the potential to completely change my direction in college, I applied to an internship through the Office of International and Interagency Relations at NASA Headquarters for the next internship cycle available over the spring.
Until I spent the last semester off from school to complete this internship in Washington, D.C., my experiences in physics came only through my classes and my research projects. Suddenly, I was involved in science on a governmental scale. My focus shifted from depth to breadth; instead of contributing to one project, I had an impact on many projects as I helped draft agreements with foreign partners and plan international seminars. I supported work in aeronautics, astrophysics, and everywhere in between, learning pieces about each program mission along the way. Immersed in my work at NASA, I realized that I don’t have to be in a lab to support my interests in science and to advocate for women in STEM. Work happening through the government to ensure the success of individual projects in STEM is just as essential as the work of scientists to push their fields forward.
As I continue to study physics while branching out to explore science policy, I’ve realized that the challenge of being female and a leader in any field does not come from women being any less smart, talented, and capable than their male counterparts. Rather, the challenge comes from not seeing many people like you who have already undertaken the journey you are about to start. Any female leader is inherently an innovator, paving the way for others to follow and making it easier for others to create their own paths in the future. It is this idea that keeps pushing me forward. Although my future goals might change, I now can reassure my eight-year-old self, knowing that women can do anything, especially when we empower those around us along the way.
Katie is from Bettendorf, Iowa and is a sophomore Physics major at Yale University. With a combined interest in scientific research and communication, she intends to pursue a career working toward the advancement of science through policy development and public education. She is on the board of the Yale Women in Physics, and outside of STEM, she loves to plays clarinet in the marching band and train for half-marathons.
Nevertheless, She Persisted Series by George Hamp
“You know what a great pilot would have done?,” Matt Damon’s airline pilot character rhetorically asks Alec Baldwin’s TV executive character about pilot-hero Sully Sullenberger. “Not hit the birds. That’s what I do every day. Not hit birds. Where’s my ticket to the Grammys?”
Hilarious. But more importantly, it’s comedy as commentary. It reminds us that showing up to do your best at your job will rarely get you a medal. You’re doing what’s expected of you and what you get paid to do. And by all accounts, that’s what Senator Elizabeth Warren does every day. (AKA - not hit the birds.)
As a senator, she has one of the lowest missed vote rates. She ranks near the top in terms of session attendance. She sits on 12 committees (and subcommittees). She is an effective senator doing what she was elected to do. The job of being a United States Senator.
Which brings us to the evening of February 7 and what should have been just another day at the office for Senator Warren. But things suddenly took a turn towards unprecedented territory.
Warren used her time to read a letter Coretta Scott King wrote in 1986 about Jeff Sessions’ racial bias. Those concerns eventually derailed Jeff Sessions’ nomination for a Federal Judge position. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell felt a line had been crossed. If he had just let it go, the letter would have reverted back to its status of forgotten history and Senator Warren’s opposition to the nomination would likely have been forgotten as well. It’s important to note that Sessions would have been confirmed no matter what was said that night.
Elizabeth Warren was not creating political theater. This was not an attempt to earn media time or to push a personal agenda. In fact, very few people were even paying attention. However, the senate is constitutionally obligated to give “advice and consent” on high-level nominees. She was doing exactly that.
But when censored, Senator Warren used the power of social media to inform (not antagonize), and finished reading the letter just outside the senate chamber.
Mitch McConnell also spoke.“She was warned,” he said. “She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
Within 24 hours, a reported three million people were actively following the story with thousands more starting to follow by the minute. “Nevertheless, She Persisted” became a rallying cry. The Internet was flooded with comparisons to Rosa Parks, Ruby Neil Bridges and even Darth Vader vs. Princess Leah (comedy as commentary again). A night that never should have happened became a story that is not going away.
In conversations since then, women explained to me that they have heard McConnell's language in some form or other throughout their lives. It translates to sit down. Be quiet. Know your place. And I believe that’s just plain wrong.
When Power In Place sent out a call for entries of art, thoughts, etc. about this moment in history, I sent in a couple of pieces of art. When the follow-up question was asked about what inspired me, the answer is simple.
I admire Senator Warren's persistence on all of our behalves and I’m following her example. I’m doing my job. And trying not to hit those pesky birds.
George Hamp is a painter, historian and graphic designer. He currently works as creative director for a top political persuasion mail firm. A native Floridian and life-long sailor, he channels his non-work pursuits towards advocating legislation that protects our oceans and coastlines.
I went to the Women’s March in New York City and I really enjoyed it. I went with a group from my school called “Girl Power Club”. We meet every Wednesday during lunch to watch videos about the history of feminism and current events. We then talk about our opinions and reactions. One time we listened to and wrote a statement that we would have included in the Riot grrrl manifesto. Before the march, we made signs with messages that we wanted to spread. We marched together. There were a lot of people at the march, the streets were packed, so we ended up standing on one block for an hour. I still really loved marching with my friends and seeing how many people came out to stand up for women’s rights and LGBTQ rights.
I live in Brooklyn and I’m 12 years old. I have a brother and a sister. I’m mixed (half black, quarter white, quarter Korean.) My parents are divorced, so I live with my dad, stepmom and brother half the week and live with my mom the other half. I’m with my sister everyday. I love my school and my family. I like dancing, ice skating, walking fast and listening to music.
Nevertheless, She Persisted Series
When I think about what it means to be a woman, a mother, a daughter a sister, I think of the immense capability for compassion and love. I think about the power of the feminine, I think about the sea and the moon. I think about Mother Earth. I draw upon the power of nature to remind me that I, too, am powerful. I, too, shall endure. I, too, shall persist in this world. Despite what comes my way, I will bear witness to things that are unjust and I will be present for my fellow human beings. I will continue to teach my children compassion, I will continue to teach them perseverance and to work towards what is just and right. In uncertain times, the good the just and the kind will persevere.
This painting is a response to the objectifying of women, her hand is outstretched her breasts and groin are replaced by eyes and a mouth. She more than an object, she is woman, she is strong, she will persist. ***And wear whatever she likes!
Elizabeth Rexer Leonard is a New York native. Willem deKooning, Basquiat and Georgia O’Keefe are some of her strongest influences. Elizabeth’s focuses on gender issues and social injustices in her artwork. She attended the University of Rhode Island and taught art at City Arts in Providence RI. Artist turned Farmer, she spends her days, now sowing seeds and raising her two children.
There was a lot of people, including men. It was hard to move around, and it was hard to find people because it was so crowded. Even though it was hard to move, a lot of people were having fun. There was this police officer there who was cheering everybody on. He was on a big platform, making jokes, and shouting to us.
All of the signs there were really creative and some of them were funny. One sign said "I was told there would be a swamp draining" and another one said "We are the daughters of the witches you forgot to burn." My cousin told me that that was her friend's sign. My sign said "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." That's a quote of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
I’m in 3rd grade. I love reading, writing, monkey bars, and my two little brothers. My favorite hobby is cutting paper into tiny shreds.