Remembrance and redress underscored the profound impact that World War II had on the story of Asian Americans. The echoes of that conflict reverberated for decades afterward. In many ways, the story of seeking and eventually winning redress followed the general contours of the APA experience from the mid-to late-20th century. The decision to evacuate and then imprison 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry during World War II capped a century of exclusionary race-based policy that either barred Asian immigrants or denied those already settled in the United States such basic rights as owning property or enjoying opportunities to participate in American society. Only after these exclusionary policies were peeled away one by one did the nation come to terms with the legacies of discrimination and face the historic injustice of internment.
The trajectory of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans during this period moved from exclusion to citizenship. Judge Saund embodied this transition. Though he had been in America since the 1920s, he would not earn his citizenship until the late 1940s. But this opened up possibilities for his political participation that culminated when he won a seat in the U.S. House in 1956. While wartime exigencies caused great hardships for Japanese Americans, they also opened up new possibilities for Asian Indian Americans, such as Saund, and Chinese Americans. Over several decades, immigration prohibitions were relaxed. In its new role as a global power—in part, seeking to appeal to foreign constituencies during the Soviet-American rivalry of the Cold War—the United States created a representational framework for its Pacific territories. On the domestic front, as a small but influential group of APA legislators entered Congress, they were vigilant against dangerous internal security policies that threatened unconstitutional detention, such as Title II of the Internal Security Act that Representative Matsunaga and Senator Inouye helped to repeal.
Sometimes change occurs as an unintended consequence of reform, as with the Hart–Celler Immigration Act of 1965 that swung the doors wide open to Asian immigration through family reunification and refugee resettlement policies. More often, efforts at reform percolate through the legislative process slowly, as the case of internment redress illustrates.
But whether gradual or swift, carefully constructed or purposefully undefined, the legislative process turns on representation in Congress and the ability of policy advocates to cultivate key allies. In this sense, the history recounted in this chapter is also the story of the growing political clout of Asian Pacific Americans, especially in Hawaii, California, and America’s Pacific territories.
At the beginning of this story, Daniel Inouye, a wounded World War II veteran who fought valiantly with an all-Japanese-American unit, struggled to recuperate from devastating war injuries. Meanwhile, a young boy named Norman Mineta, who, with his family, was uprooted from his home in San Jose and sent to an internment camp in the moonscape terrain of remote Wyoming, tried to find a semblance of normalcy while adjusting to his new surroundings. Remarkably, these very different life experiences and political paths had converged by the early 1990s when Representative Mineta and Senator Inouye served as two of the most senior and influential Members in their respective chambers.
Their stories embodied those of their APA contemporaries on Capitol Hill and portended even greater changes that would come in the following decades.