Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga

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Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga (August 5, 1925 – July 18, 2018) was an American political activist who played a major role in the Japanese American redress movement. She was the lead researcher of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, a bipartisan federal committee appointed by Congress in 1980 to review the causes and effects of the Japanese American incarceration during World War II. Herzig-Yoshinaga, who was confined in the Manzanar, California and Jerome and Rohwer, Arkansas concentration camps as a young woman,[1] uncovered government documents that debunked the wartime administration's claims of "military necessity" and helped compile the CWRIC's final report, Personal Justice Denied, which led to the issuance of a formal apology and reparations for former camp inmates. She also contributed pivotal evidence and testimony to the Hirabayashi, Korematsu and Yasui coram nobis cases.[2]

Early years[edit]

Aiko Louise Yoshinaga was born in Sacramento, California in 1924, the fifth of six children.[3] Her parents, Sanji Yoshinaga and Shigeru Kinuwaki, had immigrated from Kyushu, Japan's Kumamoto Prefecture.[4] In 1933, Yoshinaga's family moved to Los Angeles.[5]


Herzig-Yoshinaga was a high school senior in Los Angeles when President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized military commanders to designate areas from which "any or all persons may be excluded," and she was forced to leave school for camp before receiving her diploma.[2] She gave birth to her first child in Manzanar, before transferring to Jerome and Rohwer and eventually divorcing her then-husband.[6] After the war, she left camp and settled in New York. She remarried and had two more children before divorcing again, and took a job as a clerical worker to support her family.[2]


In the 1960s, Herzig-Yoshinaga became involved with Asian Americans for Action, a civil rights organization composed mostly of Nisei women that engaged in activism protesting the Vietnam War and nuclear research. She also joined the staff of Jazzmobile, a non-profit organization dedicated to education through jazz music based in Harlem, which helped deepen her consciousness around race[7]. In 1978, she married John "Jack" Herzig and moved to Washington, D.C. At the prompting of her friend, Michi Weglyn, Yoshinaga began looking into the records of the government agencies responsible for the internment that had recently been made available to the public in the National Archives.[4] Often putting in fifty- or sixty-hour weeks, she worked to retrieve and catalog thousands of significant documents over the next several years.[2]

Yoshinaga joined the National Council for Japanese American Redress in 1980 (the same year the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians was created) and contributed her archival research to NCJAR's class-action lawsuit seeking reparations from the government. The following year, in 1981, Herzig-Yoshinaga was hired by the CWRIC as its lead researcher, and she soon after unearthed one of the most significant pieces of evidence in the case for redress.[2][6] The wartime military leadership had attempted to destroy its "Final Report on Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast", which explicitly stated that intelligence sources agreed Japanese Americans posed no threat to U.S. security, in 1943; Herzig-Yoshinaga tracked down the single remaining copy of the "Final Report" and shared it with the CWRIC, NCJAR and redress activists.[2] Thanks in large part to the discovery of this document, the convictions of Gordon Hirabayashi, Fred Korematsu, and Minoru Yasui were overturned, and the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 granted an official apology and $20,000 to each camp survivor or their heirs.[6]

Herzig-Yoshinaga and her husband Jack later worked in the Department of Justice's Office of Redress Administration to identify Japanese Americans eligible for reparations.[8] [1]

Later life[edit]

Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga was widowed when Jack Herzig died in 2005.[9] In 2016, Herzig was the subject of a documentary entitled Rebel with a Cause, by Janice D. Tanaka. Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga died in 2018, aged 92 years, in Torrance, California.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Discover Nikkei "Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga" (accessed 10 June 2014)
  2. ^ a b c d e f Thomas Y. Fujita-Rony. "Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga" Densho Encyclopedia (accessed 10 June 2014).
  3. ^ Smith, Harrison (July 25, 2018), "Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga, champion of interned Japanese Americans, dies at 93", The Washington Post
  4. ^ a b June Yoshiko, Tanoue (October 1, 2014), "Interview with Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga", Discover Nikkei
  5. ^ Roberts, Sam (July 24, 2018), "Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga, Critic of Wartime Internment, Is Dead at 93", The New York Times
  6. ^ a b c Kate Linthicum. "Dogged quest for truth leads to justice for Japanese Americans interned during WWII" Los Angeles Times, 8 June 2011 (accessed 10 June 2014).
  7. ^ "Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga | Densho Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2019-02-22.
  8. ^ Nakagawa, Martha (January 4, 2018), "Seeking Personal Justice: The little-known role of Aiko and Jack Herzig after the Redress Bill was passed", Nichi Bei
  9. ^ Lau, Maya (July 23, 2018), "Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, researcher and activist in fight for reparations for Japanese Americans, dies at 93", The Los Angeles Times
  10. ^ "Herzig-Yoshinaga, 92, Dies" Pacific Citizen (July 19, 2018).

External links[edit]