Finalist October Writing Challenge- The Collector
Mitsuye Endo Became A Symbol of Freedom In World War II
A young woman of World War II
Mitsuye Endo was born in Sacramento, California, on May 10, 1920. She was a young woman at the time of World War II. She was not involved in the war effort, but she became a symbol for freedom and justice during World War II.
Endo’s life was greatly impacted by the war and by the racism that prevailed at that time against those of Japanese heritage. She was a plaintiff in the landmark lawsuit which helped to close the concentration camps of World War II. The lawyer for Endo filed a writ of habeas corpus that ultimately led to a United States Supreme Court ruling that the U.S. government could not continue to detain a citizen who was “concededly loyal” to the United States.
Born as the second of four children to immigrants from Japan, Endo grew up in a Methodist home. Her father worked in the fish department of a grocery store, and her mother was a housewife. The children spoke primarily English.
The Endo family lived in a neighborhood in Sacramento which was one of the largest Japantowns in the United States at that time. There were 3,300 residents living in Japantown which had hundreds of ethnic businesses.
After Endo graduated from high school, she went to a secretarial school. Upon completing the secretarial program, she secured a civil service position as a typist with the Department of Motor Vehicles for the State of California in Sacramento. Her job was one of the few professions that Japanese Americans could enter at the time because of rampant discrimination.
Many college graduates of Japanese heritage in professions such as teachers, doctors, and lawyers could not find meaningful employment in their fields of study after completing their degrees. No one would hire them due to discrimination. The doctors and lawyers could mostly only find work among other Japanese people. Teachers often could not find work in education so they had to take other jobs such as clerks in stores.
Immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Navy of Japan, life became even more difficult for people of Japanese descent living in the United States. Leaders within their communities were arrested by the FBI and imprisoned. Many fathers were taken away without their families knowing where they were for weeks or months. The American citizens of Japanese heritage were suddenly considered to be non-citizens or enemy aliens. Japanese American young men who tried to enlist in the U.S. Army to show their patriotism was denied the opportunity to serve until later when a segregated unit was set up.
Endo was twenty-two at that time in December 1941.
Within months, Japanese Americans and the immigrants from Japan were removed from their West Coast homes and eventually incarcerated in American concentration camps. These barbed wire enclosures were built-in remote and desolate areas of the country where life was extremely difficult. There were ten such camps with barracks constructed as their living quarters.
The California State Personnel Board implemented steps which led to the dismissal of all Japanese American state employees by the spring of 1942. Endo was among them. She became one of the sixty-three employees who challenged their firings. The Japanese Americans Citizens League (JACL), a civil rights organization established in 1929 to fight against discrimination, had enlisted the help of a lawyer in San Francisco by the name of James Purcell.
Endo was sent to the Sacramento Assembly Center and to the Tule Lake camp along with her family.
The firings were made moot with the removal and incarceration of the Japanese Americans. Purcell began to seek a suitable plaintiff among the group for a challenge of the incarceration through a habeas corpus petition. He asked Endo to be that plaintiff because she was a Methodist, had a brother in the U.S. Army, and had never been to Japan. When Endo was approached in camp by a representative of Purcell, she was hesitant to agree to be the plaintiff. She said later that she did it for the good of everybody.
Purcell filed the petition on July 12, 1943, in federal district court in San Francisco. That began a chain of events that eventually ended up with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in her favor in December 1944. The Supreme Court decision had been leaked to government officials, and the army opened up the West Coast to “loyal” Japanese Americans just prior to the Supreme Court decision.
While the suit had to go through the courts, Endo remained confined. She was moved to the camp at Topaz, Utah. She did have the opportunity to leave camp early seemingly so the government could make her lawsuit moot. She opted to remain in the camp which was necessary for her lawsuit to proceed. When the suit was finally decided, she left the Topaz Camp in May of 1945. She moved to Chicago to live with a sister who had resettled there with her husband. She took a job as a secretary for the Mayor’s Committee on Race Relations.
Two years later Endo married Kenneth Tsutsumi, whom she had met at the camp in Utah. They had three children. Endo lived in Chicago for the rest of her life and died of cancer on April 14, 2006, at the age of eighty-five.
Endo kept a low profile during the subsequent years after the war had ended. However, she became known throughout the Japanese American community and the civil rights community as a champion for justice during World War II. Along with three other Japanese Americans who fought against the unjust incarceration, Gordon Hirabayashi, Fred Korematsu, and Min Yasui, Endo became a symbol in the fight for freedom.
Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) recommended Endo for a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom in May 2015. Also advocating on her behalf were U.S. Representatives Doris Matsui, Mike Honda, Mark Takai, and Mark Takano. The California State Senate issued a joint resolution in support of 2015.
Mitsuye Endo died as a hero in her fight for freedom and justice during World War II.
[Sources: Wikipedia, www.densho.org]