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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Justice and Its Others: On the Politics of Redress for Japanese Latin Americans

  • Author(s): Kozen, Cathleen Kiyomi
  • Advisor(s): Espiritu, Yen
  • et al.

In 2013, the Civil Liberties Act (CLA) of 1988, the U.S. government legislation which provided for a formal apology and a payment of $20,000 to each surviving Japanese American citizen and Japanese resident alien interned during World War II, celebrated its twentieth-fifth anniversary. Indeed, since its passage, the CLA has been upheld as a piece of “landmark legislation”—a precedent and even a model for subsequent redress and reparations movements; these are movements not only within the U.S. but around the world. Still, I find that the so-called “success” of Japanese American redress remains haunted—haunted by the memories of the 2,264 Japanese Latin Americans (JLAs) who were, in effect, kidnapped upon U.S. order by the governments of thirteen Latin American countries and brought to U.S. concentration camps whereby hundreds were then used in a U.S. hostage exchange program with Japan. Despite their efforts, these internees were denied recognition under the CLA and only after filing a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. government in 1998 were offered a sum of just $5,000. This dissertation maps the varied discourses marking the subsequent attempts at governmental redress for the JLA deportation and internment program over the last thirty some years. Probing the question of historical justice for racialized state violence within the overlapping contexts of U.S. empire and international human rights regimes, it asks: What are the transformative possibilities and limits of “redress” as the late-modern paradigmatic logic for racial/social justice, including its underlying liberal humanist ethicality of violence, redemption and justice? What does this case in particular open up in terms of the politics of knowledge and historical justice concerning U.S. global reach and hegemony in the Americas and U.S. empire more broadly at the current global historical moment? Ultimately, this project, deploying a rigorously interdisciplinary approach, both illuminates the very paradigmatic violence of redress as late-modern juridical justice, including its formative role as a fundamental condition of U.S. empire since the end of the cold war, and, at the same time, reveals the very paradigmatic productivity of such violence—its opening up of alternative imaginings and praxis of justice located not within the law itself but precisely in its critique and deconstruction.

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