California’s exclusion of Japanese Americans existed decades before Executive Order 9066. Case in point, California’s political system prevented Japanese immigrants from exercising their full legal rights, since there was no path to citizenship for Japanese immigrants. In addition, the California legislature passed the Webb-Haney Alien Land Law (California Alien Land Law) in 1913.¹ Japanese immigrants were consequently prevented from owning property within the state of California. Proposition 1 on the California ballot in 1920 further prohibited Japanese immigrants from leasing land.² Furthermore, the passed proposition forbade the children of Japanese immigrants, who were legal U.S. citizens, from inheriting property.³ In order to correct the racist exclusion of Japanese Americans, Sei Fujii fought for the civil rights of all Japanese Americans.
Although Fujii graduated from USC Law school in 1911, he was not allowed to take the bar exam since he was not a U.S. citizen.⁴ In order to practice law, Fujii partnered with a fellow USC classmate, Marion Wright. In 1929, Fujii and Wright challenged the attempted prevention of a Japanese Hospital slated for construction.⁵ Yet, Fujii’s most successful civil rights achievement was the Supreme Court decision in Sei Fujii v. State of California. The Supreme Court ruled in Fujii’s favor, overruling the California Alien Land Law.⁶ In Fujii’s courageous challenge to racial discrimination, he secured civil rights for the current and successive Japanese American generations.
Even with Fujii’s hard work, he was not able to prevent the wrongfully imprisoned law abiding Japanese Americans during World War II. With the enforcement of Executive Order 9066, entire Japanese communities disappeared as the neighbors stole their land, possessions, and honor. Yet, even the internment camps could not eradicate Japanese American communities. Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo continues to this day to be a thriving community for Japanese Americans.
In an effort to commemorate the impactful life of Sei Fujii, the Little Tokyo community erected a towering eight-foot-tall statue at the entrance of Little Tokyo’s Plaza. The monument stands as a physical appreciation for Fujii’s lasting legacy on the Little Tokyo community. During the night, the monument shines as a lighthouse to the entrance of Little Tokyo’s heart. Fujii’s monument is a commemoration of the figurative light Fujii embodied as he challenged discrimination.
For more information on the erection of Sei Fujii’s monument, the legacy of Fujii, and the recent film based on Fujii, then read the following LA Times article: http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-0802-sei-fujii-day-20150802-story.html
¹ Webb-Hanley Alien Land Law, California, 1913, http://www.intimeandplace.org/Japanese%20Internment/reading/constitution/alienlandlaw.html (accessed 1/28/16).
⁴ Kelsey Schreiberg, “Alum’s Inspiring Story: ‘Lil Tokyo Reporter’ film shared with students,” USC Gould School of Law Press Room, February 26, 2013. http://weblaw.usc.edu/press/article.cfm?newsid=3981 (accessed 1/28/16).
⁵ Jeffrey Gee Chin and Fumiko Carole Fujira, plaque dedication on Sei Fujii Memorial at the entrance to Little Tokyo, A Little Tokyo Historical Society Project, Los Angeles, February 26, 2013.
⁶ Sei Fujii v. State of California, The American Journal of International Law 46, no. 3 (July 1952): 559-573.