The “Fresh Off The Boat” star appeared on “Drunk History” this week to drop some knowledge about Emi, who was imprisoned at the Heart Mountain War Relocation Center in Wyoming with other Japanese-American men, women and children.
Emi challenged the military draft and the “loyalty questionnaire” that the U.S. government required adult detainees ― many of them American citizens ― to fill out.
Park somehow managed to navigate the sobering topic with sensitivity, even while inebriated. He puts on a great Jeff Foxworthy accent while mimicking the U.S. government during the time.
“You know you’re a redneck if you’re walking people into trains to get sent off into internment camps and you don’t give a [bleep],” Park says during the episode.
As the actor points out, Emi was a grocer who ran a produce market in Long Beach, California. Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Emi, who initially assumed he’d be safe, was forced to leave his home for Heart Mountain.
“The military had escorted us to the camp with their guns and bayonets, so there really wasn’t much thought about standing up for your rights at that time,” Emi said in an interview.
Emi got involved with the resistance movement after the adults at Heart Mountain were issued the loyalty questionnaire, which included questions about their allegiance to the U.S. and whether they’d be willing to serve the U.S. military. “Under the present conditions,” Emi said at the time, he refused to fill out the form and called on others to follow his lead.
Along with Kiyoshi Okamoto, Emi helped form the resistance group Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee. (Frank Inouye, whom Park mentions, established another group called the Heart Mountain Congress of American Citizens that also advocated for the rights of Japanese-Americans.)
Park also mentions Emi’s declaration, “No more shikata ga nai.” The phrase references the Japanese saying “shikata ga nai” ― “it cannot be helped” ― which some Japanese-Americans invoked during the wartime incarceration as they followed government policies that violated their civil rights.
When the government began drafting incarcerated Japanese-Americans to fight for the U.S. in the war, the committee members denounced the government’s hypocrisy and refused to adhere to the draft until their rights were restored. In total, 63 resisters were arrested and found guilty of draft evasion and sentenced to federal prison. Emi, who was sentenced to 4 years in prison, served about 18 months.
Emi, along with 300 draft resisters, were eventually pardoned by then-president Harry Truman on Christmas Eve of 1947.