- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 4, 2009

His experience with racial discrimination led Rep. Mike Honda, California Democrat, to fight for every American’s civil rights and ultimately brought him to Congress in 2001.

During World War II, Mr. Honda and his family were thrown into a Colorado internment camp by the American government. The Hondas had broken no laws.

They were sent to the camp merely because they were of Japanese descent.

On March 21, 1942, the American government posted the first in a series of Civilian Exclusion Orders in communities throughout the West. Those orders ultimately would deny more than 110,000 men, women and children of Japanese descent their liberty and would consign them for a period of up to four years to one of 10 camps built specially to hold them.

Rather than hardening him, that childhood experience drove Mr. Honda to champion the cause of civil rights for Asians and all Americans by promoting racial tolerance.

On Thursday, Mr. Honda was a presenter at the Asian American Justice Center’s (AAJC) 13th annual American Courage Awards, held at the National Press Club. The awards honor persons and organizations that have taken a lead in advancing civil and human rights.

This year’s honorees were Mallika Dutt, founder and executive director of the organization Breakthrough: Building Human Rights Culture; Gloria Caoile, senior political director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance; and Edison International electric utility, for its philanthropic programs.

“Well, we like to take the time every year to look at the state of the Asian-American community and to look at civil rights and celebrate those leaders who are really making a difference,” said Karen K. Narasaki, president and executive director of AAJC. “Hopefully, it’s an evening that’s inspiring as we continue to push on.”

AAJC is involved in the national immigrant rights movement and is working to achieve comprehensive immigration reform, an issue facing Congress.

“The Asian American Justice Center is a very important leader of the national civil rights community,” said Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a coalition of public interest groups.

Mrs. Narasaki is also the vice chairman of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, heading the enforcement and compliance committee, which means she coordinates the work of 13 task forces, concentrating on advancing civil and human rights.

“We have many issues ahead of us,” said awards honoree Ms. Caoile, “but I believe we will triumph.”

c Joseph Young is a freelance writer and photographer living in the District.

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