Victim and ally voices surrounding government apologies: the case of the Civil

February 29, 10:00am - 11:00am
Mānoa Campus, Online

a talk by Martha S. Cheng, Professor of Rhetoric and Writing in the English Department at Rollins College, and 2023-24 Hawaiʻi Congressional Papers Collection Research Fellow

During the last 40 years governments have been apologizing for historical wrongs committed against their own citizens and peoples of other nations. Such apologies have been deemed necessary for a government’s moral legitimacy, ongoing diplomatic relations, and racial reconciliation. While such apologies have been extensively theorized by scholars, studies to understand perceivable attitudes of victim communities toward them have been lacking. Apologies are often demanded, but at the same time can be dismissed as mere words. Thus, my work asks what is the role of victim communities in the process of legislating apologies and how do they perceive and receive such apologies?

The Spark M. Matsunaga papers in the congressional archives helps us address this question in the case of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which offered an apology and redress for the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans. The papers provide us with insight into the sentiments of the wider victim community and their allies during the years leading up to and immediately following the act’s passage. The materials speak to the agency of the Japanese American community, an extensive network of advocates, and the emotional and psychological impact of the legislation on survivors and their families.

About the presenter: Martha Cheng is a Professor of Rhetoric and Writing at Rollins College in Winter Park, FL. Her research investigates discourse as constitutive of identity and community in the public sphere, most recently focusing on governmental apologies for historical wrongs. She teaches courses on political speech, crisis communication, language and culture, writing, and Asian American literature and culture.

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