This article is part of a civil rights symposium issue.
Who was the rightful owner of the 1830 Sutter Street building in San Francisco: the San Francisco Young Women's Christian Association (SF YWCA) or the Japanese American community that had raised funds for its purchase in the 1920s and approached the SF YWCA to hold the property in trust for the community because Japanese immigrants were barred from owning property? When the legal dispute over the ownership of a building in the heart of San Francisco's Japantown ended with Japanese American community groups agreeing to purchase the building for $733,000 from the SF YWCA in February 2002, the result apparently provided vindication for a community victimized by alien land laws in the early 1900s and internment during World War II.
The lawsuit and its settlement provide a unique opportunity to consider theories of dispute settlement in the context of community lawyering where many of the attorneys themselves are from the community. From the perspective of the Japanese American community, a number of questions are raised in this case: Was settlement the desired outcome in a case of such high social significance, or should the case have gone to trial and perhaps to a higher court for a definitive adjudication? Did the settlement and mediation process provide enough room or opportunity for the community lawyers to educate younger members of the community about the history of the alien land laws and internment, and was that one of the purposes of the suit? What effect did community activism and participation have in the outcome of the case, and was that part of the strategy? How did the community lawyers work with the community, explain what was going on, demonstrate respect for the community, and what rebellious qualities did they use if any? Was one of the overall goals in the process to realize a sense of reconciliation for the community, and, if so, reconciliation with whom? In the end, through settlement, extra-legal remedies became available, and a true sense of justice and reconciliation with the broader community was achieved. The Japanese American community demonstrated dignity and class, allowing the SF YWCA to walk away with a face-saving outcome, while attaining peace for the common good.
- Soko Bukai v YWCA,
- community lawyering,
- dispute resolution,
- San Francisco
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/billhing/6/