VOX POPULI: Heroes Lost to Father Time




Shinnen akemashite omedeto gozaimasu, kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai itashimasu.

As I look back on this immediate past year, a sadness overcomes me. We and the people of Iraq and Afganistan are experiencing 10-plus years of dishonorable wars and they continue. In addition, we have lost to Father Time one of my (our?) most positive role models of the Japanese American experience too, in my opinion.

I’m speaking/writing, of course, about Frank Emi. Emi-sensei, hachidan of Hollywood Judo Dojo. He was one of a bunch of brothers that represented the judo dojos of the ‘40s. ‘50s and ‘60s. The Emi brothers, Frank and Art, of Hollywood Dojo; the Takata brothers, Shac and Kiyo, of Seinan; the Murakami brothers of San Fernando Dojo and others that are lost to me at this moment. This was when Japanese American judo was still the pride and aspiration for many of our youth.

Judo held him and his comrades up while in custody (doing time) at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, where many from the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee and others who resisted the draft were sent. There, they got hassled by other prisoners, until some of them put on a judo demonstration/exhibition. After that, no more hassles!

Incidentally, while he was there, he had some solid company. Other men of color who also stood up. One was the Honorable Elijah Muhammed, the principal leader of the so-called Black Muslims/Nation of Islam during their early years. His position, I believe, was that he wasn’t going to fight for nobody that treated black Folks like they did at that time—segregation, lynch law, the denial of their human dignity.

The other was Thomas Banyacya, who became the speaking chief/translator for the Traditional Elders Council of the Hopi Nation. They are the “people of peace” of this Turtle Island (the U.S.) and do not make war on anybody or fight for anybody. The Traditional Elders Council and he did not recognize the jurisdiction of the U.S. government, considering themselves a sovereign nation. And he went to prison for his beliefs.

Pretty heavy company, in my opinion. The theme that brings them all together in my mind is: they all stood for their belief in our human dignity. That we are not subhuman and won’t all bow down to injustice/racism and colonial practices. Sounds like beautiful music to me.

Frank was also one of the elders of NCRR and the redress campaign, as we all know. Consistency! In my conversations with him, he also opposed the wars in Iraq and Afganistan. In my mind, he stood up for the truth, against lies and wrongdoing. He was willing to investigate, think things out to his own satisfaction and come to his own conclusions, and then speak his mind and own his talk.

To some of us who came of age in the ‘60s and ‘70s, he and his “partners in crime” were our affirmation of Chairman Mao’s observation, “Wherever there is oppression, you will find resistance.” Unlike the postwar Japanese American Citizens League’s attempt to portray us as all gung ho for U.S. government policy, completely loyal and patriotic, and therefore acceptable into “honorary white” status.

In our “fight back” trend of the ‘60s and ‘70s generation, many of us saw and felt that their focus was not wide enough, although they had to take our own experience onto account as the basis, since they weren’t armchair or just intellectual civil/human rights fighters. We weren’t the only ones rounded up and caged, weren’t the only ones denied our so-called civil rights, denied our right of habeas corpus and due process, and we’re definitely not the last. The struggle continues/Aluta continua.

We’ve lost their physical presence now – Frank Emi, William Hohri and others who stood up from the different concentrated communities of our people, such as San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Denver and New York, to name a few. But not their spiritual presence or their legacies in words and deeds.

I believe that as long as there is a next generation, they, the fighting youth, all won’t go along for the “okie dokie”/“business as usual”; some of them will want to know our/their own history, especially the history of “the struggle” for “freedom, justice and equality,” as Richard Aoki was heard to say. Our elders’ spirit will always be with us.

At this point, I’d like to thank Martha Nakagawa for her great articles on the life and times of William Hohri and Frank. Also to all the rest who shared their times and recollections of Frank for our enlightenment. And most especially to Yosh and Irene Kuromiya, who embody the fighting spirit of our peoples, for freedom, justice and equality. Domo arigato.


Vox Populi is a forum for the community. Contributions to Vox Populi may be sent 138 Onizuka St., Los Angeles CA 90012 Attn: Editor, or emailed. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.


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