Nisei Vets Among API Heritage Award Winners at State Capitol

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Pictured on the Assembly floor (from left): Assemblymember Steven Bradford (D-Gardena); Assemblymember Warren Furutani (D-San Pedro); veterans George Morita, Kuichi Takei, Ard Kozono, Roy Sato and Howard Matsuhara; Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles); veteran James Iso; State Controller John Chiang; veterans Leo Hosoda and Frank Kageta; Assemblymember Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento); veteran Hiroshi Oto. In the back is Speaker pro Tempore Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco). (Photo courtesy of API Legislative Caucus)

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Nisei veterans were among the recipients of the seventh annual Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Awards, which were recently presented by the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus on the Assembly floor at the State Capitol.

Along with eight community leaders who were honored individually for accomplishments in various fields, all Nisei soldiers of World War II, represented by nine local veterans, were recognized for their historical impact at the May 16 ceremony.

Legislators took a break from contentious debates to observe Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Assemblymember Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara) noted that the API population has grown from 4.3 million in 2000 to 5.5 million today, and constitutes 15 percent of California’s population.

“The API community is not a new community in the state of California,” he continued. “Our history goes back well over 100 years, from Chinese American laborers who came in the mid-to-late 1800s to work in the gold mines and help build the transcontinental railroad, to the Southeast Asian community coming in the 1970s on the heels of the Indochina war.”

API communities have faced discriminatory treatment, Williams said, citing “alien land laws that prevented South Asian American farmers from running farms in the Central Valley in the early 1900s and federal immigration laws in 1924 that barred immigrants from Asian countries to the United States.” In spite of these struggles, he said, APIs have contributed to the nation as a whole. “They organized, like the Filipino American farm workers that fought for workers’ rights as part of the UFW in the 1960s. Japanese Americans fought bravely for our country during World War II while their families were in internment camps at home.”

After ACR 36, a resolution proclaiming API Heritage Month 2011, was passed by a voice vote, Assemblymember Warren Furutani (D-San Pedro), chair of the API Legislative Caucus, commented on the “historic high number of (API) members of the State Legislature. We have three state senators and eight assemblypeople  … We have Dr. Richard Pan (D) as a new member from the Sacramento area, and talk about making history, we have our first Dutch-Indonesian member of the Assembly, Das Williams. And we all know that Assemblymember Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) termed out, but we welcomed him back when he was elected to the State Senate.”

Fong Tran, a Stockton-born Vietnamese American who works with Asian Resources in Sacramento, performed a spoken-word piece, “Reclaim History, Reclaim Self.”

The Nisei veterans were given a standing ovation as they walked onto the Assembly floor. (Photo courtesy of API Legislative Caucus)

Speaker pro Tempore Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco) presided over the awards ceremony. The honorees were:

• Excellence in Business — Christine K. Young, a member of New York Life’s Million Dollar Round Table and qualifier for Top of the Table, a popular speaker and author, and host of a weekly talk show, “Who’s Who on TV.” She was introduced by Assemblymember Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park).

• Excellence in Civil Rights — Nitasha Sawhney, a partner in the Bay Area and Los Angeles offices of GCR LLP, legal council to public school and community college districts, and member of the California State Commission on Asian Pacific Islander American Affairs. She was introduced by Assemblymember Paul Fong (D-Cupertino).

• Excellence in Law — Lucy Koh, who was appointed by President Obama to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California and served as a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge and a partner with McDermott, Will & Emery LLP. She was introduced by Assemblymember Mary Hayashi (D-Hayward).

• Excellence in New Media — Phil Yu, creator and editor of AngryAsianMan.com, a  popular blog that is celebrating its 10th anniversary. He was introduced by Assemblymember Mariko Yamada (D-Davis).

• Excellence in Labor — Josie Camacho, executive secretary-treasurer of the Alameda Labor Council AFL-CIO, executive board member of Asian Immigrant Women Advocates, and former director of constituent services for Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums. She was introduced by Eng.

• Excellence in Public Service — Efren Gorre, community services manager for Oxnard, who has contributed to job training and youth service as well as teaching, coaching and mentoring at the college level. Gorre, who was unable to attend, was introduced by Assemblymember Williams.

• Excellence in Public Service — Albert and Anna Wang, co-founders of Friends of Children with Special Needs, which provides support in the Bay Area for children and adults with developmental disabilities and their families. They were introduced by Assemblymember Pan.

• Historical Significance — Nisei veterans Leo Hosoda, James Iso, Frank Kageta, Ard Kozono, Howard Matsubara, George Morita, Hiroshi Oto, Roy Sato, and Kuichi Takei, representing VFW Post 8985 and other local vets’ organizations.

Furutani cited the achievements of the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team in Europe — including the rescue of the “Lost Battalion” and the liberation of Dachau — and those of the Military Intelligence Service in the Pacific. He also noted that the Nisei units will receive the Congressional Gold Medal later this year. “The Japanese American community honors them here today as they are our heroes and our champions … We are honored to have them here today,” he said.

One Veteran’s Story

Kuichi Takei, 97, grew up in Santa Cruz and was drafted in February 1941. “When Pearl Harbor happened, they didn’t know what to do with him” and other Nisei in the Army, said his daughter, Barbara, co-author of “Tule Lake Revisited.” “They took away their weapons, they treated them like enemy aliens, put them under guard.”

522nd FAB veteran Kuichi Takei and his daughter, Barbara Takei. (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto/Rafu Shimpo)

Takei, who will be 98 in August, was moved to Fort Bliss, Texas, where the Navajo code-talkers were trained, and ended at Camp Shelby in Mississippi, where the 442nd had basic training before shipping out. He joined the 442nd’s 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, which liberated Dachau, one of the Nazi death camps in Germany.

“Mainly what he remembers is that everybody was starving, all the prisoners were skinny and emaciated,” said his daughter, who noted that he rarely talked about his wartime experiences. “They (the soldiers) were instructed not to give them food because it would cause convulsions.”

After the war, Takei moved to Detroit to join his wife, who had been interned at Amache, Colo., and did custom work at a photo processing plant. After raising a family in Michigan, he and his wife retired to Hot Springs, Ark., Bill Clinton’s hometown. A few years after his wife passed away, he relocated to Sacramento to be near his daughter.

“He lives in his own apartment, he does his own shopping and he does his own cooking,” said Barbara Takei. “His geriatrician, my dad’s his poster boy. So last year they were looking for … somebody to interview, his good patients, so they interviewed my dad for national television.”

Assemblymember Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park). (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto/Rafu Shimpo)

She added, “My father, because he was always in the Midwest and the South, never had the opportunity to participate in any of these Nisei veteran events, the acknowledgement/recognition events, so I felt this would be a really wonderful opportunity for him to see how the public attitudes have changed and that the public really wants to show appreciation for their sacrifice. So I’m really glad we had a chance to do this.”

Ard Kozono, who just turned 95, was interned at Tule Lake and served with the MIS.  After the war, he was sent to Manila to join the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (ATIS). He led a group of MIS linguists in interrogation work at a Luzon camp where thousands of Japanese POWs were held. Most of the prisoners were sent home, but one of Kozono’s assignments was to interview Gen. Masaharu Homma, who was to be executed.

James Iso, who served with the occupation forces in Japan, recently attended a ceremony in which his older brother Robert, 92, received the Congressional Gold Medal for his service with the 442nd. The ceremony was held early for the elder Iso, who had only days left to live. The veterans will be honored as a group this fall in Washington, D.C.

Frank Kageta recently took part in the dedication of the first phase of a 442nd memorial in Roseville, Placer County. He is one of the few Nisei veterans from that area still living.

A Rich History

During a reception held in the Willie Brown Conference Room, State Controller John Chiang told the honorees, “We have an incredibly rich history. What’s great is that we’re using all your accomplishments, your sacrifices, to build a foundation by which others can aspire and accomplish even greater things … On behalf of a very grateful state, I want to thank you for everything you’ve done. You’ve made California a very special place.”

State Controller John Chiang. (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto/Rafu Shimpo)

In an interview, Assemblymember Eng reflected on how far the API community has come: “A generation ago when our forebears came through the back door, they were the cleaners, the cooks. I remember March Fong Eu was one of the first API elected officials (in the 1960s). There were like 25 years in which there was one or none, then all of a sudden we have 11, so it’s really an incredible accomplishment. We are here because of the community, and that’s something we should never forget.”

Regarding demographic changes in Monterey Park, he recalled, “When we first started doing community organizing, it was a community in turmoil. Who would have thought that many years later we’d come back and actually represent that area? It serves as a role model for resolution of immigrants vs. old-timers.”

In the mid-1980s, the influx of Chinese immigrants led to a backlash from some Caucasian residents, including a movement to require that business signs be in English. Things have settled down since then, and both Eng and his wife, Judy Chu, have served as mayor of Monterey Park. Chu is now the area’s congressional representative.

Eng, who grew up with Japanese Americans in Hawaii and has a Japanese American brother- and sister-in-law, said he feels like “a pan-Asian legislator.” He added, “I think the good thing about Asian Americans is that we have crossover appeal. Latinos and Caucasians and African Americans are willing to vote for us because they see that we can be bridge-builders.”

API Legislative Caucus

Warren Furutani (chair), 55th Assembly District

Mary Hayashi (vice chair), 18th Assembly District

Mariko Yamada (parliamentarian), 8th Assembly District

Mike Eng, 49th Assembly District

Paul Fong, 22nd Assembly District

Fiona Ma, 12th Assembly District

Richard Pan, 5th Assembly District

Das Williams, 35th Assembly District

Ted Lieu, 28th Senate District

Carol Liu, 21st Senate District

Leland Yee, 8th Senate District

John Chiang (honorary member), state controller

Betty Yee (honorary member), 1st Equalization District

On the Web: http://democrats.assembly.ca.gov/apilegcaucus/

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