SENIOR MOMENTS: Reflections on Masaoka’s Book and the John and Ken Show

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By Phil Shigekuni
(First published in 
The Rafu Shimpo on Jan. 28, 2012.)

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A recent article in The Rafu Shimpo announced a proposed Broadway play entitled “Allegiance,” featuring George Takei, based on the life of JACL icon Mike Masaoka. Out of curiousity, I started reading Masaoka’s biography, “They Call Me Moses Masaoka,” which was written in 1987 by Masaoka and co-authored with Bill Hosokawa.

I’ll be honest: I started reading it with mixed feelings. Regardless of anything else Masaoka might have accomplished, it was overshadowed by the fact that he was the main force behind urging cooperation with the U.S. Army in our removal to concentration camps to ”prove our loyalty to the U.S.”

My reaction to the book has not been what I thought it would be. First of all, I thought the title of the book implied Mike had this grandiose self-impression, which, of course, was a turn-off. But a short way into the book Mike reveals the idea of him becoming a kind of Moses was used as a “put-down.” Moses led his people out of the wilderness.  Moses Mike led his people into camp. However, although he urged cooperation with the government in going to the camps, he himself did not go!

The late Bill Hosokawa’s writing skill is evident throughout the book. I learned a lot, and my knowledge was refreshed on some of the events that occurred during those turbulent war years of 1942-46.

I realize how certain things in America do not change. I had just finished reading about how the renowned columnist Walter Lippman, after visiting briefly with Gov. Earl Warren, expressed in his column racial hatred toward Japanese Americans, urging their removal from the West Coast. Masaoka points out that Warren made his racist comments during an election year. Similar hateful columns were written by respected newspaper columnist Walter Winchell.

Shortly after reading this, I get an email from JP DeGuzman, a doctoral candidate in history at UCLA who serves as scholarship chairman on our JACL Board. JP’s message is about how a popular radio duo, John and Ken, who broadcast over KFI-AM 640, have been stereotyping and spewing racial antagonism toward Latinos and Asian Americans.

They are broadcast on Monday through Friday, 3 to 7 p.m. Much of the offensive material is supposedly humorous, but vicious and demeaning nonetheless. The latest targets are Korean shopkeepers. A protest demonstration is planned for Thursday, Jan 19, by the Korean Resource Center. Community response has resulted in some major sponsors canceling their advertising.

John and Ken continue in their mean-spirited depictions of immigrant Latinos and Asians. One recent broadcast downplayed our concentration camp experience. Another had to do with Chinese eating Filipino dogs.

Using humor to lighten up serious subject matter I can support. However, consider this: The Chinese are posing an increasing economic threat to the U.S., and the issue of dealing with illegal immigrants is a serious concern. John and Ken appear to deal with these issues by pandering to our fears and prejudices.

On Sept. 1, their broadcast dealt with undocumented immigrants and the Dream Act. At the end of their opposition to the act, they gave, on the air, the phone number of Jorge-Mario Cabrera, a prominent activist for the act. As a result, he was deluged with over 430 angry calls, many of them threatening and obscene.

Newspaper columnists writing in 1942 had an enormous effect on public opinion. Fortunately, newspaper columnists of today do not have such power. That notwithstanding, I do not believe the media should be allowed to defame anyone, or any group. This sort of demeaning programming should not go unchallenged.

For more information, go to www.nhmc.org/johnandken.

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Phil Shigekuni can be reached by email. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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