CROSSROADS TO SOMEWHERE: The Future of Non-Profits in Doubt?

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By W.T. WIMPY HIROTO

I was as surprised, but not as bent out of shape as others were, when the Japanese Cultural and Community Center (JACCC) scandal burst onto the local landscape. Spokespeople have since attempted to explain the current state of affairs. Whether the recent community meeting cleared the air is a matter of debate. CR2S is among the puzzled and perplexed but not among the finger-pointers looking for a scapegoat.

How a board of directors could be hoodwinked into hiring a crook (alleged) was the question being asked. And if its nationwide search for an executive director involved a head-hunter, why were there no protective guarantees in place? And if, as is rumored, a mid-level employee simply Googled a name to uncover the farce, woe is they and red are their faces.

Having had personal experience in the world of not-for-profits probably explains my less than critical attitude.  Boards of directors can range from hands-on to rubber stamp. In the JACCC situation, shall we just call it a fumbled handoff? Somewhat lost in the debate about the embarrassing CEO appointment was the more important revelation of a near two million dollar deficit. Besides its leadership vacuum, community members have to mull over the financial straits: What to do and how to do it; especially in view of an anonymous supporter at $500,000 a year that is no longer.

CR2S harkens back to the ominous post-war years when Nisei were challenged like no one else, ever. We were confronted with the task of becoming human beings again, trying to recover from three lost years of incarceration/temporary relocation/military service; plus facing overt racism that never went on furlough.

No matter the level of Nisei achievement and the drive for success that followed, we never lost sight of our Old Country roots: There was always a commitment to support others and for the common good. As we confronted the challenge to succeed, the history of our Issei was never forgotten: Their triple whammy of immigrant barriers upon arrival, the Great Depression years, and finally the forced hegira of World War II. How they endured unending hardship and yet managed to provide for their children is the story of the century.

Both generations then joined hands in the formation of programs, organizations and institutions that not only paved the way to recognition and acceptance, but assured a bright future for the generation to follow.

Automatically without argument, format or second thoughts, the first post-war alliances were resurrections of pre-war vintage: churches, kenjinkais, social and sports clubs, chambers of commerce, business groups. When time and opportunity later allowed, Japanese Americans formed a plethora of service clubs while veterans found voice and influence in heretofore closed membership to VFW and American Legion posts. It also gave young women and mothers an opportunity to form sororities, auxiliaries and social groups.

Formidable barriers erected by myopic politicians were overcome at every level of government. Despite being few in numbers, we were actually politically over-represented at one time in history.

Sports activity prospered, not only for young Nisei men but for the burgeoning Sansei who followed. Optimist leagues spread throughout the area, followed by highly successful operations such as CYC, SEYO in Orange County and FOR Club in South Bay. They also had the foresight to later include girls’ divisions.

While all these activities were nurtured and flourished, we were fortunate to have a number of forward-looking leaders in our midst who wisely confronted future concerns. Their vision and leadership led to the unimaginable  success of Keiro HealthCare and its impressive campus operations in ELA and Gardena. There are today thriving community centers in San Fernando, San Gabriel, Venice and Gardena. Li’l Tokio has JACCC, Japan America Theatre, Japanese American National Museum, Little Tokyo Service Center, East West Players.

Consider the establishment of university ethnic studies programs: Did they not all come into being because of the original push for Japanese American studies? All of the aforementioned establishments (with apologies to those I failed to mention) are the result of coordinated effort and commitment of the Japanese American community, with many participants overlapping into more than one worthy project.

It’s not a stretch to proclaim that no other group, ethnic or otherwise, can come close to matching 20th century Japanese American achievements. There is no second. But …

Despite tax-free 501[c]3s, everything in the realm of public domain is threatened and in jeopardy. What the Nisei were able to launch and sustain is something to be proud of, but obviously impossible to replicate today.  So what about tomorrow and tomorrow’s tomorrow? The Issei did an admirable job of inculcating the Nisei. The situation today is whether the San-Yon-Gosei can carry on the commitments.

Or, and the question has to be asked, are ensuing generations sufficiently interested in a continuation? And the query that has to be answered someday: Where to draw the line when determining what is worth saving and what is not?

The day will soon arrive when there will no longer be a Japanese American. Which casts a lengthening shadow on everything we proudly hail. I bid thee a fond, if premature, sayonara and fare-thee-well. Rest in peace.

W.T. Wimpy Hiroto can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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