CROSSROADS TO SOMEWHERE: George T. Aratani: A True Icon

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By W.T. WIMPY HIROTO

Americans are fast and furious when it comes to crowning heroes, demigods, icons, celebrity. But in our small, compact enclave, Nisei are very careful in their assessments and praise. It’s a reflection of our “Don’t hurt people’s feelings (unnecessarily)” upbringing. It’s not exactly an offshoot of “Whack a Mole”; it’s just that JAs were brought up accepting the value and purpose of community, the virtue of “we” over “I.”

I was thinking along these lines while mulling over an appropriate commentary on the passing of George T. Aratani.

He was as comfortable in an alpaca [when in vogue]sweater as a tuxedo; facing an eight-foot putt as determined as a business decision; preferred  sports talk rather than politics. Befitting the moniker of “a man’s man,” he was equally suave and gracious with the ladies. And enjoyed red wine over red label.

While the high and the mighty, both yellow and white, reverently called him “Mr. Aratani,” I got a kick out of calling him “Georgie” whenever the opportunity arose. [If you stop to think about it, there seemed to be a “George” in every Issei family, acknowledging the first president as well as easy to say and remember; other pre-war favorites were “John” and  “James.” Fortunately, no “Abes,” although Abraham Aratani has a certain lilt.]

The plaudits and paeans will flow, with good reason, during the public memorial service, which will be held this Saturday, 2 March, 2 p.m. at Aratani Japan America Theatre. I would venture to guess the outpouring will be humongous with a portion of JACCC Plaza outside the 800-seat theatre canopied for the expected overflow. Parking and shuttle bus will be available at Nishi Hongwanji Church on East First Street. The temperature is expected to top 80.

To recite a summary of his life  is at once challenging and redundant. The history of his accomplishments and contributions has been well documented. Everyone has a George Aratani story to tell. I will  post a personal belief: George is the epitome of the best we ever had;  Niseidom’s finest. He joins Justice John F. Aiso at the very top of my short list. The only question is how he will manage without Sakaye.

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As did most everyone locally, I watched the Dr.Jerry Buss tribute last week. It was a rare but genuine outpouring of emotional appreciation. Once a rabid Laker fan dating back to Mikan/Chamberlain/Baylor days, I couldn’t help but harken back to the losing years.

The Quon Brothers’ New Moon Restaurant on South San Pedro was a favorite hangout for Boston Celtic players back then. Also had occasions to share screwdrivers (plural) with Chick Hearn. But when it came to Forum/Staples fabled ShowTime, none had a better insider view than Kinu Nakano, in charge of private club functions. Pat Morita claimed singing the anthem as a special guest of Dr. Buss was a career highlight.

From Li’l Tokio to Nokia Theatre to Foggy Bottom is a stretch, but let’s give it a whirl.

Sequestration has been added to our growing list of painful vocabulary, joining Fiscal Cliff and the Republican Party [just seeing if you’re paying attention]. But I’m more interested in the progress being made on the immigration issue than budget cuts. With rich GOP farming interests joining hands with Dems in an odd partnership, it appears a version of the old (but successful) bracero work program will be revived.

This likelihood takes the tarp off an old but persistent CR2S complaint: Who came up with the b.s. about “work Americans won’t do”? With unemployment in the teens, more in depressed pockets, you mean to tell me healthy citizens can’t perform farm labor, harvest crops, pick fruit?  [Yeah, you know what’s coming next.] I did. You did. Almost every Nisei, male and many females, have farm, shed and stoop labor experience on their resumes.

Have they outlawed the short-handle hoe? How about picking tomatoes and string beans with long sleeves to protect your arms from being ravaged by prickles – in hundred-degree weather?  Slogging, sweltering, freezing, aching. Doing “piece work” so you only got paid for what you produced: cherries 10 cents a bucket. [My kids’ eyeballs are roiling right about now.] Sansei:  Ask your folks what it was like to work the fields, punch the clock in a cannery, truck and trim vegetables on freezing docks, tote a ladder to pick fruit 20 feet up. Living in a chicken coop without hot water.

Work Americans won’t do? Don’t make me barf! Where does it say only Mexicans can harvest our crops? I’m not a liberal, bleeding or otherwise. But no, even if you ask politely, CR2S will not stop advocating buses (air conditioning optional) transporting prisoners to the a farm, orchid or shed for a 12-hour, 6-day work week. With scheduled stops at all state unemployment offices looking for volunteers.

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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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