LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: No Racial Requirement at Heart Mountain Foundation

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Dear Editor:

The Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation (HMWF) leadership was happy to hear in Mr. George Yoshinaga’s recent column that he reads our newsletter, which is written by our center’s staff, with contributions from our constituents. In his piece, Mr. Yoshinaga asked how our staff is selected, noting in particular Executive Director Brian Liesinger. We would like to take this opportunity to answer his question.

In late 2012, the HMWF leadership conducted a nationwide search for an executive director, which included advertising in Japanese American publications such as Rafu Shimpo, Pacific Citizen, and Nichi Bei Weekly. We had applicants from around the country, but none were Japanese American.

Brian’s application stood out for many reasons, not least of which were his strong connections to Heart Mountain. His grandfather was a homesteader in Wyoming, and salvaged the Heart Mountain school bell. Brian’s parents donated the bell to the foundation in 2005.

heart mtn. pilgrimageBrian is well-educated, has experience in non-profit management and spent two years in Japan on the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) program. Besides his stellar credentials, he has the intelligence, determination, and care to guide our efforts into the future.

If Mr. Yoshinaga would visit the Interpretive Center, he would see a man who is passionate about our center and who leads a staff committed to telling this important American story — and telling it well. In Brian’s time with the foundation, he has become increasingly engaged with the local communities. His wife teaches at our local Northwest College, and they are raising their baby daughter in Powell.

Mr. Yoshinaga pointed out that, with the exception of Hana Maruyama, none of the staff is Japanese American. The idea that we should hire our staff by race rather than their professional qualifications is as alarming as it is illegal. Federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race.

Moreover, just as Gen. John DeWitt was wrong to assert that persons of Japanese ancestry could not possibly be loyal to U.S. interests, it is equally wrong to assert that persons without Japanese ancestry cannot be loyal to the internee-interests of the foundation. Our staff members work tirelessly to preserve Heart Mountain history. Their work on the ground ensures the center continues to thrive.

We wish more Japanese Americans passionate about our history would apply to work at the center, but our location makes this a challenge. (If Mr. Yoshinaga wishes to join us as a staff writer, we would welcome his application — but as a condition of his employment, he would have to relocate to Heart Mountain!) In 2013, the U.S. Census reported that only 0.9% of the Wyoming population was Asian American. As such, the number of Japanese Americans living in commuting distance from the center is very small.

One is Aura Newlin, a board member descended from Heart Mountain’s Matsumura family. Her great-uncle Clarence served with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. She will become the foundation secretary this fall, after taking a well-deserved break from co-chairing a national conference of judges held at Heart Mountain this June while also teaching at Northwest College.

Despite the scarcity of Japanese Americans in the area, we work diligently to ensure that our museum reflects the internee experience and includes their perspective. Through our Advisor-in-Residence program, the foundation invites former internees to give tours of the center to visitors. As Mr. Yoshinaga will recall, our newsletter featured a piece about our most recent Advisor-in-Residence, Eva Kuwata. Previous participants include Sam Mihara and Bacon Sakatani.

In his piece, Mr. Yoshinaga cited the names of a few board members and asked, “Where did all these people come from?” For his convenience, we share the remaining names of our advisory council below, and our board, who signed this letter. It is sometimes hard to tell by a name who is of Japanese ancestry, so we have indicated with an asterisk anyone of Japanese ancestry, and with a double asterisk any former internees.

Advisory Council

Secretary Norman Y. Mineta**

Sen. Alan K. Simpson

Nancy K. Araki**

William Higuchi, Ph.D.**

Toshiko Nagamori Ito**

Joanne Kumamoto*

Amy Iwasaki Mass**

Jim McElwain

Mariko Terasaki Miller*

Jeanette Mitarai Misaka, Ph.D.**

Bacon Sakatani**

Carolyn Takeshita**

Judge Raymond S. Uno**

Barbara Uriu

We pride ourselves on the fact that the vast majority of our leadership is Japanese American and many are former internees. They have played a crucial part in all of the HMWF’s activities since our creation in 1996.

We are equally fortunate to have people like Doug Nelson, author of a Pulitzer-nominated book about Heart Mountain and expert on philanthropy, and Claudia Wade, marketing director of the Park County Travel Council and leader in the Cody community, as part of our board, and LaDonna Zall, who has dedicated herself without compensation to preserve the artifacts and oral histories from the camp, on our board.

All members of our leadership, regardless of race, have generously given their time and support to our mission. Many board members and their families, both white and Japanese American, have also given major financial support that allows the foundation to pursue its goals. We do this because, regardless of what side of the fence our families were on 70 years ago, Heart Mountain history is our history.

Since Mr. Yoshinaga has written about our center before, we have invited him on numerous occasions to visit it for himself. We once again invite him to attend this summer’s pilgrimage on Aug. 22–23. During this time, we will honor Heart Mountain veterans and unveil the newly restored Honor Roll memorial, which will commemorate their service for years to come.

This is the perfect opportunity for Mr. Yoshinaga to visit the center for the first time and be honored for his experiences at Heart Mountain and his service in World War II.

Shirley Ann Higuchi, Chair*

Douglas W. Nelson, Vice Chair

Claudia Wade, Treasurer

Aura Newlin, Secretary beginning Fall 2014*

Kris M. Horiuchi*

Takashi Hoshizaki**

Alan Kumamoto**

Sam Mihara**

Eric Muller

Allyson Nakamoto*

R. Dana Ono*

Peter K. Simpson

Shigeru Yabu**

Kathleen Saito Yuille**

LaDonna Zall

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  1. Takasumi A Kojima on

    Heart Mountain Foundation Letter; When Horse Yoshinaga mentioned why there are no Japanese American leading the Heart Mountain Foundation and this self serving reply by the Foundation made me think about all the disappearing leadership of the Japanese American institutions.

    Of the ethnic groups, one that is disappearing is the Japanese Americans; one of the basic reasons behind the fading away remains the overall out-marriages about this ethnic minority.

    The Japanese American family over the course of generations has undergone, through acculturation, many changes, bringing it more into line with the dominant Caucasian group.

    This is reflected in leadership of many Japanese American organizations including the JACL, which is lead by a Chinese American and contains many Caucasians in leadership positions. Many Buddhist churches now have Caucasian Buddhist pastors. The days of predominant Nikkei leaders is fast fading into history.

    After departure from the concentration camps, the Nikkei faced the prospect of starting their lives. Seventy years later, our life is now overshadowed by the specter of group assimilation and eventual extinction at the middle of twenty-first century.

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