By IKU KIRIYAMA
Following the service for George “Horse” Yoshinaga in the Fukui Chapel on Aug. 27, we stepped into the lobby to have refreshments and chat. Naomi (Hirahara) asked, “How did you and George become friends?” Gwen (Muranaka) commented that it was an unusual combination.
I replied that I had been thinking about it at the beginning of the service since the program showed an open mic segment (I did not speak). I honestly could not remember the how, when or who of the frequent breakfasts at Denny’s with George, Gwen and me. I just know the breakfast meetings began some time after the death of my husband, George. We never did socialize over breakfast or lunch.
Initially, The Rafu was a common topic of conversation – naturally. As time went on, our conversations covered a lot more territory. When I had lunch with George and his wife, Susie, we never talked about The Rafu. So, that was not the core or reason for getting together.
What did we have in common? Very little. He was a die-hard Republican; I’m a strong Democrat. His views on the camps and terminology were the opposite of mine. He maligned the “no-no boys,” renunciants and resisters; I thought of them as courageous and politically and socially ahead of their times. He frequently criticized our JA elected officials — curiously, never my husband when he was on the L.A. School Board, the only one not to be on the bashing end of the stick.
Do you know how I viewed George and his opinions and prejudices? As a product of his times, his generation. He was the typical Nisei. To hear him and read him was to understand Nisei experiences, thoughts and attitudes as reflections of what American society was in the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s. I have mentioned to a few people that George was a living artifact of the Nisei generation. To read him was to read the Nisei.
When I mentioned this to my daughter, Traci, she immediately retorted, “Frank Emi was the same generation and he wasn’t like that.” I said, “Frank was NOT the typical Nisei.” He and the others who resisted were out of the Nisei mainstream and suffered the condemnation. It is the younger generations who came to understand what they represented and suffered. George represented the Nisei who didn’t understand and likely never would.
George was popular with his Nisei fan base because he said what they believed and shared. There is and was no one else who represented this to them.
By the way, Guy Aoki mentioned in his column that reading Horse’s Mouth gave him insight as to what to expect as he enters his 70s, 80s and 90s. No, Guy, this fate does not await you. It’s a Nisei thing.
There were three instances where I wanted to get through to him because I had that open communication. I felt if he understood, he could communicate that to his readers. But, he never did. Two were planned and one just happened.
I had hoped to open new avenues of thought regarding the “no-no’s” and renunciants when the Japanese American Historical Society of Southern California (JAHSSC) presented two forums at the Torrance main library. In 2009, Martha Nakagawa and Roy Sakamoto co-chaired a program that was a dynamic program because of Martha’s connections to the panelists. In 2012, the 70th anniversary of EO9066, Richard Katsuda chaired a great sequel, which drew a capacity crowd, followed by focus groups at my home.
I asked George to put a notice into his column. I mainly wanted him to see it. Of course, his comments were negative towards the participants, and he said he would be there. The day of the program, he didn’t show. As I walked by one of the rows, there were six JA males, clearly Nisei. The one on the aisle asked me, “Is Horse here?” I said, “No, he isn’t here.” Like dominoes, each one said to the next, “He isn’t here.” I realized they had expected to see a big debate with George there.
I called George later and asked why he wasn’t there. He said he had forgotten. I had wanted him to hear stories from “the horses’ mouths” as whatever I might say to him would not have the same impact.
George always criticized George Takei and Norm Mineta for speaking of their experiences in camp. He felt they were too young to know anything. After a few times of this, at a breakfast, I told George that my husband, George, and Norm were the same age, both born in 1931 – George in July and Norm in November. I said, “George was 10 going in and 14 when they left Tule Lake. He remembered everything.” I said they may not have had the maturity of someone 18 to 20 at the time, but their experiences carried into their careers.
George, as an educator who pioneered and wrote the curriculum and teacher’s guides for “America’s Intercultural Minorities” and the Japanese American experience and held in-services for teacher and administrators on the WWII incarceration, and Norm, who went on into politics to make a difference. Horse listened and had nothing to refute my comments.
The third incident was the time of the “Save The Rafu” meeting. I had written an article and asked people to come to a town hall. I asked Gwen and George to help. Alan Nishio offered his help, and I gladly accepted as he’s a master at these things. We weren’t sure of the response and thought that maybe a dozen people might show up. That day, over one hundred showed, both Japanese and English-speaking.
Alan hustled to get facilitators and set up break-out groups. He was moving fast around the room. I saw George and Harry (Honda) sitting off to the side and asked them to join a break-out group since they had so many years of experience and insights, but George refused, and Harry stayed to keep him company. Later, in his column, George complained that he was not asked his opinion, and that Alan, a neighbor, walked by and didn’t say “hello.”
I was so angry. I called him, and before I could say anything, he repeated that. I told him he hadn’t helped. I said that when you’re focused and busy, you can walk right by someone you know and not see them. I said, “You could have said, ‘Hi, Alan. Thanks for helping’ — or stood up to offer help. Why wait for people to come to you or acknowledge you?” He was silent for a bit and then said, “Guess it’s my ego.” I said, “Yes, it is.”
And, ego was his issue. I don’t know in his early years, but during the ten years I knew him, he revealed his insecurities in his columns when he would comment about people not saying hello to him, or, being happy when they recognized him at places like the casinos. He would threaten to quit his column and get reassurances by his readers.
I had taken lunch from Rascals the Wednesday before he passed away. He commented that he had received letters from his fans, asking when he would return. I’m glad that in his final days he got the “strokes” he thrived on.
Iku Kiriyama is a retired educator and a community volunteer. She will be presenting the forum “Death Is a Sure Thing: Are You Prepared? Long-Term Care, Hospice and Caregivers” on Sept. 20 from 1 to 3 p.m. at Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.