By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
There was a distinctly Hawaiian theme at the Japanese American Bar Association’s sold-out 40th anniversary installation and awards gala, held April 1 at the Omni Hotel in Los Angeles.
The keynote speaker was the governor of Hawaii, David Ige, two of the three award recipients had ties to the Aloha State, and the event opened with a performance by Halau Keali’i O Nalani, a local hula group.
Ige was introduced by Sidney Kanazawa, a JABA governor and litigation partner at McGuire Woods LLP, who said, “A common theme of our keynote speaker and all of our honorees is dedication to finding common ground and respecting the dignity of others.”
Kanazawa noted that Ige grew up in Pearl City, at the time a new development with “new houses, new schools and new kids from all over, different ethnicities, different backgrounds, different histories, that didn’t always agree. But he found that he had a knack for listening … and bringing together people for a common purpose.”
After graduating from high school, Ige was accepted at MIT, but didn’t tell anybody, Kanazawa said. “He was the fifth of six boys and he had seen how his parents struggled to put his older brothers through college. He knew that if he told them he had been accepted at MIT, they would find a way for him to go to MIT, and that would mean that they would struggle and his younger brother’s opportunities for higher education would be limited. So … he went to University of Hawaii. The tuition there was $100 a semester.”
Ige got a degree in electrical engineering and later an MBA, worked for the phone company and various technology companies, and was elected state representative and later state senator. “He served as chair of nine legislative committees,” Kanazawa said. “He served for a total of 30 years. Then in 2014 he challenged the then incumbent governor of his own party (Neil Abercrombie). The governor outspent him but he beat the incumbent by a 2-to-1 margin, and after beating the governor of his own party, he united his party and won the general election … Since his last electoral defeat in seventh grade, Gov. Ige has never lost an election.”
The governor said that he and JABA members share the Hawaiian value of pono — “striving to do the right thing the right way for the right reason to deliver results that are in the best interest of the public. You do it for your clients every day. I do it for the state of Hawaii.”
He described his political career as “a journey built on and fueled by the strength of the generations before me … I am the grandson of immigrants. My grandparents, the Issei, immigrated to Hawaii from Japan and Okinawa more than 100 years ago in search of a better life and future for their family. They came to work on the plantations in Hawaii. Weeding, cutting, hauling cane by hand is back-breaking work for just pennies a day. My grandparents and others of their generation had a saying, kodomo no tame ni, for the sake of the children…
“My parents endured living conditions that were dramatically different from my own. My mother, Edna Tsurue Miota, grew up on Kahuku Plantation on the north shore of Oahu. At that time, public school in the rural communities only went to the eighth grade. My mother’s dream was to become a nurse … She took a very different path to fulfill that dream. At the age of 15, my mother left Hawaii alone and traveled by steamship to the mainland. She lived with a host family and graduated from East Denver High School and went on to complete nursing school at St. Jude’s College before returning to Hawaii …
“As a young man, my father, Tokio Ige, had limited options in his life. He grew up on Ewa Plantation, again with only an eighth-grade education. On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, when the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, their lives changed forever. At first the War Department classified the Nisei … as 4C, enemy aliens unfit for service. The Nisei had learned one of the most important values, a debt of gratitude, an obligation, to be grateful to the land of their births, America. They were eager to prove their loyalty.
“My dad volunteered to become a member of the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II. Their service is legendary, the most decorated battalion for its size and length of service in U.S. history. After the war, the Nisei soldiers returned to Hawaii and were subjected to much of the same discrimination that they had met before the war. But they had been changed. After proving their loyalty to America in the war, they were committed to the cause of equal rights for all of the residents of Hawaii.
“Dad earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, and he never talked about it … never sought recognition. He was a hard-working construction worker who provided for six boys, making sure that we had an education. He believed that was the access to a better life, and each one of us completed college. I imagine many of you have similar stories. You too had fathers and uncles who fought for our country, mothers and aunts who kept things together at home during the war. It was an enormous and unimaginable task for all.
“And many families were stripped of their constitutional rights and herded into internment camps. Like my mother and father, these experiences changed their lives forever, but didn’t stop them from living life. And I’ve never heard my parents complain about what they didn’t have. In fact they made sure we had everything we needed and they taught us to work hard and enjoy life … It gave us the optimism, self-confidence and positive attitude that would guide me through future challenges.”
Running for Governor
Ige recalled that when he first considered running for governor, many people thought he had no chance and urged him to keep his Senate seat. “But I could see Hawaii changing and people losing faith in their government. They felt too many decisions favored special interests instead of the public interest. My generation, the Sansei, would be the first to leave Hawaii in worse condition to the next generation, the Yonsei. I felt obligated to do everything I could to stop it from happening.”
Despite the “David vs. Goliath” nature of the campaign, being far behind the incumbent in campaign funds and name recognition, Ige said he persisted. “We ran an unconventional campaign … We had to earn votes one at a time in coffee hours, student rallies, sign-waving and banners everywhere. It was a face-to-face, person-to-person, friend-to-friend grassroots campaign, the old fashioned way … My extended ohana or family — my closest friends, classmates from high school and college, my public school teachers, colleagues from work and the legislators — were all committed to the campaign …
“We made history. We beat the incumbent governor in the primary for the first time in the history of the state of Hawaii … by the largest margin in the history of this country. I believe in part that we won because we stayed true to the values that were instilled in us by the generations before us.”
Now a little over a year into his administration, Ige said, “We are laying the foundation for our children’s future. As governor, everything my administration does contributes to our goal of establishing the Hawaiian Islands as place future generations will be proud to call home. More than anything during my tenure, I want to change the trajectory of Hawaii by restoring faith and trust in government … The foundations of the community must be based upon the values and traditions passed on to us by Native Hawaiians and immigrants who have learned to live together in this special place called Hawaii …
“We are looking to work with global companies that share our values and that care not only about profit, but about the long-term benefit for the communities they work in. We are striving to strike a balance where investing in Hawaii creates long-term prosperity and stability as we preserve our unique people, place and culture and share it with the world.”
Ige told the audience, “Think about the hopes and dreams of your parents and grandparents and generations before them. Think about their struggles, their challenges and fears. While the past doesn’t provide us with a precise roadmap to the future, it does give us the tools we need to find our way … As America and the world experience similar challenges today, it is up to us individually to … share the stories, to reach out, be a friend and lend a hand. Isn’t that what America is all about? Just as someone helped our families, we must help others. It’s all about collective action, the little things that will transform people’s … Join me in living it. Make it real every day and lead the way.”
Ige, who was accompanied by his wife, Dawn, also visited the Japanese American National Museum during their stay in Los Angeles.
The Inspiration Award was presented to Hoyt Zia, who has just retired as senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary for Hawaiian Airlines. The presenter was Audra Mori, past JABA president.
“Hoyt grew up in a city on the East Coast with few other Asians,” Mori said. “He knew what it was like to be treated differently because of the color of his skin.”
After graduating from Dartmouth College, Zia joined the Marines. “The leadership training that Hoyt received in the Marines reinforced his own values — the value of the individual, cook or captain. The value of working together and the importance of never leaving a man behind,” Mori said. “Hoyt took these values with him to law school and into practice.”
Zia helped start many Asian American bar associations, including the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, of which he was the founding president. He went on to private practice, served in the Clinton Administration, and worked with various companies.
“Thank you for showing us that you can reach the heights of our profession while remaining true to you own values and your community,” Mori said. “And thank you for living with authenticity.”
Zia recalled coming to Los Angeles 45 years ago. “I discovered there was such a thing as an Asian American community to which I could belong, which was a very big deal to me back then. My first exposure to an Asian American bar was with SCCLA (Southern California Chinese Lawyers Association).”
Being back in L.A. was “like Old Home Week, seeing friends I haven’t seen in 20, 30 years,” he said.
To the young people in the audience, Zia said, “The brotherhood and sisterhood of the Asian bar is powerful. Who would have thought 40 years ago … that we would have several finalists and contenders for the Supreme Court? We came that close. Hopefully with the election coming up we may cross that line and have the first Asian American on the Supreme Court …
“That would not have happened … without an Asian bar, and the national Asian bar wouldn’t have happened without the JABAs of the country getting together, so you have a lot to be proud of.”
Although groups like JABA help with networking and job searches, Zia stressed, “remember, though, that the Asian bar wasn’t formed way back when so we could make ourselves more successful as lawyers. No, it was actually formed so that we could make a difference as Asian lawyers. What a difference we’ve made.”
He cited the Vincent Chin case in Detroit, and the reopening of Fred Korematsu’s World War II Supreme Court case, which his wife Leigh-Ann Miyasato worked on.
These associations were formed in order to serve “those who, like our parents and grandparents, come here from another country, don’t speak the language, maybe were being persecuted and discriminated against in their homeland and run the risk of having the same thing happen to them here unless they have access to justice and the legal system … It’s still needed even though the people who now need our help may not look like us anymore. I encourage you to stay involved … and make a difference.”
The Unity Award was presented to Hawaiian Airlines by JABA President Sabina Helton, who noted that it is the eighth-largest airline in the U.S. with direct flights to such destinations as China, Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and Samoa.
“But beyond just transporting people around the globe … Hawaiian Airlines has been quietly putting together projects to bring people together in so many ways,” Helton said. “For example, it is a major supporter of the Hokulea, a double-hulled canoe built and navigated in the traditional manner of the Hawaiian ancestors … The Hokulea crew is circumnavigating the world to remind people of their basic connections and broadcasting their message of sustainability to school classrooms from a modernly equipped sister ship.
“Although graffiti artists are normally solo artists, Hawaiian Airlines has sponsored an event in Hawaii called ‘Pow! Wow!’ that brings together graffiti artists from all round the world to collaborate to together creating beautiful murals on the walls of Honolulu. Even in its sponsorship of canoe races, arts, music festivals, special flights and community service, there is a spirit of mutual respect that seems to permeate every event.”
Mark Arimoto, director of A321 (long-range aircraft) integration, accepted on behalf of President and CEO Mark Dunkerly and more than 5,000 employees around the world.
“About a decade ago, I was here in L.A. as a member of JABA as a young associate,” Arimoto recalled. “When I was starting my career here, JABA was my network, JABA members were my mentors, and they gave me the foundation so that when Hoyt gave me a call about 10 years ago to come join him at Hawaiian Airlines, I had the professional foundation to be able to return back home to Hawaii, to find an engaging and exciting career at a global company based right there in my home state, and then in turn give the gift of growing up in Hawaii to my daughter, who now knows Hawaii as her home.”
In addition to saying “Mahalo nui loa,” he used a Japanese phrase, “Okage sama de,” “which means that I am what I am because of you. Similarly, any success that we may enjoy as a company at Hawaiian Airlines are thanks to the tireless efforts of the men and women in the Hawaiian Airlines ohana, the communities in which they live here and around the world, and very much the communities that we serve.”
Community Leadership Award
The Community Leadership Award went to Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, who was introduced by Torrance Police Chief Mark Matsuda, who said, “From his first day on the job … Sheriff McDonnell has stressed the importance of treating all members of our community with respect, being transparent with and accountable to the individuals that the LASD serves, and creating an environment that recognizes and rewards character, competence and compassion.”
McDonnell, who took office in December 2014, said, “We’re going through some tough times, as we all know, politically. In some corners the goal seems to be to divide rather than unite … It certainly has been a difficult couple of years with police-community relations strained, public trust in our credibility on the ropes, and our recruiting efforts hampered …
“In this nation there are 900,000 police officers, and that sound likes a lot, but serving a population of 320 million people … that comes down to one-third of one percent of our population sworn to protect the remainder. There’s no way we can possibly do that alone … Judges, lawyers, prosecutors, defense, across the board, we’re all part of the system, we’re justice system partners. But we can and will get through this difficult time by working together … Bringing talent from all of our diverse communities together will help build bridges and restore that public trust that’s so critical …
“Thank you for the work that all of you do making our community a safer place.”
David Ono of ABC7 Eyewitness News served as emcee. Opening remarks were made by JABA President Helton, President-elect Mark Furuya, JABA Secretary Mike Madokoro, past president Alex Fukui and outgoing president Kenneth Tanaka.
There was a tribute to Diana Harumi Nishiura, who passed away on Jan. 9. Throughout her 40-year legal career, she served for many years on JABA’s Board of Governors, including one as president in 2010, spearheaded the formation of the JABA Educational Foundation in 2005, and served as its vice president and on its Board of Directors. She retired last year as a senior attorney for the California Department of Business Oversight.
The $2,000 JABA Educational Foundation Scholarships were presented by Allyson Sakai and Jeff Maloney, JABA Educational Foundation board members and JABA Educational Foundation Scholarship Committee co-chairs. The recipients were:
Judge Edward Y. Kakita Memorial Scholarship — Alexandra Johnson, second-year law student at UC Davis School of Law, member of UC Davis Law Review, an editor of UC Davis Business Law Journal, co-president of Asian Pacific American Law Students Association.
Justice Stephen K. Tamura Scholarship — Alyssa Fujii, first-year law student at UCLA School of Law, member of Asian Pacific Islander Law Student Association and Environmental Law Society.
Justice John F. Aiso Scholarship — Mai Suzuki, second-year law student at Pepperdine University School of Law, treasurer of Environmental Law Society and member of Entertainment and Sports Law Society.
Dick Osumi Civil Rights and Public Interest Scholarship — Enid Zhou, second-year law student at UC Irvine School of Law, editor of UC Irvine Law Review, pro bono chair of APALSA, publicity chair of Public Interest Law Fund. (She was unable to attend.)
Lim Ruger Foundation Scholarship — Bora Lee, second-year law student at Southwestern Law School, president of BISON, an a cappella group, vice president of APALSA.
The 2016-17 Board of Governors was sworn in by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mark Hanasono. In addition to Helton, Furuya, Madokoro and Tanaka, officers are Harumi Hata and Ryan Iwasaka, vice presidents; and Kira Teshima, treasurer. There are 18 other governors.
JABA recognized 27 past presidents, who gathered on stage for a group photo.
A silent auction and raffle benefited the JABA Educational Foundation. Raffle tickets were sold during the dinner by members of the Nisei Week Court. The event concluded with closing remarks by Helton and a drawing.
Photos by MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo (except where noted)