J-SLANTED: A Need for JA Politicians: I’m Voting for Furutani

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Warren Furutani kicked off his campaign for the 35th State Senate District on April 24 in San Pedro. He was joined by State Treasurer John Chiang and Councilmember Joe Buscaino. The former assemblymember is seeking to represent the district which includes San Pedro, Wilmington, North and West Long Beach, Harbor City, the Harbor Gateway (where Warren lives), Carson and West Carson, Torrance, Gardena, Compton, Lawndale, Lennox, Inglewood and Hawthorne.

SAN PEDRO SUPPORT: Warren Furutani kicked off his campaign for the 35th State Senate District on April 24 in San Pedro. He was joined by State Treasurer John Chiang and Los Angeles City Councilmember Joe Buscaino. The former assemblymember is seeking to represent the district which includes San Pedro, Wilmington, North and West Long Beach, Harbor City, the Harbor Gateway (where Furutani lives), Carson and West Carson, Torrance, Gardena, Compton, Lawndale, Lennox, Inglewood and Hawthorne. He must win the June 7 Democratic primary, in which he is one of three candidates, in order to advance to the general election in November. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

 jordan ikedaBy JORDAN IKEDA

Politics.

Such a dirty word.

It conjures up: Deception. Sleaze. Scumminess. Inaction. Divisiveness. Lies.

But it is also a necessity because politics are everywhere.

From the world’s stage, a minefield of babel. A warring Middle East, a divided Asia, impoverished Central and South Americas, a fracturing Europe, a war-torn Africa.

To the national stage, where political segregation has birthed Team Trump and Team Bern. From the politics of religion, to community, to family, trickling all the way down to this very piece being consumed as highly politicized verbiage.

Associating politics with negativity is inescapable.

And yet, politics — or more precisely, how we navigate politics — determine pretty much everything we interact with on both micro and macro levels.

Isn’t it time then, that we start collectively embracing this negative, yet oh-so-vital aspect of our lives?

Which brings me to Mr. Warren Furutani. I had the opportunity to sit down with the 68-year-old career politician and social activist to discuss his run for the vacant 35th District seat in the California State Senate. We delved into other topics including the future of Japanese Americana and the lack of young JA politicians.

For those unfamiliar with Warren, here’s his truncated bio.

Warren served as a member of the California State Assembly from 2008 to 2012. He also served on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education and Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees. He currently serves as a senior fellow of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

He has been a huge advocate of evolving education and has passed legislation that has improved our educational system at both the secondary and post-secondary levels. Within the Japanese and Asian American communities, Warren initiated the Manzanar Pilgrimage, passed a bill that authorized California universities to confer honorary degrees to internees, and passed another bill that established Fred Korematsu Day.

This is what he told me about his goals in politics — specifically regarding Japanese American issues.

“To me, the goal is to build political infrastructure. Our community is very good in terms of business infrastructure, we have good community service infrastructure, non-profits, athletics, a lot of different things we have in our community,” Warren said. “But politically, we’ve sort of been hitting an area where there is a real void.”

He has spent the last three decades on the inside, trying to enact change and represent the Japanese American voice in the political realm.

But the hurdles are myriad. Especially because there are so few Japanese American elected officials. The problem is compounded with a lack of any young, up-and-coming leaders that are interested in politics.

“It always sticks in the back of my mind,” Warren told me. “What if there was one Japanese American in the State Legislature or Congress at the beginning of World War II? Just one that would have stood up and said, ‘Wait a minute. Time out. This is wrong.’ All we needed was one. And it would have changed the course of history for our community.”

Someone like Mark Takano, for example.

Even without young, political minds, the community has often been too hesitant to support the politicians it does have. Donations. Votes. Sharing information. All of these things the community is able to provide. And yet, to a large degree, has not.

Warren Furutani speaks at his campaign kick-off in San Pedro on April 24. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Warren Furutani speaks at his campaign kick-off in San Pedro on April 24. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Warren believes it will take leadership. Not individuals, but groups. People in the JA community who believe that “we should sit at the table. Not serve, and bring the food to the table. But sit at the table where dialogue is taking place, debates are happening. And where decisions are being made.

“We have the intellect. The creativity. The vision. The energy. Everything you need to be an equal player with anyone in this country. We have to remember that. Sometimes we sell ourselves short. We really sell ourselves short.

“Stop settling for the status quo. Blaze your own path.”

To the Sansei, it’s time to stop paying attention to what is being said, and start understanding the actual facts of what is said. “Pay” and “fact” are the key words to take away. Remember, model minorityism can feel very comfortable. Don’t be fooled. If you have the means, learn. Educate yourself. And then take action through donating or volunteering or educating others.

To the Yonsei, it’s time to stop passive-(social media) aggressively complaining and talking smart. Stop acting aware and informed. Stop settling for the status quo, for what’s already been earned. Instead take action and earn something for yourself. Stand up and seize politics by the horns. Be **in** it. Effect change.

To the Gosei, it’s time to rouse yourself up from the Nisei (your great grandparents) dream of full assimilation. Do some homework on your cultural history. Regardless of what percentage of hapa you are, digging into your roots now will shed light on who you are and where you fit. It will help frame your cultural and personal identity.

I don’t mean to preach or scold or command. Simply encourage. Because knowing and getting involved can have wonderful results.

To close, I want to share an email I received in March of this year from the daughter of Kazunori Katayama, a man who received his honorary degree from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 2010, some seven decades after he attended the school.

Back in 2010, I covered and wrote stories on three Nisei graduation ceremonies that were the direct result of the bill Warren got passed.

Hello Jordan,

One June 12, 2010 you wrote an article “Icing on the Cake” regarding the Nisei Diploma Project and presentation of honorary degrees to my father: Kazunori Katayama, along with Frank Suzuki, Nelson Akagi and Taro Kobara at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. It was a memorable experience for all of us who attended.

My father passed away Feb. 18, 2016 at the age of 97 and will be buried at Rose Hills Memorial Park on March 12, 2016.

The years have passed since we met you at Cal Poly, but my father always remembered and often talked about that cherished day. Even during the last weeks of his life, he talked about your interview and looked at the article you wrote. You should have seen the smile on his face. I am writing this on behalf of my father and the rest of our family to thank you for taking the time to drive to San Luis Obispo to cover the event for Rafu Shimpo. It meant the world to him.    

The Cal Poly Basketball Program also honored my father at its “Founding Fathers” event in January 2013.He was the oldest living Mustang. Another great and memorable time. I contacted Alex Lamberston at Cal Poly to advise him of my father’s passing and to thank him, too, for the spectacular dinner and basketball game events. They had a moment of silence at their basketball game the other night in remembrance of my father, which brought tears to my eyes. 

Thank you again, Jordan.  I just wanted you to know how you touched my father’s life.

Sincerely, Kristine Katayama Carson

The best part about writing for The Rafu Shimpo, has been telling the stories of the unique and interesting people I’ve met and interviewed over the past 15 years. Knowing the story I wrote made a 97-year-old man smile and continued to do so until his very last days — that knowledge brought tears to my eyes. His story touched me.

And, it was only possible because of politics.

Whether you agree with anything I’ve written or not. Whether you decide to vote for Warren or not. Whether you decide to donate to his campaign or the campaigns of other Japanese Americans in political races this year. Whatever the case may be, I encourage you to at least educate yourself on the candidates and their policies and beliefs. Because while politics is often associated with such vile negativity, many of the policies and bills that Warren has helped pass have brought nothing but positive change.

As for me, I’m voting for Warren Furutani this June.

Jordan Ikeda is a former Rafu sports editor who writes from Torrance. He can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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