Would the course of Japanese American history been different if there was a Japanese American member of the State Legislature or the United States Congress on December 8, 1941? If someone in either august body could have stood up to caution against or reject the plan to put all Japanese on the West Coast into concentration camps because of the impending war with Japan, would our lives be different?
Who knows? His or her protestations might have been overwhelmed by the hysteria and political calculations of the time or might have rung out like a clarion call for fairness, democracy and to heed the words and principles of the Constitution.
Maybe melodramatic, regardless, having a Japanese American in the State Legislature is important and I applaud Al Muratsuchi for his hard-fought victory. Also, as one of the JA candidates that lost in this last election cycle, I want to share a note of caution and make an appeal to the community that having a JA in the State Legislature is critically important.
Yes, on the congressional level Japanese Americans have been holding on. Anchored by our Hawaiian contingent, we still hold positions in the United States Senate and House of Representatives. In California, we have the recently re-elected Congressman Mark Takano from the Inland Empire, we have our stalwart Sacramento Congresswoman Doris Matsui, but lost our progressive warrior Mike Honda from our congressional ranks.
In this last cycle of state legislative battles, the three JA candidates for the State Senate lost. I don’t know Alan Nakanishi very well and he being a Republican put him outside my sphere of political familiarity. But I do know Mariko Yamada.
Mariko and I both served in the State Assembly together but have much more in common. That being we are both products of the activism of the ’60s, from which our political views were born. Although Mariko’s passions were rooted more in social services and social work and mine were more related to education, we are both considered progressive Democrats particularly as it relates to civil and human rights, immigrant rights, workers’ rights, environmental justice and so forth and so on.
In fact, these political beliefs connect us at the hip with Congressman Mike Honda. He also was a product of those same times and political orientations, which put him squarely in the progressive Democrat column.
And for all three of us this put us in general elections against other Democrats. In this Dem vs. Dem political environment, the financial support that usually went to Republican candidates now went to the moderate Democratic candidates in our respective races. That financial advantage given to our opponents could not be overcome.
All this to say that there is a changing of the guard.
Which brings me to the importance of having Al Muratsuchi in the State Assembly.Al is the next generation of JA elected official on the state level. Because of his roots in social justice and his political DNA as it relates to the Japanese American experience, he will be able to raise a credible voice in opposition to making all Muslim Americans part of a national registry. This so-called registry could be a “virtual” concentration camp without the barbed wire but with definite restrictions of movement and activity.
He will also bring a sensitivity and full awareness to the Shin-Nisei experience, which is a significant part of the JA community today. His wife Hiroko works for the Little Tokyo Service Center in the South Bay and provides services and counseling to that important part of the JA community. And as an environmental justice advocate, he will also be the first line of defense for the community in our effort to keep our communities safe from the recurring environmental problems at our local refineries.
But this will make him vulnerable because I’m sure the same forces he had to battle this election will try to take the seat back in two years. To successfully offset the millions of dollars spent by the big business interests on behalf of his opponent, Al needed the full support of the statewide Democratic machine with their millions of dollars that they spent on his behalf.
Al will also need the support of the JA community if we are to keep our seat at the table. We need to also support our up-and-coming JA elected officials on the local level like those being highlighted on the pages of The Rafu. We need to build up our political bench, so to speak, and get them ready to step up when their time comes.
Also, we have a group of young Asian American and Pacific Islander elected officials we need to encourage and support, and of course others from other communities.
I know, where they stand on the issues is still the key determining factor relative to support, but my point is sitting at the adult table in politics is critical.
Warren Furutani has served as a member of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees, and California State Assembly. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of The Rafu Shimpo.