By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
“Vision and Commitment: Our Journey of Renewal” was the theme of the Japanese American National Museum’s annual gala, held April 13 at the Intercontinental Los Angeles Downtown with more than 1,000 people in attendance.
Highlights included a keynote speech by broadcast journalist Ann Curry and tributes to the museum’s charter members.
Emceed by Frank Buckley of KTLA Morning News, the program included the Grateful Four, the youth group of the Grateful Crane Ensemble, who sang the national anthem and other songs with accompaniment by Scott Nagatani (musical director), David Cheung and Gordon Bash.
Leslie Furukawa of Gomez & Furukawa and the JANM Board of Trustees spoke on behalf of the Gala Dinner Committee, which she co-chaired with Ernest Doizaki of Kansas Marine Company and Gene Kanamori of Keiro and the JANM Board of Governors.
Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, chair of the JANM Board of Trustees, who will be featured in a documentary on PBS next month, said, “This year we are highlighting individuals and families who made a commitment to the Japanese American National Museum even before we opened our doors. By becoming charter members, these early supporters endorsed our mission to promote understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience …
“In the late 1980s and the early 1990s, the idea of having a museum that told the story of the incarceration of Japanese Americans … was just a dream. Many people in the community had discussed the idea before, but it would take a movement for it to become a reality. The movement was the charter members who not only supported the vision of the Japanese American National Museum with their words but with their own money. Over 10,000 individuals and families from all around the world made up this movement.
“Looking back now, it feels inevitable, but I can assure you that it was far from a sure thing. Back then. there was no guarantee that the Japanese American National Museum would be anything more than a dream … So on behalf of the museum staff, the wonderful volunteers that we have, and the Board of Trustees and the Board of Governors. I would like to thank all of our charter members for your belief in us.”
Voices of Charter Members
The charter members present were asked to stand up and be recognized. Charter members and docents Bill Shishima and Yae Aihara introduced a video about charter members Stan Honda, Barbara Kawakami, Edwin Nakasone and Amy Uyematsu.
Appearing on stage after the video, Honda, a photojournalist, said, “The Heart Mountain barracks project really connected me to the Japanese American National Museum. The fact that the barrack is still at the museum and thousands of visitors and students see it every day is a strong reminder why a place like the Japanese American National Museum needs to exist.”
Kawakami’s granddaughter, Marlene Calderon, said, “Thank you so much for supporting her vision and her ability to be able to share her passionate stories of … the first immigrants to Hawaii.”
Uyematsu, a poet, recalled, “When I was a senior a Pasadena High School in the ’60s, I talked about my family being forced into Heart Mountain and Gila. None of my classmates believed me. They accused me of making it up. Back then, the mass incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans was not included in history books.
“Today, you can go to the JANM bookstore and see shelf after shelf of books on the camps. We’ve come a long way, but we know how important it is to keep talking about our history … I’m especially grateful that its permanent collection pays tribute to our pioneer Issei and their Nisei children.”
Sean Miura, writer, producer, artist and Buzzfeed strategist, solicited donations for JANM’s Bid for Education, which makes field trips to JANM possible for over 12,000 primary and secondary school students and teachers every year. More than $200,000 was raised that evening.
An “In Memoriam” montage honored notable individuals, including several charter members, who have passed away since the last gala. (A complete list follows this article.)
JANM President and CEO Ann Burroughs started by thanking everyone, especially the sponsors, for their generous contributions and asking the staff, volunteers, trustees and governors to stand and be recognized.
“Just eight months ago at JANM, we marked the 30th anniversary of redress, the signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which we commemorated at JANM with a very special display, the centerpiece of which was the original document on loan from the National Archives, bearing President [Ronald] Reagan’s signature,” she noted. “… We also had President Reagan’s pen, the pen that he used to sign the act into law.
“When we did that exhibition … we celebrated the commitment of the community to push for redress. We also celebrated that act of a president who was willing to name the injustice of incarceration for what it was. The president, in that instance, stood up for the principles on which this country was founded and apologized for the great wrong that this country had brought on its own citizens.
“The contrast of that president’s willingness to apologize and name that wrong could not be more apparent and could not have more relevance and immediacy at this moment when civil rights for so many in this country of being threatened … Our obligation at JANM — it’s not a choice, it’s something that we have to do — is to shine the light on what can happen when any community is scapegoated and persecuted in the way that the Japanese American community was scapegoated and persecuted.”
Burroughs celebrated “the grit and the passion of our charter members,” many of whom were in camp, to create “a place where the history of the incarceration would be preserved and never forgotten, a place where that apology would have meaning and a place that could shine that light and stand as a beacon against injustice, and a place where diversity would be welcomed and celebrated.”
She gave special recognition to the first volunteer who became a charter member, Masako Murakami, who was in the audience.
“Fear Is Stoked with Lies”
Curry, who was co-host of NBC’s “Today” for 15 years and has since hosted “We’ll Meet Again” on PBS and the upcoming TBS/TNT show “Chasing the Cure,” discussed her own experiences as a Nikkei as well as the importance of remembering the incarceration.
Greeting the audience with “Konban wa,” she joked, “If my Japanese American mother, Hiroe Nagase, is able to watch from above tonight, she is bursting with pride and she’s also telling me to fix my hair and likely that I’m wearing too much eyeliner, wearing the wrong dress, but that she loves me.”
Having addressed the incarceration on her PBS show and in a recent National Geographic article, Curry said, “Perhaps I might, in this moment when anger towards immigrants in America is again rising, offer some perspective that might be useful. This kind of anger does need perspective as we see it swelling into hate, not just in America but also elsewhere in the world, moving like a virus, infecting politics and policies, destroying trust and relationships and threatening wider intolerance and even physical violence against people because of their religion or their race …
“I can offer what my nearly 40 years of journalism has taught me, including reporting from the farthest reaches of inhumanity. I can bring my experiences growing up multiracial in a postwar America before interracial marriage was fully legalized, and I can factor in what I’ve learned as a student of history and of the present …
“What I see is a pattern, a pattern with strikingly similar characteristics from place to place and from the past to the present. The pattern begins with fear that is sparked and stoked by people in power capitalizing on untended discontent. Discontent can pile up in layers like dry tinder over time and grow so thick that when it’s lit, it can suddenly explode into flames and move at a speed that can surprise even the one who struck the match.
“Lies work like gasoline on these flames and they can send the fire roaring out of control. As we have seen in our own time in Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, Darfur, Syria and now in the Central African Republic. this is what happened in Germany leading to World War II. People in power capitalizing on discontent, sparking a fire of fear, and fear is stoked with lies …
“I first learned about the incarceration of people of Japanese ancestry not in school, but from a book of photographs I happened upon in a public library, and I struggled to make sense of how this could happen in the America that I was growing up in. I already knew about fear and prejudice, having experienced from a very young age the pain of being diminished and being called racial epithets, and I had watched my mother, who had immigrated right after the war, endure and overcome for years and still believe in the promise of this great nation.”
Curry’s research showed that public officials made false statements immediately after Pearl Harbor. U.S. Navy Secretary Frank Knox said, “Each of our little Japanese friends will know his part in the event of any possible attempted invasion or air raid.” Los Angeles Mayor Fletcher Bowron said, “We cannot run the risk of another Pearl Harbor episode in Southern California.”
The media never questioned such statements and “the fury was out of control,” said Curry. “….This is how it happened, why 120,000 people, two-thirds of them United States citizens, were forced behind barbed wires. I was stunned to discover that more than 5,000 babies were born incarcerated and close to 2,000 people died incarcerated.
“And we now know that government lawyers suppressed a Navy intelligence report that found, at that time, that Japanese Americans posed no military threat and showed no evidence of being disloyal. As it turned out, no evidence was ever found of disloyalty or wrongdoing by any Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II. And yet still today, the lie persists.
“Even as I was writing about the incarceration for National Geographic … someone I know really well who’s both highly educated and also a California native, asked me, ‘But didn’t Japanese Americans in Hawaii aid the bombing of Pearl Harbor?’
“We cannot prevent people in power from telling lies. But we can call out a lie. We can address the fear, we can understand with compassion the causes of discontent. And we can and we should tell the truth in every way possible, including in museums like the one that gathers us here tonight, about what was once allowed to happen and to tell the story not just to ourselves, but to people who might not otherwise know.”
Her article featured photos by photojournalist Paul Kitagaki, who discovered photos of Japanese American incarcerees in the National Archives and tracked down those individuals or their descendants, then created the exhibition “Gambatte,” which was on view at JANM through April 28.
Among those pictured was Torazo Sakawye, who died at age 67 in Manzanar, with his grandson Walter. Curry said that the grandson now thinks that Torazo died “of a broken heart.”
Also pictured was Junzo Jake Ohara, whose father, Shozu, was a member of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce in Little Tokyo before the war. “He never fully recovered [from camp]as he struggled with feelings of shame for having been seen as disloyal,” said Curry, quoting his son as saying, “He had a breakdown and would walk the long way around so he didn’t have to see anyone he knew.”
Curry asked Ohara to stand so that he and his family could be acknowledged.
“Sometimes when I think about the people in these photographs and their suffering, it helps to try to internalize just a little bit of the courage of the men in the 100th and the 442nd who fought and died for America and its promise, becoming against all odds the most decorated combat unit for its size in U.S. history,” said Curry. “Their stunning example and the example of their families helps me stand a little straighter and speak a little louder …
“They did not give up and neither will we. My life’s work has convinced me that truth is a shield. It can defend people, and when truth rises, so do the rest of us. We can see this … as America struggles with its own ideals.
“Since our origins and despite our darkest impulses, humans have climbed, not everywhere, not all at once, but slowly. Two steps up and one step down, three steps up, and then a terrible fall before we stand back up and climb again. Our collective path could be charted on a graph rising as we move through time, up and up and up, painfully but persistently, towards knowledge, understanding, and empathy that is awakening in us …
“There are no ‘others.’ There is just us, and as we are human, there’s now, even in this time, ample reason to hope.”
The opportunity drawing for a 2019 Lexus was conducted by Tracey Doi, chief financial officer of Toyota Motor North America and a member of the JANM Board of Governors. The winner was Scott Takahashi of Gardena.
The American Airlines drawing was Nancy Matsui, national account manager, also a member of the JANM Board of Governors. The winner was Paul Kosaka, who said he will donate the prize to a charter member.
Dinners sponsors included:
Signature Sponsors — Aratani Foundation, MUFG Union Bank N.A., Terasaki Family Foundation, Toyota Motor North America; Diamond Sponsors — American Airlines, George Sugimoto/Sugimoto Family Foundation; Emerald Sponsors — Capital Group/Kari Nakama/Kristine Nishiyama, Kenneth and JoAnn Hamamura, the Yuki family
Jeff Adachi, 59, elected San Francisco public defender and filmmaker
Hitoshi Arisumi, 99, veteran of 232nd Combat Engineer company of the 100th/442nd
Richard Fukuhara, 74, artist, photographer, community leader, founder of Shadows for Peace
Mary Kinoshita Higashi, 96, JANM charter member who was featured in the documentary “Passing Poston”
Jim Ito, 69, son of Arthur and Alice Ito of Garden Arts, who created floral centerpieces for JANM gala dinners
Rodney Kageyama, 77, actor, emcee of community events, volunteer storyteller at JANM
Mary Karatsu, 94, JANM charter member and volunteer for 28 years
Mitsuru “Mits” Kataoka, 84, longtime member of UCLA Department of Art faculty
Diane Haruko Kato, 70, JANM charter member and volunteer
Rev. Shuichi Thomas Kurai 70, former JANM public programs manager, head minister at Sozenji Buddhist Temple, founder of Taiko Center of Los Angeles
Domingo Los Baños, 93, educator and advocate for Filpinos who fought in WWII, who is featured in the “Fighting for Democracy” exhibition at JANM’s National Center for the Preservation of Democracy
Kathryn Madara, 84, retired schoolteacher, JANM volunteer and docent for 21 years
Tsutomu Maehara, 98, founder of Anzen Hotel Supply and later Anzen Hardware in Little Tokyo
Madame Sosei Shizue Matsumoto, 103, JANM charter member and recipient of National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellowship as master and teacher of tea ceremony
Ken Miura, 89, professor at USC School of Cinematic Arts for 49 years
Robert M. Miura, 80, member and supporter of JANM for more than 20 years, professor of mathematical sciences and biomedical engineering at New Jersey Institute of Technology
Emi K. Murata, 97, JANM charter member and longtime supporter of MIS Veterans Club of Southern California
Tetsuo Murata, 101, JANM charter member and Aratani Family Foundation board member
Hiram Ohta, 84, Nisei veteran, JANM volunteer and bilingual docent for more than 20 years
Isamu Carlos Arturo “Art” Shibayama, 88, who fought for equal redress for Japanese Latin Americans abducted and held by the U.S. during WWII
Alice Etsuko Eto Sumida, 104, who developed the nation’s largest gladiola bulb farm with her husband Mark and was profiled in Allen Say’s book “Music for Alice”
Calvin Tajima, 94, Army veteran, JANM charter member and frequent visitor to its exhibitions and public programs
Hiroko Yamagata, 84, who ran Aoi Restaurant in Little Tokyo with her sister grace for 37 years
Jimi Yamaichi, 95, carpenter, WWII draft resister, co-founder of Japanese American Museum of San Jose, Tule Lake Committee member
Kenji Yamamoto, 100, JANM charter member, volunteer and docent for 18 years
Wakako Yamauchi, 93, author and playwright (“And the Soul Shall Dance”) who is featured in the JANM documentary “Words, Weavings & Songs”
Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga, 93, lead researcher for the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, who played a key role in the redress movement
Photos by MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo