OG-SAN: Seat at the Table

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By WARREN FURUTANI

Just prior to the Democratic National Convention, there was a flurry of organizing efforts to establish Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) ethnic affinity groups for the Biden/Harris (B/H) campaign. The umbrella APIs for Biden/Harris group now was joined by Filipino Americans for B/H, Korean Americans for B/H, Japanese Americans for B/H and so forth and so on.

Of course, all this activity raised the question about APIs and specifically JAs being involved in electoral politics. In a previous column I went into some of this and pointed out some of the history of APIs, especially in California, in elected office.

After breakthroughs in the late 1950s and early ’60s, with statehood, APIs in Hawaii led the way. Then advances were recorded on the mainland. In those early days Japanese Americans were the largest API group in Los Angeles. But overall, APIs were the minorities’ minority. Our population numbers paled in comparison to Blacks and Chicanos.

Now we’ve become, along with the Latinx community, the fastest-growing population in the nation and double the number of African Americans in the largest state of the union, California.

But Japanese Americans are now one of the smallest of API populations in Asian Pacific Islander America.

Consequently, relative to politics, I am always on the lookout for Japanese who are willing to run for elected office. Thank goodness we have Al Muratsuchi in the State Legislature. He’s doing a good job in this challenging political environment. We are also fortunate to have a group of highly respected JAs in the United States Congress and Senate.

Yes, I know the usual context I operate in relative to politics is APIA. But I’ve often wondered how the course of Japanese American history would have been altered if there was one Nikkei in the California Legislature or Congress at the start of WWII.

Just one voice that would have echoed through the halls of government and confronted the anti-Japanese sentiment that eventually ruled the day. A clear, loud voice would have given others pause when considering the consequences of their actions.

So I’m heartened when I see a Jeff Mahoney in the SGV. I’m disappointed by James Toma’s re-election loss but counsel, “You don’t win them all, so try again.” I smile when the termed-out mayor of Cerritos, Mark Pulido, helps fellow Councilman Frank Yokoyama and ABC Unified School District member Ernie Nishii get elected.

I’m sure there are more in So Cal but all could be easily counted on the fingers of two hands.

El Camino Community College District candidate Trisha Murakawa and her family.

Now, right in my own backyard, I’m really excited that Trisha Murakawa is running for the El Camino College Board. I recruited her to run and introduced her to the president of the El Co teachers union, Kelsey Iino (who will hopefully will run for office one day).

This is especially exciting because Trisha and Kelsey are young, dynamic leaders who happen to be women. Others like Amy Watanabe, co-chair of JAs for Biden/Harris, and several others have caught my political eye and given me hope.

Trisha is a perfect example of someone who has “labored in the vineyard” and “paid her dues” (who collects these dues?). She has served time on JACL boards, on the local American Civil Liberties Union Board and the American Lung Association Board.

She has also been an active basketball mom for her daughter Bailey in the JA leagues, on the local club team circuit and at Redondo Beach Union High School. She owns and runs her own public affairs business, as if being a community activist, mother and wife and now candidate is not enough. In other words, she’s experienced, credible, viable and winnable.

So, stop “monkuing,” OG-san! The cupboard is not bare but the JA community needs to help out when someone is willing to step up. We need to encourage the next generation of Nikkei to run for office if so inclined. We, along with our sisters and brothers from the emerging APIA community, need our seats at the table and our voices heard.

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Warren Furutani has served on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, on the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees, and in the California State Assembly. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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