By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
Etsu Mineta Masaoka, a long-time JACL member and widow of one of its early leaders, was remembered at the 2011 JACL National Convention, held over the weekend at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel.
Masaoka, who passed away at the age of 95 on June 2, was honored at last year’s JACL Gala in Washington, D.C. and had been planning to attend this year’s National Convention. She was married to Mike Masaoka from 1943 until his death in 1991.
Former Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, who grew up in San Jose, reminisced about his older sister following a video tribute at the convention’s Culmination Banquet.
“I chose very carefully the family that I was born into,” he said, getting a laugh from the audience. “I had a great mother, a great father, three great older sisters, a great older brother. I was the youngest of five and there was an 18-year difference between the oldest and the youngest.”
When his oldest sister, Aya, left home to attend UC Berkeley in 1933, “people would say to my dad, ‘Mineta, why are you sending your daughter to the university? She ought to either get married or go to work.’ My dad, having an eighth-grade education, felt that everybody should get a good education, including the girls.”
Etsu, the No. 2 daughter, “became the big sister to all of us,” Mineta said, recalling that she once doused him with cold water when he refused to get out of bed. “She was not shy in exercising her authority as neesan.”
At the same time, he said, “She was the glue of our family. She was the one who made things happen at home … She was really to all of us the kind of big sister you looked to for guidance, for love.”
When Etsu and Mike Masaoka first met on a bus ride to a JACL convention in Monterey in 1941, her first impression of him was that he was “this rude guy lying there with his feet out in the aisle,” Mineta said. But after that, Mike Masaoka frequently visited the Mineta household to see his future wife. “I would hide behind the sofa … Sometimes they’d encourage me (to leave) with a coin or two. The coin of the realm was a dime. I remember once he must have been caught without a dime and I ended up with a quarter … I thought, ‘This is great!’ ”
After Pearl Harbor, Masaoka and other JACL leaders, including Frank Chuman (who attended this year’s convention), George Inagaki and Thomas Yatabe, held several meetings at the San Jose house, said Mineta, who was 10 when he was interned with his family at Heart Mountain.
The couple moved to Washington, D.C. in 1946 to work at the JACL office. From then on, Mineta said, “to many of us, ‘Mike and Etsu’ was one word. You couldn’t separate the two.”
Remembering his sister as “the life of the party” at community and family gatherings, Mineta said, “JACL was very central to Etsu and so we all regret her leaving, but what we should be doing is celebrating her 95 years.”
Mineta thanked Etsu Masaoka’s granddaughter, Michelle Amano, and son-in-law, Richard Amano, for taking care of her in her later years.
Emcee Tamlyn Tomita applauded Mineta for acknowledging the contributions of all generations of his family, from his Issei father to his grand-niece.