PASADENA — Soji Kashiwagi was sworn in as a member of the Pasadena Human Relations Commission on Monday evening at City Hall with Mayor Bill Bogaard presiding.
Kashiwagi, 48, will serve as vice chair of the nine-member commission. Commissioners, who are appointed by the mayor and the seven councilmembers, must be Pasadena residents.
As he is completing the term of a previous commissioner, Kashiwagi’s term expires on June 30, 2012, but he will then be eligible to serve two consecutive three-year terms.
The goals of the commission are:
• To engage in activities designed to aid in elimination of prejudice, intolerance and discrimination against individuals or groups because of race, religion, national origin, sex or cultural background.
• To assist the city in achieving better inter-group understanding among residents and to provide assistance to local private persons and groups seeking to promote goodwill and better relations among all people.
Members should have a personal acceptance of, and commitment to, the principle of equal opportunity for all people, and an ability to function harmoniously with a heterogeneous group.
The other commissioners and their appointing authorities are: Milena Albert (mayor), Felipe O. Infante (District 1), Vahe Atchabahian (District 2), Terrie Ann Allen (District 3), Chairperson Nat Nehdar (District 5), Tamerlin Godley (District 6), Jonathan Paek (District 7), and Zavon Brown (mayor/District 1).
Meetings are held the first Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at the Jackie Robinson Center, 1020 N. Fair Oaks Ave.
Kashiwagi is a Sansei and San Francisco native who has lived in Southern California for 24 years, 16 of them in Pasadena. His wife, singer and actress Keiko Kawashima, was born and raised in Pasadena.
He works as executive producer and writer for the Grateful Crane Ensemble, a non-profit theater group known for such musicals as “The Camp Dance” and “Nihonmachi: The Place to Be.” He received a BA in journalism from San Francisco State University and has been a contributor to the Rafu Shimpo for many years.
Kashiwagi told the Rafu Shimpo how he came to be on the commission:
Gene Masuda, a retired business owner and former president of one of East Pasadena’s largest neighborhood associations, was elected to the City Council last April. During his campaign, he stopped by Kashiwagi’s house to discuss issues of concern in District 4, which includes Upper Hastings Ranch, Lower Hastings Ranch, Daisy-Villa, Eaton Blanche, East Eaton Wash, Eaton Canyon Wash, East Orange Grove, Fox Ridge/Canyon Close, Loma Vista, Sierra Madre Villa, and Victory Rose.
After the election, Masuda met Mits Hino, a Nisei and former City of Pasadena employee, for lunch. Since Hino knew that Kashiwagi lived in Masuda’s district, he brought along Kashiwagi’s recent article in the Rafu Shimpo about his father Hiroshi’s journey from Tule Lake to Washington, D.C. and shared it with Masuda. Masuda remembered meeting Kashiwagi, and was impressed with the article.
“Next thing I know,” said Kashiwagi, “I receive a call out of the blue from Gene Masuda asking me if I would serve on the Pasadena Human Relations Commission. I told him I’ve never done anything like this before, and he thought a moment and said, ‘Maybe it’s time that you start.’ ”
After reading more about it, and taking a couple of days to think it over, Kashiwagi accepted the offer.
“I started thinking about my grandparents and my parents, and how they never had an opportunity like this to serve,” he said. “Then I started thinking about Pasadena, and the history I learned from people like the late (journalism teacher) Ted Tajima. He told me about the restricted covenants that were in place throughout Pasadena. He told me that Japanese Americans and other minorities were only allowed to swim in the public pool once a month, on the day before it was to be cleaned.
“I also thought about Esther Takei Nishio, a courageous Nisei woman who served as a ‘test case’ in 1944 when she returned to Pasadena to face extreme prejudice and hatred from local Pasadenans. These people and their stories is what I will remember as we work toward the elimination of prejudice and intolerance in Pasadena today.
“I would like to thank Mits Hino for passing along my article, and Gene Masuda for recommending me. I am humbled and honored to serve.”
Kashiwagi added, “I’ll still be doing my thing with Grateful Crane. I see this commission as a continuation of the work I’m doing in the Japanese American community.”