Paul and Aiko Tsuneishi are residents at Nikkei Senior Gardens, a beautiful assisted living facility located in Arleta in the San Fernando Valley. I write my column today in tribute to Paul and his dear wife Aiko, who has provided unwavering support for Paul in their many years of marriage.
In keeping with his Japanese heritage, Paul has kept his many accomplishments low-key. I first became involved with Paul when he organized and chaired the first redress (or as it was called then, reparations) meeting in Southern Cal. It was held at the JA Community Center in Pacoima, in April of 1975.
On a panel, moderated by Paul, were Edison Uno, who flew down from San Francisco; Bob Ronka, L.A. city councilman; Gail Nishioka, National JACL; Masamune Kojima, governor, Pacific Southwest District, JACL; and Edwin Hiroto, administrator, City View Hospital. We drew close to 200 to the program. Harry Honda, editor of Pacific Citizen, was there taking notes. Although there was no clear mandate for redress, there apparently was support for the concept.
From this start, Paul organized EO 9066 Inc., the first redress organization in California. On the board were JACL members such as myself, although Paul kept the organization apart from JACL, recognizing the resentment many in the community felt toward JACL because of its wartime positions.
EO 9066 was able to secure endorsements for redress from church organizations, such as the JA Free Methodist Conference, the California Pacific United Methodist Church and an African American church. We honored and had as a speaker Gordon Hirabayashi, who flew down from Canada. Others we honored included Rev. Herbert Nicholson, who provided support for internees at Manzanar, and attorney Wayne Collins Jr., whose father played a major role in helping Tule Lake renunciants regain their citizenship.
In addition, we circulated and had published in The Rafu Shimpo the results of surveys we had taken indicating overwhelming support for redress on the part of the JA community.
As a result of our efforts, Paul and I were invited to San Francisco to bring together a group from Seattle and eastern Oregon to work jointly in making redress proposals. This eventually resulted in the JACL’s historic vote to move ahead with redress at its National Convention in 1978.
Paul became district governor for JACL in 1978. Although there was little enthusiasm for redress, he did his best to promote the effort.
While Paul was in office, he was a key supporter in addressing the plight of 400-500 Niseis who were in Japan during the dropping of the A-bombs and needed medical attention for their injuries but were unable to get it from the U.S. government. Unfortunately, he was not able to pursue this cause because the redress issue began to take so much of his time.
In the 1990s, Paul became acquainted with the late Frank Emi and others who resisted the draft and went to prison during WWII. While in Heart Mountain, Paul’s Issei father was their outspoken ally when they refused induction unless their families’ constitutional rights were restored. Although Paul himself served in WWII, their principled stand was something he admired. He felt strongly that the resisters, who were condemned by JACL, were deserving of an apology.
In conjunction with JACL PSW District, he organized a community meeting to air the issue at the district office and at Centenary United Methodist Church. An apology from to the resisters was approved at the JACL National Convention in 2000.
Before money was available to pay the expenses of those getting oral histories of aging WWII Niseis, Paul spent his own money to fly to various places to interview a number of prominent Niseis. In numerous instances, Frank Chin, the playwright and community activist, went with Paul. These interviews Paul personally transcribed and donated to the JA National Museum.
Paul and I are members of Chatsworth West United Methodist Church. For many years we were an independent JA church, until Paul was able to make arrangements for us to be United Methodists. We then merged with the aging white congregation.
In 2005 I was able to interview Paul at the church. I am proud to say he has been my mentor and friend, and I treasure the written record I have of his accomplishments.
Phil Shigekuni writes from San Fernando Valley and can be contacted at [email protected] The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.