VOX POPULI: Regarding Mike Masaoka

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By MO NISHIDA

I’d like to comment on Phil Shigekuni’s “Senior Moments” column “More on Mike Masaoka” (3/3/12).

In the column, he mentions that the term “Moses” was a put-up job by those who did not like Mike (Moses) Masaoka. When the book “They Call Me Moses Masaoka” first came out, it was my understanding that the general feeling was that he was serious. Also I don’t believe his “ghost” writer, Bill Hosokawa, would have put such a title like that as a joke.

I also can’t figure out why Joe Grant Masaoka isn’t included as one of the five brothers. He, as I understood it, was Mike’s older brother.

One of his claims to fame was following an anti-Japanese rabble-rouser for the McClatchy newspapers around and correcting him from the floor — pretty tough, I think. He later helped Art Hansen do the interviews for which Mr. Hansen is now famous.

The part that I really have a problem with is when Phil states, “Through intensive lobbying, Mike was successful in bringing about passage (in 1952) of the McCarran-Walter Act, which allowed Issei to become naturalized citizens.”

The clarification I want to add is that both Sen. Pat McCarran (D-Nev.) and Rep. Francis Walter (D-Pa.) were right-wingers who sponsored a whole string of repressive anti-civil/human rights legislation aimed at “commies” and civil-righters, meaning people of color like us and our allies, primarily black folks. Remember, this country was still in segregation, U.S. style.

The main provision of the particular bill that Phil says Mike worked on and, “through intensive lobbying,” allowed Issei to become citizens, was called Title II, the concentration camp provision of the McCarran-Walter Act. That allowed and made legal the construction and maintenance of concentration camps for dissidents. Read commies, civil/human rights activists and people of color who stood up for our rights, i.e. those of us who didn’t know our “place.”

The reason I’m familiar with all this is the fact that I was a member of the Ethnic Concerns Committee (ECC) of the Pacific Southwest District Council (PSWDC) of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) under the guidance and encouragement of PSWDC staff person Jeffrey Matsui. The ECC spearheaded a successful national campaign to overturn the Title II provisions, in spite of all the resistance from the right wing of the JACL and our community.

The effort led by the ECC and the left wing of the JACL, the liberation chapters, brought a successful national campaign through Congress that saw Title II overturned and eliminated. This, in my mind, is the one and only truly civil/human rights effort led by and made by the JACL. Unfortunately, in the end, “Moses” and gang prevailed and the brief ascendancy of the JACL “left” was buried and written out of our and the JACL’s history.

The point I want to make is that the atmosphere of the times — the breaking down of segregation, the Cold War and a strong right-wing thrust to demonize communists and communism — is much like today. Right-wing legislation that gets around due process is touted as tough on crime (like three strikes, etc.) and/or hard on terrorists (Muslims/Arabs) and gets passed and signed into law with hardly a peep.

The Title II concentration camp provision was like that. The only struggle Mike was likely to encounter was getting the rightists to accept a rider giving the “Japs” the “right” to naturalization. When I discovered this contradiction — that Mike had hitched the “right” to citizenship on a concentration camp bill — it made me wanna puke.

There were those who thought it was brilliant, because it practically ensured passage and the right to naturalization.

But for me, it made me sick. To tie our (my) parents’ right to citizenship on a bill legalizing concentration camps, which we all knew was wrong, was the most insensitive, boot-licking strategy I could think of. I sure as hell couldn’t respect someone that thought like that.

A last word on Mike, as I experienced him, was his warning to us in the Title II campaign — one that was repeated to the reparations struggle folks and one he sent to the draft resisters and Fair Play Committee folks way back when. Paraphrased, “Don’t fight the power (white power)” or “You don’t want to face white backlash.”

For me, I prefer the thinking of the great Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, who said, “I would rather die on my feet than live on my knees.”

I want to thank Phil for bringing up stuff from the past and giving me the opportunity to clear out some past baggage.

I now know that every human being can be divided into two, that “facts” can be interpreted from different angles and sometimes facts can be different. But the only way you will know what’s going on in the other person is to listen and to put your own views out there, dialogue and try to be consistent in respecting equality, dignity and patience in the practice of real democracy. That is my belief and I try to practice it to the best of my limited abilities.

Kokoro kara.

Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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