SENIOR MOMENTS: JACL National Convention, July 24-27

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By PHIL SHIGEKUNI

I am uncomfortable writing this column because it is about an invitation I received from JACL to attend its national convention to receive an award related to my efforts on behalf of redress.

The Japanese side of me tells me it isn’t cool to toot one’s own horn, but how can I write about going to the convention without telling why I was there? 

In the picture, standing beside me to receive the plaques in recognition of our efforts towards achieving redress were Mollie Fujioka and Tom Kometani. 

It was announced I served on the Legislative Education Committee, but I was not on that committee. Rather, I was on the National Committee for Redress, which was formed in 1978, but more on that later.

As expected, the evening featured several speakers who told of JACL’s journey to redress. What especially caught my attention were the well-made DVDs related to the redress story that were shown towards the end of the evening.

The 25-year redress celebration dinner was held the first night. Preceding the dinner was a VIP reception that Marion and I attended, though feeling a bit out of place. It helped to sit at a table with a few friendly people. The only familiar faces in the room were Norm Mineta, Mike Honda, National Director Priscilla Ouchida, and former National Director Floyd Mori, who each spoke a few words of welcome.

Priscilla’s husband, Peter, picked up Marion and me, along with Tom Kometani, after we landed in Baltimore. Tom and his wife flew in from Seattle. Peter, good-naturedly enough, spent a lot of time at the conference driving people around. He is retired and lives in Sacramento, while Priscilla, of course, lives in Washington, D.C. Their daughter, Alyssa, Peter told us, will be interning soon at the California State Assembly.

The next morning, we went down to the hotel’s restaurant and pleasantly discovered John and Carol Tateishi, whom we joined for breakfast. John, who was one of the speakers the night before, was the former national director, and before that, the chair for the National Committee for Redress, of which I was a member 25 years ago. Except for short visits at redress conferences, I had not seen John very much these past 25 years.

Understandably, John was in a good mood, and very open with me in talking about the details of what took place behind the scenes in the formation of the redress committee. Even though it was Sen. Inouye who proposed going to Congress to form a commission to investigate our wartime experience, some on the committee were opposed. As to whey there was opposition, let me back up a bit.

Phil Shigekuni, Mollie Fujioka and Tom Kometani receive recognition for their work on redress at the JACL National Convention in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Joe Shymanski)

After Edison Uno, at the JACL National Convention in 1970, challenged the organization to press our government to reckon with its violation of our constitutional rights, a group in Seattle, headed by Henry Miyatake, came up with a plan calling for compensation. Paul Tsuneishi, president the SoCal redress group, E.O. 9066 Inc., expressed an interest in their plans. In response to this interest, Henry’s group rented a camper and drove all the way from Seattle to meet with us at a Japanese restaurant in Little Tokyo.

We thought that if they were willing to drive this far to talk to us, they must have something important to tell us, so we listened with great interest. We did not, however, make any commitment to support them with their plan.

In 1977, Dr. Clifford Uyeda, the original redress chair, called the three or four redress groups to the JACL Headquarters in San Francisco to share our ideas with regard to redress.

Sen. Inouye’s idea of having the commission hearings and having the commission then make recommendations to Congress for redress, instead of introducing a bill calling for direct compensation for the incarcerates, met with opposition, not only from Miyatake’s Seattle group, but others on the committee who felt the commission idea was too involved and would not bring justice in time to the Isseis who were passing away.

On the committee, chaired by John Tateishi, were Ron Mamiya and Henry Miyatake from Seattle, Bill Marutani, Ray Okamura, Min Yasui, and myself.

I asked John about a critical vote that was taken concerning whether the committee would approve the commission strategy proposed by Sen. Inouye. I listened carefully as John recounted the voting process. It was an open procedure whereby each member, before stating his position, explained the reasons for his decision. I was pleased that John said he called on me first, knowing I was in favor of the commission.

As I recall, I said I was in favor of forming the commission to get personal testimony of the hardships created by the internment because it would, at last, allow the community to release the powerful emotions that had been held within for so long. Regardless of whether any compensation came as a result of the hearings, this process would be valuable in providing a very much-needed release for the community. It felt good to hear John say he felt my statement may have affected the voting that followed.

A reception at the National Archives came on Thursday in connection with the unveiling of the display of E.O. 9066 alongside the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Prior to the reception, there was a press conference at which I was asked to be one of the speakers, along with Mariellen Tsukamoto of Florin and veterans Terry Shima from Hawaii and Grant Ichikawa from Washington, D.C. The text of my comments appeared in my column that appeared in The Rafu Shimpo on Aug. 7.

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.

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