The current pall of gloom and doom pervading our community is an obvious downer. The status of Keiro, our community’s iconic success story, is facing an uncertain future, the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center’s horizon is somewhat beclouded, the Japanese American National Museum continues in flux, Little Tokyo Service Center is betting its future on a gymtorium gamble.
Simply being Japanese American non-profits also puts smaller outlier entities into unnecessary focus: East San Gabriel Valley, San Fernando Valley, Orange County, Long Beach, Gardena, Pasadena, Venice. (Apologies to those I may have missed.) If there is one thing Nisei accomplished during their reign, it was their dedication and determination to take care of their own. And wow, did they ever!
Add to these success stories the youth athletic organizations that thrived and flourished from the ’50s on: JAO, SEYO, CYC, FOR. JA veterans and Nisei service groups were formed when membership was not welcomed in national patriotic organizations. Women’s groups, initially relegated to hostess and kitchen support, were soon recognized for their own achievements and contributions. JA churches of all faiths burgeoned. The ’60s-’70s-’80s was the era of The Yellow Herald.
How Keiro will meet its immediate challenges will be the focus of attention during the coming months. By virtue of their own 501(c)3 status, the JACCC, JANM and LTSC will also share the scrutiny of the community, fair or not. What the future holds for The Big Four is the question. Numbers, to put it simply, are the bottom line in each case; dollars and supporters. The aforementioned outlying community organizations have long faced the reality of dwindling support bases; the Keiro situation merely brings it back into focus.
To understand where we are today, a review of the generations: The Issei, throughout their humble existence, literally gave their lives for the Nisei. Maybe it’s hard for some to imagine today, but they had no life. Everything centered on their offspring; their education, families, future. The Nisei in turn memorialized and honored their parents by making sure the Sansei suffered none of their indignities. We do not point a crooked finger at the San-Yonsei: There is no fault or guilt; their lives have absolutely nothing in common with the second generation other than name. After the Nisei, the chasm is great.
When it comes to charitable giving, there is no comparison. Issei gave until it hurt.
Nisei made it an ingrained trait. In both instances, the Issei/Nisei combine was motivated by the belief in extended family; a necessary product of the time and circumstances. Sansei and Yonsei have no such concerns, said and agreed upon without prejudice. Times have changed. Adding to the demographic is interracial marriages. Backing strictly Japanese entities is no longer the norm nor aim. Your Yon/Gosei can go anywhere, do anything, compete with whomever they please.
[We can’t gloss over the importance of Japan financing during the heyday, nor the generosity of individual Nisei. However you spell benevolence, certain names come to mind in association with local philanthropy. “Hi, ho Silver” didn’t get things done. It is inevitable and unfortunate that these major benefactors cannot be replicated.]
CR2S has been publicly lamenting the demise of the Greatest Generation for a while. I guess it’s time to accept the harsh reality that the future is now. But one doesn’t place a headstone at Evergreen Cemetary signifying the death of an era. On second thought, maybe we should. The Issei epoch was historical, never to be replicated. Nisei unique, as well.
As one of a dwindling number of second generation, there is no end to the hosannas. We survived the Depression. No big deal. The evacuation was our unique imprint. [Please, don’t bring up the $20,000 governmental payout. The most deserving Issei were dead and gone. For three years, that money was approximately twenty bucks a day. Some went out and bought a Lexus. I bought a family plot at Evergreen but forgot to demand running water.]
We can recite chapter and verse of so many “success stories” they become redundant. Only the names and details differ: The guy who burned his fingers pressing records, then spending weekends selling eggs; office worker picking up gardening gigs; students barred from labs controlled by fraternities; secretarial wives spending evenings stuffing envelopes to make extra money; “school girls” living in posh Bev Hills homes doing maid duties for room and board in order to attend UCLA – when tuition was $25 a semester.
When’s the last time you confronted a sign that read: “No dogs or Japs allowed!”? Slaved over an advertising account, only to have a (white) co-worker gain credit and promotion? Gone to a bar and been refused service? [The epitome of humility!]
Whatever we’re leaving you, take good care and cherish. We did a pretty good job of getting you to this point, all things considered. No last-minute reminders, except maybe one final fiat: No matter what level of **Jappo** you might be, don’t knowingly screw things up, please. Or else change your name!
W.T. Wimpy Hiroto can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.