With the Day of Remembrance just past, I came across an email message from a long-time friend, Bob Moriguchi. It was quite coincidental, in that it related to what I was preparing to write in my column about Bob and his son Brian.
February is Black History Month. Bob’s message was about a five-minute video of Sybil Jordan Hampton, one of the black students at Little Rock High School who told her story about attending the school during 1959-62 when President Eisenhower was forced to order the National Guard to the school to enforce integration.
Ms. Hampton’s story was quite moving. Her three years at the school were spent in complete isolation. No one even talked to her, much less befriended her. She said she endured this humiliation because she knew she was doing it for her race.
Ms. Hampton went on to attain a Ph.D. and has since served as president of the Rockefeller Foundation, as well as serving on the board of the Japanese American National Museum. The Rockefeller Foundation provided $2 million for a conference that was sponsored by JANM and held in Little Rock about 12 years ago. The convention drew about 1,000 people.
The Day of Remembrance is a significant event we observe each year to remember the sacrifices of those who endured the stressful WWII years.
As Black Americans, during Black History Month, recognize people like Ms. Hampton who made significant contributions to America, and in particular to Black America, I believe we JAs, as we observe the Day of Remembrance, would be well-served by recognizing those who have done similarly for our community.
Which brings me back to Bob and Brian Moriguchi. It’s a challenge to write in one column all that needs to be said about these two men.
I first encountered Bob when he came to make a presentation at a church I was attending in the San Fernando Valley. He came in the early 1960s as a representative for the San Fernando Valley JACL Chapter, asking for our support for a petition repealing Title II of the National Security Act of 1950, which had a provision for the detention into concentration camps, without due process, of those deemed dangerous to national security.
Bob’s efforts, along with those of many JACL chapters, bore fruit: Title II was later successfully repealed by Congress.
I mention this because of the impression it made on me — one that stayed with me, even after 50 years. Here was a Japanese American man who cared enough about a cause to come to us to plead the case for a matter that affected our entire country. It dealt with something that we as Japanese Americans had endured, that we knew was wrong, that we did not want to have happen again in this country. This sort of activism was inspiring.
Bob grew up in San Francisco and was sent to Amache in Colorado before his family resettled during the war in Utah to do farming. His pre-retirement work was as a pharmacist, and he served as president of the San Fernando Valley JACL in 1968.
Bob has been a long-time volunteer at the Japanese American National Museum, where he works two days a week. He has been presented awards for his outstanding work there, and a reliable source informs me he has been a generous donor to the museum as well.
Bob’s son, Brian, recently was presented an award by the San Fernando Valley JACL for his five years of service as its board president. How Brian came to become involved in the JACL is a story not unrelated to his father’s story.
Brian became an L.A. County sheriff’s deputy at age 21. After a few years, he was assigned to a station where he encountered a buck-toothed drawing and phrases such as “ah, so” and “al-ligt den” on a blackboard where the deputies gathered in the morning. The following is taken from an L.A. Times story written in March of 2000.
Brian’s complaints and requests to have the blackboard inscriptions removed were not heeded. He was told, “You don’t count. You’re not black or Hispanic.” So Brian requested his complaint be addressed at a higher level. After this request, he was told to be quiet about it and threatened with termination — a tactic Brian says is known as the Code of Silence. His tires were slashed, his files were tampered with, and he and his girlfriend were followed by sheriff’s investigators as intimidation.
Because of his experience, a few civil rights groups, with support from the ACLU, requested the formation of a county independent review board to hear complaints of these civil rights violations.
After a civil rights trial jury awarded Brian $60,000, he declined the award, saying he would instead rather have established a county independent citizens’ commission. The county declined his request and gave Brian his award.
The final decision was to allow the county’s affirmative action commission to handle discrimination complaints, with the cooperation of the Sheriff’s department. This, it was presumed, would forestall the kind of retaliation Brian endured.
Brian had stated from the outset, “There are a lot of other officers out there who have suffered the same as I have, but are afraid to come forward.”
Out of retaliation for filing charges of discrimination, Brian was given an assignment far from his previous assignment. His schedule was changed and he was given unreasonable restrictions in his duties, hampering his ability to do his job. The retaliation continued even after his lawsuit. He was denied promotions even though he scored high on the exams. On one exam, he had the second-highest overall score, but he was promoted last on the list.
When I met with Brian and Bob, Brian told me while all this was going on, he suffered severe headaches, indigestion and diarrhea. I asked him what he learned from his dad that motivated him to stay with this ordeal. Brian told me his dad always told him to do the right thing, no matter what. It seems likely to me that Bob’s spirit of activism carried over to Brian.
Brian realizes the importance of an organization such as the JACL, and was supported in his trial by Elizabeth Au, our regional director. He subsequently joined the San Fernando Valley Chapter Board and served for two years as the JACL/PSW District chair for civil rights.
In addition, our chapter was pleased to congratulate Brian on being elected for the fifth consecutive year as president of the County Professional Peace Officers Association, the advocacy organization for over 8,700 law enforcement professionals in L.A. County. He continues to fight for justice within the Sheriff’s Department today.
Bob and Brian Moriguchi, you are real Japanese American heroes, and we in the community salute you!
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.