I was saddened to learn of George Yoshinaga’s passing. Although we were very different in so many ways, we seemed to like one another.
I first came to know about him in 1959 when my dad said upon my selection as the ELA JACL Emerald Ball Queen that he wrote very kind, positive article. Years later, when I was in Mayor Tom Bradley’s administration, our path crossed.
He at times wrote about being from Kumamoto-Ken. I let him know that my parents hailed from there as well. One thing we had in common was our love of stinky natto. My mother made it in the laundry room.
When I returned to L.A. from serving in the Clinton Administration, I received a call from Santa Anita Race Track. They were planning on making a video film about the World War II detention of persons of Japanese ancestry. I referred them to George. Next, we were both interviewed for their video.
Thereafter, George approached his good friend Supervisor Mike Antonovich to make Santa Anita an L.A. County Historic Site. I was among a group of former internees at the dedication ceremony.
In March 2014, a Santa Anita Assembly Center Reunion organized by Bacon Sakatani drew hundreds of former internees to return for the celebration. During the program, Horse was being heralded by state, county and city officials. Horse richly deserved the recognition for his strong dedication in establishing the memorial designation of Santa Anita Race Track used during World War II to incarcerate persons of Japanese ancestry, the majority American citizens.
When the horse races began, because George was so busy with the program and guests, he did not even have time to bet. I don’t know anything about horse racing, but I knew Horse liked Corey Nakatani, so I went up the window and placed a bet on Corey in the third race to come in third. Well, “lo and behold,” I was right. Later, I slipped the winnings to Horse.
The last time I saw George, he and his wife attended the JA Historical Society Aloha Luncheon. There was a huge crowd to say sayonara to George and Iku Kiriyama’s labor of love. As I sat there handing out name tags, that was the last time I saw him.
Now it is time to say sayonara to another great JA community institution. George, we will miss you dearly.
Rose Matsui Ochi