By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
“Defining Courage” was the theme as the Go For Broke National Education Center held its 15th annual Evening of Aloha on Oct. 1 at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites in Downtown Los Angeles.
The program included tributes to the Aratani Foundation and former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, who has also served as mayor of San Jose, a congressman representing Silicon Valley, and U.S. secretary of commerce.
This is GFBNEC’s first gala dinner since it relocated to the old Nishi Hongwanji building in Little Tokyo, where an exhibition titled “Defining Courage” is on view.
The evening began with a silent auction and a reception during which the high school and college students who won this year’s essay, poetry and video contest were recognized by Bill Seki, chairman of the GFBNEC Board of Directors, and Mitch Maki, interim CEO/president of GFBNEC.
The Honolulu-based 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry Regiment Color Guard kicked off the dinner program by posting the colors. Lauren Hanako Kinkade of the band Kokoro sang the national anthem.
Emcee David Ono of ABC 7 Eyewitness News, who called the dinner “one of the highlights of my year,” introduced Nisei World War II veterans of the 100th Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and Military Intelligence Service, who appeared on stage. Other veterans and active service members in the audience were asked to stand.
Seki thanked the gala committee and sponsors, and recognized dignitaries in attendance, including Rep. Mark Takano, Assemblymember David Hadley, former Assemblymembers Paul Bannai, George Nakano, Alan Nakanishi and Al Muratsuchi, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, Consul General Akira Chiba, Los Angeles Community College Trustee Mike Fong, Alhambra City Councilmember Gary Yamauchi, and Los Angeles Economic and Workforce Development Department General Manager Jan Perry.
The inaugural Go For Broke Award went to the Aratani Foundation for its support of various GFBNEC programs. Accepting were Linda Aratani, daughter of the late philanthropist George Aratani, and Betty Teves, the foundation’s secretary.
Aratani said of her father, “He was just a regular guy who wanted to help out. That’s just the way he was.”
Reflecting on Go For Broke’s accomplishments over the years, she said, “I think the most important was the Hanashi program, where they gathered oral histories of our Nisei veterans, many of whom we have lost along the way, so it’s very important and timely that they did what they did. And of course the beautiful Go For Broke Monument … It’s really such a beautiful thing to see. And their involvement in the Congressional Gold Medal. My sister and I went to Washington, D.C. for the ceremony. It was really such a touching ceremony.”
Regarding “Defining Courage,” Aratani said, “It’s completely interactive … very well-designed for the next generations. It’s a very visceral experience and I highly recommend it to all of you.”
She praised Teves as “the pivotal person behind our foundation. Her history goes back a long time, when she was in her early twenties. She was hired for a job at this relatively small, maybe up-and-coming dinnerware company called Mikasa. Betty actually spent her entire career at Mikasa. She was my father’s secretary and she whipped my dad into shape. He would forget things, she would be on him … She does the same thing for me now … She’s been so devoted to our foundation and our family.”
Ono conducted a live auction and introduced a video in which first-time visitors to the exhibit shared their thoughts.
The evening’s chefs were introduced on stage: Roy Yamaguchi of Roy’s Restaurants Worldwide, Garrett Mukogawa of Roy’s Restaurant in Hawaii, Akira Hirose of Maison Akira in Pasadena, Scott Smith and James Brannon of King’s Hawaiian Bakery & Restaurant, and Joseph Smith of Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites.
Defining Courage Award
Maki introduced Mineta as the recipient of the inaugural Defining Courage Award, saying, “He embodies the essence of defining courage. At critical points in our nation’s and our community’s history, he demonstrated the courage to stand in the face of injustice, to right the wrongs of the past, and to serve as a role model to all.”
Noting that Mineta was sent to the Heart Mountain camp in Wyoming as a youth, Maki said that as a congressman, “he was a key author of … the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which contains a presidential apology and monetary redress payments for Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during World War II …
“He did not just serve in one presidential cabinet, he served in two … for two presidents from two different political parties. In the aftermath of 9/11, he issued the order grounding all civilian aircraft, and this was done for the very first time in American history. In the ensuing days, he also mandated that all U.S. airlines would refrain from racial profiling of Muslim and Middle Eastern passengers.”
Mineta said that he learned about courage from “our hard-working parents who came to this country with nothing more than a hope and a dream and vision of what they would like to see for their children and their own futures.”
His father came to the U.S. by himself from Shizuoka at the age of 14. Mineta said his father mistakenly got off the ship in Seattle instead of California, and had to work his way down the coast from one labor camp to the next for a year and a half. Upon arrival at the Spreckels Sugar Co. in Salinas, where his uncle worked, he was told to learn English and had to endure the indignity of studying alongside first-graders in a public school.
“The courage all of our parents, grandparents, our teachers instilled in us the kind of courage exemplified by the 442nd and those who served in military intelligence,” Mineta said, noting that many volunteered from the camps “saying, ‘I’ll prove my loyalty to this country even though we’ve been treated in this manner’ … The extraordinary courage of the Nisei soldiers was manifested over and over again in the battlefields.”
Their accomplishments swayed members of Congress during the struggle to get the redress bill passed, he added.
In the days immediately following 9/11, Mineta developed a new security regimen for airports, and insisted that there be no racial profiling. During a Sept. 13, 2001 Cabinet meeting, Mineta was pleasantly surprised when President George W. Bush said, “We’re also concerned about [anti-Muslim] rhetoric and we don’t want to have happen today what happened to Norm in 1942.”
Mineta said he will always remember Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh American gas station owner in Mesa, Ariz., who was murdered on Sept. 15, 2001 because his assailant wanted revenge for 9/11 and mistook him for a Muslim.
And this year, he said, Ibtihaj Muhammad, who made history when she became the first American athlete to compete in the Olympics while wearing a hijab, did not feel safe while training in New York City due to anti-Muslim hatred.
“It is in these moments of fear … that we must call upon the meaning of courage that was so definitively exhibited by our Nisei heroes,” Mineta said. “Stand up for justice and the American promise that we are a land of laws in which individuals are judged by the content of their character, not by the way they dress or the sound of their surname.”
He encouraged everyone to see “Defining Courage” as well as similar exhibitions at the World War II Museum in New Orleans and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, “so that they too will be inspired to preserve the important legacy that was built by our Nisei heroes. It is a story that must be retold so that it is never repeated in terms of the experiences that the Japanese American population went through, so that our Muslim American friends … will be respected and embraced.”
Maki announced Go For Broke’s upcoming projects: “Next year we will be launching the digital archives of Japanese American military service through a grant. We are inviting Nisei-related organizations to contribute their digital images, their oral histories and their photographs to be displayed on the Web for anyone who’s interested … What this means is that our story will have access worldwide …
“‘Defining Courage’ each and every month has more and more visitors coming through its doors, and later this month … junior high kids, high school kids, and some college kids will be coming through and learning what it means to take the lessons of the Nisei World War II veterans … making them not a past story but a living legacy for fighting injustice today … We are adding to it each and every day so that there will be more content and more information.
“Lastly, I am excited to unveil … a new project that we have just launched called Communities of Compassion and Courage. It was through a grant from the Department of the Interior. We searched across the nation looking for American communities who have done something extraordinary to support Japanese American soldiers and their families during World War II. We are now partnering with 10 selected communities to host a traveling exhibit which will travel across the nation, telling the story of the incarceration, highlighting the achievements of the 100th, the 442nd and the MIS, and sharing the story of American communities who demonstrated compassion and courage in supporting Japanese Americans at a time when the rest or our nation abandoned us.”
Seki and Sabina Helton, dinner co-chair, made a “Fund the Future” pitch, asking for additional donations to help GFBNEC to continue its mission.
The opportunity drawing for a 2017 Acura RDX was conducted by Ono, Maki and Kacey Takashima of American Honda Motor Co. Inc., the evening’s presenting sponsor. The winner was Doug Urata, a member of the dinner committee.
A cabaret featuring saxophonist Michael Paulo and his band followed the dinner.
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo