SENIOR MOMENTS: Celebration of the Life of Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga

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A standing-room-only gathering filled the conference hall at JANM. It was a time of recalling the accomplishments of this free-spirited activist, as well as affectionately telling of her personal charm.

I was asked to speak about my involvement, particularly, with the first redress organization, EO 9066 Inc., as well as the JACL. Ellen Carson spoke about her involvement with William Hohri’s dedicated efforts with the National Council for JARedress, and Miya Iwataki spoke of her involvement in the work of National Coalition for Redress/ Reparations.

I was seated next to Peter Irons. He and Dale Minami, who flew down from San Francisco, spoke of their stellar work on the coram nobis petition, which successfully advocated for Min Yasui, Gordon Hirabayashi and Fred Korematsu. Peter Irons’ work with Aiko at the National Archives was crucial in discovering evidence of the government’s wrongdoing.

On the other side of me was Lisa Abe, Aiko’s daughter and Warren Furutani’s wife. I was able to share with her something we had in common: Our mothers were both divorced. To be sure, this made for disruptions in the family. But putting a positive spin on the situation, I told Lisa that it showed our mothers’ independence and willingness to do what was best for our families.

The Grateful Crane Ensemble participated in a tribute to Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga at the Japanese American National Museum. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

Included in the celebration were musical numbers, a presentation by the Grateful Crane Ensemble, a stirring poetry reading by Aiko’s daughter, Gerrielani Miyazaki, and clips from “Rebel With a Cause” by Janice Tanaka, telling about Aiko’s rich life.

Our presentations on the panel were limited to five minutes. With your indulgence, allow me to tell you a more complete story.

I started my presentation telling of the historic redress (or as it was called then, reparations) panel held in April of 1975 at the community center in the San Fernando Valley. It was chaired by Paul Tsuneishi, who turned out to be my mentor. Also on the panel was Edison Uno, who from the early ’70s advocated redress, to no avail, with National JACL.

From this panel came the first redress organization, EO 9066, Inc. Sue Embrey signed on the incorporation papers. EO 9066 solicited churches and other organizations for support, surveyed the community asking what form they wanted redress to take, and held meetings with speakers who included Gordon Hirabayashi, Rev. Herbert Nicholson and Wayne Merrill Collins, son of Wayne Mortimer Collins.

I was invited to be on the first National JACLRedress Committee, which met in San Francisco. A hard-working group in Seattle, headed by Henry Miyatake, had put forth a lot of effort in designing a redress bill to present to Congress. Included on the committee, along with Ron Mamiya representing the Seattle bill, were Min Yasui and future Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) member Bill Marutani.

JACL National Director John Tateishi informed the committee that Sen. Daniel Inouye favored — instead of going to Congress with a bill for direct redress payment — a community meeting to hear testimonies from the people affected by the internment.

John scheduled a conference call of the Redress Committee for a vote on the issue.

Knowing my preference for the testimony option, he called on me first. With my background in counseling, I related on the phone that, regardless of whether we were successful in gaining compensation from our government, the opportunity for the community to unburden itself of the pain of the incarceration would be of great value.

I did not know this at the time, but John told me much later that having the community testimonies option won by one vote!

Regarding the value of the commission hearings: The late Dr. Mary Oda, a friend, and long-time physician in the Valley, was at first reluctant to testify at the hearing. Despite her busy practice, when she finally decided to testify, she said she attended all three days, and cried the whole time!

And a story I related at the program: Marion and I once visited one of her relatives who became upset when I told him about my interest in redress — Why bring up the evacuation now and stir up the racism we have overcome? Afterwards, he developed an interest in redress through his JACL chapter. A couple of years later, when I saw him again, he told me that on a trip to the lake for fishing, he ran into a county official he knew, and when he told the official about redress, the official said we did not deserve the $20,000 we were to get. At this point Marion’s relative became incensed, telling the official, “If I had a gun, I’d shoot you.” Talk about repressed anger.

As has been noted: When we celebrated the life of Sen. John McCain, the tributes to the senator reflected who we are as a nation. Our celebration of the life of Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga said a lot about who were are as a JA community.

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Phil Shigekuni writes from San Fernando Valley and can be contacted at [email protected]net. The Rafu Shimpo’s management and staff continually strive to maintain high editorial standards for professionalism as well as accurate and balanced news coverage. The inclusion of a particular piece, including columns and op-ed submissions by contributing writers in print and/or digitally, does not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the owners, management, individual staff members, and editors. The Rafu Shimpo welcomes responses to any article published in print or digitally. Responses may be sent to author directly or emailed to [email protected].

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