1924 – 2018
In loving memory of Calvin, born in Salt Lake City to the Reverend Kengo and Tori Tajima. Like his namesake Calvin Coolidge, he was not given to small talk unless it involved his lifelong passions of sports, politics, food, travel, and social justice.
His family moved to Pasadena in 1928, where he played football and set a long jump record that stood for over 30 years. After watching the Chicago Cubs at spring training, he became an unwavering fan despite 85 losing seasons. But his love of sports was shadowed by racial inequality. He often told the story of people of color only being allowed to swim in Pasadena’s public pool on “International Day,” right before it was disinfected. He and his friends would sneak in after the cleaning and leave a surprise. As a boy, Cal had already joined the resistance.
During World War II, Cal refused to enter camp and instead self-evacuated to Chicago. Following in the footsteps of his brothers, Cal proudly served his country in the U.S. Army.
Cal was a man of deep faith and few words who never talked about his many acts of kindness. He donated generously to causes ranging from women’s shelters to services for Native Americans. He helped a friend search for a lost daughter throughout, hired people to “help” fix things around the house to supplement their incomes, and assisted neighbors with Alzheimer’s disease.
Cal and Marie overcame the heartache of losing their son Robert, in a traffic accident, by sustaining his legacy of tenant’s rights activism. Even as Cal aged, his sense of justice only grew. When the city threatened to shut down Occupy Wall Street, the 87-year-old snuck out from the house late at night to join a human barricade protecting the protestors.
Yet Cal was never an ideologue. He always encouraged his kids to disagree with him, as long as they had a good argument. Years before the feminist movement’s “Take Your Daughter to Work” campaign, he took his youngest to his office and encouraged her to aspire to male-dominated colleges and careers with this advice: “Whatever you do, make sure you’re the boss. Even if you go into crime, be the crime boss!”
Cal had a lot of aphorisms. Long before Nike, his slogan was “Just do it.” “Live life!” was another, and so he did. Every summer he took his family on the road to points across the US. He and Marie toured the world to far flung places like Istanbul, Prague, and Jakarta. Closer to home, he reveled in the joys of free jazz concerts.
He was a cat with nine lives, and had a number of close calls over the years. With the loving care of Marie, and his niece Donna and her partner Mario, he kept on springing back to health. In the summer of 2016, we thought we would lose him to illness. But his beloved Cubs kept on winning and Cal kept on getting better. With the generosity of his nephew Tom, Cal traveled to Chicago to see the Cubs play in the World Series. It was glorious.
Calvin Tajima is dearly missed by his family, his loving wife, Marie, children Marsha (Tom), Mark (Midori) and Renee (Armando), grandchildren Jason (Olivia), Kyle, Hana and Gabriel, great-granddaughter Natalie, half-sister Kiwako Suga, and many nieces and nephews, and extended family. Donations in his honor can be made to the Japanese American National Museum, Friends Outside, Amnesty International, or the National Immigration Law Center.