By John Tateishi
February 17, 2012

Years ago during the Redress campaign, I made it a point always to wear the JACL membership lapel pin with my suit. In the days when the organization had a larger membership and more cash in the till, we used to have a variety of lapel pins for various membership categories. I wore the regular member pin.

At a glance, you could easily mistake it for the U.S. Marine Semper Fi logo, with a fierce-looking American eagle on top of a shield with its crest and banner. It was not uncommon for someone sitting next to me on a plane to ask if I was a Marine. Small talk stuff.

I purposely wore the pin for that reason. It looked patriotic (appropriate for a guy running the Redress campaign!) and it frequently drew people’s attention. It always led to conversations about the JACL and about the internment and redress.

There’s a history to the logo that always interested listeners that not even JACL members know about.

If you look at the eagle on any official U.S. document, it’s always the same eagle with its wing spread and its head turned. Look at the back of a dollar bill and you’ll notice that the eagle’s head is turned toward the right wing. Now look at the JACL logo: the head turns to the left.

I was having lunch with Mike Masaoka one day in D.C. and asked him about it. He laughed and said no one ever notices it, and I told him that actually, an ex-Marine sitting next to me on a plane pointed out to me that the eagle’s head was turned the wrong way on our pin.  

Look at an early representation of the JACL logo, Mike told me during that luncheon conversation. The head faces right (I did check and he was right). “You think we Nisei would ever get something so important that wrong?” he asked amused, implying that maybe we Sansei might, but not the patriotic Nisei.  

He told me that when the government began implementing its exclusion and detention policies, the JACL leadership decided that it would turn the eagle’s head to the wrong direction as a symbolic protest of what the government had done to us, with the vow that the head would stay in the wrong direction until somehow this injustice was made right. So around mid-year1942, the P.C. changed its masthead to the new JACL logo with the head facing left.  

He told me Redress was the thing. If we succeeded, I could have the head turned back as it should be to honor the country once again. But he made me promise not to do it before.  

Obviously, Mike didn’t know me very well in those days because even as the national director over a decade later when I had the authority to do something about it, I didn’t. I liked what that symbolism stands for.

Whenever I traveled in those days, that lapel pin was always a conversation piece. In the way members of Congress today wear the American flag lapel pin as if to prove their patriotism, I wore the JACL logo because of its symbolism. And because it often invited conversation.

Hosts on television programs would often point to it and ask about it. Some criticized it as a desecration of an American symbol with the head facing the wrong way; I answered that the internment was a desecration of everything the Constitution stood for. And that was more than symbolism; that was the lives of 120,000 Japanese Americans.  


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