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Marion Masada and Rev. Saburo Masada. Photos by Howard K. Watkins

By P.C. Staff

JACL’s strong advocacy in the aftermath of 9/11 and the organization’s continuing role as an advocate in the current civil rights landscape was highlighted at the Central California District Council Day of Remembrance and Officer Installation on Feb. 15. More than 136 guests attended the annual event in Fresno.

The event also featured the return of the Distinguished American Awards, which recognizes individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions to civil rights advocacy. This year’s honorees were John Tateishi, former JACL national director, who received the Spirit of Justice Award, and Rev. Saburo and Marion Masada, who were recognized with the Spirit of Education Award.

Tateishi was also the event’s keynote speaker. His comments on “Post 9/11 and JACL’s Role” offered fascinating insight into the leadership of JACL following the 2001 terrorist attack. He remembered innocently tuning in his radio on the way to a business meeting and learning of the attack. His immediate reaction was one of shock as well as a certainty that the rampant fear and hysteria directed at Japanese Americans during World War II would soon be revisited upon Muslim Americans in response to 9/11.

Friends from the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno were among the guests attending the Day of Remembrance for the first time. Tateishi acknowledged their participation by concluding his remarks with a confirmation of JACL’s commitment to advocating on behalf of all groups facing discrimination and hate, saying, “If you find yourself in trouble, call on the JACL. We will be there for you.”

The Masada’s, now in their mid-80s, continue to visit classrooms and community organizations up and down the state to share their story of incarceration. They often speak to students outside of California as well. In 2014, they were honored to give 65 presentations. The couple never turns down an opportunity to share their story, even if it means traveling at their own expense. They are passionate about educating others as a way of giving back to their community and ensuring that such injustice by our government never happens again.

Shortly after the Day of Remembrance, the Masadas were notified of another prestigious honor: CCDC Governor Roberta Barton nominated them for Volunteer of the Year in Fresno County. The wonderful news that they were selected to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award as Volunteers of the Year was the “icing on the cake” in a very memorable week.