An inspirational week at JACL’s National Convention reignites conversations about how to keep the nearly 100-year-old civil rights organization at the forefront of change in an ever-rapidly evolving landscape.
By P.C. Staff
“We need to remember where we’re from, but we need to think about where we’re going to go. What’s in the future and what are we going to look like, what do we need to do?” asked JACL National President Larry Oda as he welcomed JACLers to the organization’s annual National Convention on July 20 during the business session held at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center’s Aratani Theatre in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. “We’re going to use this time to educate you, to increase your knowledge because we need to be at the forefront of change.”
By all indications, change is certainly a word with which JACL is familiar, having had to completely uproot set plans at the last moment due to a strike by Los Angeles area hotel workers, represented by UNITE HERE Local 11, that left the organization with the difficult decision to terminate its contract with host hotel the DoubleTree, rather than cross picket lines, and pivot completely.
In only a matter of hours, JACL staff led by Executive Director David Inoue and Programs Manager Cheyenne Cheng, with the assistance of PSW leaders Ryan Yoshikawa and Nancy Takayama, were able to secure the Westin Bonaventure (the only hotel at the time with an agreed-upon workers contract) for lodging and meeting space in addition to new shuttle buses and catering, as well as added convention space venues at the Japanese American National Museum, JACCC and Los Angeles Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple.
Local support became vital to JACL and certainly reflected this year’s theme, “Rooted in Community,” and Susan Minato, co-president of UNITE HERE Local 11, also thanked JACL and the community for rallying around its striking workers, saying as she addressed the National Council, “Thank you for all that you’re doing to stand in solidarity with our workers for fair wages.”
But adhering to its civil rights principles came at a stiff cost to JACL. Termination of its agreed-upon contract with the DoubleTree amounted to a $108,000 cancelation fee according to Inoue, who projected during the organization’s National Board meeting the previous day that this convention would result in a potential $30,000 loss (for ways to help offset this deficit, see David Inoue’s column in this issue).
“There is a force majeure in our contract about a strike and how that might impact things … now that they are picketing at the hotel. … I’m hoping we can perhaps get [the DoubleTree] to forgive some of that now that we do see that there is a strike going on,” said Inoue. “We’re also hoping to have some savings because of what JANM is providing to us and [the JACCC and Nishi Hongwanji] … by not having to do things at the hotel, which was obviously very expensive.”
However, in spite of the projected revenue loss on convention, JACL Director of Finance Tom Fernandez presented positive gains in several areas for JACL in his report that reflected numbers as of May 2023. Among the highlights were a $249,000 bequest for the Centennial Fund, $27,000 bequest for general support, a $129,356 PPP loan forgiveness received in 2022 and P.C. is $2,500 over 2022’s YTD total, all of which have helped get the year off to a good start.
“Although investment income did have a drop, we had a significant increase in general support due to bequests that came through. It was a big uptick, 5,000 percent in comparison to the previous year,” he said. “Things are looking positive for 2023.”
Among other orders of business, JACL’s National Council, represented by 72 chapters that were present, passed three resolutions, all in support of marginalized communities.
In a statement by JACL National, “Resolution One broadens JACL’s support of the LGBTQIA+ community, focusing specifically on transgender and nonbinary folks, by creating new programs to help teach the JACL community about transgender and sexual identity while also seeking to make JACL National functions more inclusive for all; Resolution 2 was presented in response to the growing number of discriminatory laws targeting Asian immigrant communities from owning land, calling on JACL to combat and publicly denounce any and all ‘Alien Land Laws’ that are introduced or passed across the country; and Resolution 3 reaffirms JACL’s support for reparations efforts for African American communities nationwide.”
JACL also awarded five Ruby Pins, the organization’s highest service award, to Sharon Ishii-Jordan, Carol Kawase, Alan Nishi, Travis Nishi and Paul Uyehara, each of whom offered their thanks and appreciation to the organization that has given so much to them in return.
“I was born and raised in the JACL,” said Ishii-Jordan. “I really appreciate the work in JACL that our leaders are doing and being part of the leadership group at different points in time but especially working with the Education Committee and the teacher training workshops. That’s where my heart is.”
Next to speak was Kawase, who also serves as NCWNP governor: “Today’s leaders need to speak up and speak, as JACL’s work will never be done. … My single passion has always been to keep our incarceration experience stories alive, and
I hope we all continue to inspire each other to continue the important work of civil rights for all.”
Agreeing with that sentiment, Travis Nishi said, “I have thoroughly enjoyed the experiences that JACL has brought to my life … and I encourage each and every one of you to maintain an active role in the organization and never forget to look back and, as Larry (Oda) has said before, we stand on the shoulders and in the shadows of those who came before us.”
“JACL has always been my home organization because it’s a comfortable place. … This is a place where I feel my voice can be heard,” said current EDC Governor Uyehara.
And said a thoroughly surprised Alan Nishi, “It’s an honor to be recognized like this, especially with my peers that I have worked with and known throughout my JACL involvement. It’s really an honor.”
The National Board also shored up several positions. Claire Inouye-Rasband was confirmed as the new NY/SC Youth Rep. and Jonathan Okamoto was unanimously confirmed as secretary/treasurer.
Lastly, in discussing new business, Inoue announced to all in attendance that the 2024 National Convention would be held in Philadelphia.
Remembering Harry Honda
By Floyd Mori
The JACL National Convention just concluded in Los Angeles. It was a chance for JACL leaders and members to gather to discuss important issues for the organization, meet old friends and make new friends.
It used to be that Harry Honda would write a recap about the JACL National Convention every time it was held. He worked at the Pacific Citizen for the JACL for 50 years. The young people who attended the convention may not have heard of Harry Honda. He is a person worth learning about and remembering.
Harry was born in Los Angeles in 1919. He attended Maryknoll School in Little Tokyo and served in the United States Army during World War II while his family was incarcerated at the Rohwer, Ark., concentration camp.
He attended Loyola University after the war and graduated in 1950. Harry then spent 30 years as editor of the P.C. and subsequent years as general manager, editor emeritus and archivist. He passed away at the age of 93 in 2013.
It was always great to see Harry at JACL National Conventions and read his reports in the P.C. He and many of the other old-timers of the JACL who used to regularly attend the conventions are missed. Those who were in the younger generation have become the old-timers.
This 2023 convention was a challenge for the National JACL staff and National Board as a last-minute change was necessary in the hotel. It was still possible to hold many of the convention events in Little Tokyo with the assistance of the Japanese American National Museum and its National Democracy Center, as well as the Aratani Theatre and the Japanese American Community and Cultural Center of Little Tokyo. The Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple and local restaurants were also used for events.
Past JACL national presidents in attendance, including myself, were Ken Inouye, David Kawamoto, Jeffrey Moy, Larry Oda (current president), Frank Sato and Floyd Shimomura.
Former National Executive Directors John Tateishi and Ron Wakabayashi participated in plenary and workshop sessions as panelists. Other former JACL staff members attended and held a reunion.
Oda and Executive Director David Inoue, along with national board members and staff did a good job in carrying the convention through in an efficient manner.
The JACL continues to have relevance in today’s world. The issues of civil rights and justice for all are ongoing concerns for diverse people. We must continue the fight in order to make a better world for those who come after us.
Although many of the old guard are gone, it was great to see so many of the student/youth and young professional generation step up to become active leaders in the JACL, both on the national level and on the local chapter level. We owe them our gratitude and support.
JACL National Conventions are fun and educational events to attend. Boosters are always welcome along with delegates and various leaders. It would be a good idea to plan now to attend the next convention in Philadelphia.