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Happy 90th Anniversary JACL

By December 20, 2019February 7th, 2020No Comments

Since the beginning, the civil rights organization continues to push forward, recognizing the need to educate others so that future members can carry it into the next century.

By S. Floyd Mori and P.C. Staff

The Japanese American Citizens League was established in 1929, and this year’s National Convention in Salt Lake City commemorated this historic anniversary. Long touted as the “oldest and largest Asian American civil rights organization in the U.S.,” through the decades, it has “advocated issues to benefit the progress of Japanese Americans and Asian Americans in combating prejudice and bigotry.”

The Issei pioneers who immigrated to the U.S. from Japan were brave souls who dared to travel across the Pacific Ocean to begin a new life in America. This was a country that was thought to be the “Land of Opportunity,” a place where they would surely find riches and success.

The Issei were not from the upper class in Japan. They were mostly young men who felt that their opportunities were limited there, so they came to the U.S. Many later married women from Japan, some being so-called “picture brides.” Then they started to have families. Although they were not well educated themselves, they strongly encouraged their children to attend college.

The Nisei (second generation who had been born in the United States and were citizens) largely complied with their parents’ wishes. Many obtained college degrees. There were doctors, dentists, lawyers and teachers among their ranks. Although it was often difficult at that time for them to find meaningful opportunities for employment in their fields of study because of the racism that prevailed, they persevered.

When these young people became leaders within their communities, they started various organizations. They and their parents, however, continued to face prejudice, discrimination and hardship in the larger American society. Several of these young adults joined together to form the Japanese American Citizens League in 1929 as a national organization where they could fight for their civil rights.

The JACL continues to this day to be an important civil rights organization that also provides opportunities to its members for educational, cultural, service and social interactions and possibilities. There have been many changes and improvements to the JACL over the past 90 years. Many people have worked diligently to help the organization grow and continue its work. All leaders and members of the JACL are to be commended for their support.

Key to JACL’s future is its members. Mike Masaoka, who was a brother-in-law to the Hon. Norman Y. Mineta and an early leader of the JACL, is credited with most of the civil rights achievements of the JACL in the early years. He stated over 60 years ago that he expected the JACL would grow to 50,000 members. The membership of the organization at that time was around 30,000; now, it is reportedly less than 10,000.

Membership is vital to ensure this organization remains viable into the next century. This year’s convention theme was “Inclusion. Advocacy. Action.” It is important for JACL to embrace this theme as we move forward. We need to continue our work and encourage others to join us, united as one, fighting for the rights of all.

In recognition of JACL’s 90th anniversary, the Pacific Citizen reached out to JACL National Presidents to share their insights on the organization’s treasured legacy and its relevancy in today’s world.

JACL National Presidents

1929-30                    Clarence Arai

1931-32                     Dr. George Y. Takeyama

1933-34                     Dr. Terry T. Hayashi

1935-36                     Dr. Thomas T. Yatabe

1937-38                    Jimmie Y. Sakamoto

1939-40                    Walter T. Tsukamoto

1941-46                    Saburo Kido

1946-50                    Hito Okada

1950-52                    Dr. Randolph Sakada

1952-56                    George J. Inagaki

1956-58                     Dr. Roy N. Nishikawa

1958-60                     Shigeo Wakamatsu

1960-62                     Frank F. Chuman

1962-64                     K. Patrick Okura

1964-66                     Kumeo A. Yoshinari

1966-70                     Jerry J. Enomoto

1970-72                     Raymond S. Uno

1972-74                     Henry T. Tanaka

1974-76                     Shigeki Sugiyama

1976-78                     James F. Murakami

1978-80                     Dr. Clifford I. Uyeda

1980-82                     Dr. James K. Tsujimura

1982-84                     Floyd D. Shimomura

1984-86                     Frank Sato

1986-88                     Harry Kajihara

1988-92                     Cressey Nakagawa

1992-94                     Lillian Kimura

1994-96                     Denny Yasuhara

1996-00                     Helen Kawagoe

2000-04                     S. Floyd Mori

2004-06                     Ken Inouye

2006-10                     T. Larry Oda

2010-12                     David H. Kawamoto

2012-16                     David T. Lin

2016-18                     Gary Mayeda

2018-Present           Jeffrey Moy