The civil rights organization also honors Lynne Nishijima Ward, Diane Narasaki and Harriet Beleal, plus Mitsuye Endo and Floyd Mori during its National Convention awards gathering.
By George Toshio Johnston, P.C. Senior Editor, Digital & Social Media
Thirty years ago in August at its National Convention in Seattle, the JACL not only celebrated the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 but also for the first time honored three women — Sue Embrey, Yoshiko Uchida and Grayce Uyehara — as the winners of its Japanese American of the Biennium award, the criteria for which is individual distinguished achievement or community leadership.
More than a generation later, at its 2018 National Convention’s Sayonara Banquet on July 21 at the Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown Hotel, JACL for the first time in three decades again spotlighted three women with its Japanese American of the Biennium prize, this time honoring Lynne Nishijima Ward, Diane Narasaki and Harriet Beleal.
The evening also represented a generational shift as the nation’s oldest Asian American civil rights organization headed into its 90th birthday by electing a slate of still-youthful, if not downright young, leaders for the next two years, with Jeffrey Moy officially taking the reins of JACL National President from Gary Mayeda, who served a two-year term.
“You may have noticed something a little bit odd about tonight’s swearing in. I’m here to confirm that your worst nightmare is coming true: Young people are taking over,” said Moy, eliciting hoots and applause from the 300 in attendance.
“I’m so proud of the newly elected officers,” he continued. “I know we have a lot of institutional knowledge in the room, but can anyone remember the last time JACL saw all the elected positions be people exclusively in their 20s and 30s?
“Past National President Floyd Shimomura told me earlier tonight that I may be the youngest national president elected in the post-WWII era. It’s important that I add that although we may be young, we come with a lot of experience. We’ve served on committees, chapter boards, district councils, the National Board — we’ve truly done it all.
“And we bring diversity that is more than just our age. I myself am three-quarters Japanese American and one-quarter Chinese American and Yonsei. Our other newly elected board members are Yonsei, Shin-Nikkei, they’re full-Japanese American, they’re Hapa — we truly represent the future of this great organization.”
Moy added that he was hoping to “bring a spirit of teamwork and camaraderie to JACL” as it faces a challenging fiscal environment and declining membership compared to a generation ago. He also wanted to connect with “those who have stepped away from JACL that we’re a family, and it’s time to come home.”
“The time for rhetoric is over. It’s time to get to work,” Moy concluded. He called up Mayeda and fellow outgoing board members Alan Nishi (National Secretary/Treasurer), Kenji Kuramitsu (NY/SC representative) and Michelle Amano (VP, General Operations), who vied against Moy for the office of national president, to be feted with applause and a small gift for their service over the past two years, with outgoing Nishi absent.
Also honored posthumously with the Edison Uno Civil Rights Award, which is not an annual award, was Mitsuye Endo, who died in 2006 but was one of four Japanese Americans who challenged various aspects related to Executive Order 9066 that reached the Supreme Court during World War II.
Unlike fellow plaintiffs Gordon Hirabayashi, Fred Korematsu and Minoru Yasui, Endo actually won, leading the way for Japanese Americans to return to the West Coast and the closure of the remaining concentration camps. Present to receive the Edison Uno award for her mother was Endo’s daughter, Terry DeRivera.
The Japanese American of the Biennium award for Ward was for the category of political/public affairs/law, Narasaki’s category was business/industry/technology and Beleal’s category was in education/humanities.
Beleal, who is of Japanese and Alaskan Native-Tlingit Indian heritage, accepted her award and reminded the audience that “freedom is not free” and, with her daughters, turned the tables on JACL by presenting gifts of salmon, seaweed, smoked fish, knitted and other handmade items and pictures from Alaska to JACL leaders.
Upon receiving her award, Narasaki thanked the National JACL, the Seattle Chapter and her sister, Karen Narasaki, who was present as a panelist for the discussion on the 30th anniversary of the passage of redress for being there and showing her support. She also thanked Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, who died July 18. (Editor’s Note: See article on page 13.)
Ward, who also won a raffle prize, showed the audience a broom made by her grandfather while he was incarcerated, which he used to keep their Camp Amache barrack tidy. She noted how it exemplified traits like resourcefulness, craftsmanship and sturdiness, all needed to endure the hardships of life in camp.
Representing Comcast, which JACL presented with the President’s Community Partner Award on July 19, was Susan Jin Davis, Comcast’s chief sustainability officer. She gave Karen Narasaki yet another shout-out, crediting her for holding Comcast’s feet to the fire to “do the right thing” regarding Comcast’s Memorandum of Understanding on media diversity, inclusion and economic diversity.
A surprise President’s Community Partner Award went to Floyd Mori, past JACL National President and former JACL Executive Director. “We cannot thank you enough for all you have done,” said JACL Executive Director David Inoue to Mori.
Serving as the mistress of ceremonies for the affair was Loraine Ballard Morrill, news and community affairs director for iHeartMEDIA’s six local radio stations.
Other awards that were presented during the convention before the Sayonara Banquet were JACLer of the Biennium, which went to Kanji Sahara; the George J. Inagaki Award, which went to the Seattle Chapter; and the NY/SC Vision Award to Beckie Masaki.