JACL National President 2018-Present
“As we come to the end of 2019, JACL’s 90th anniversary, I am so thankful for the many people who have shaped this organization over the years. Ninety years of existence means surviving the inevitable ups and downs, learning and growing together and continuing to share in this important space. Changes occur in our membership and programs, some big and some small, but the values we share continue to bring us together as a community fighting for civil rights.
“Ninety years makes me reflect on the incredibly significant ways my relatively brief time with the JACL has impacted me. Through programs like the JACL/OCA Leadership Summit, I met mentors and friends, reflecting a community not only diverse geographically, but also generationally, ethnically, politically and in so many other ways I did not initially expect. I think about how these perspectives, seen through our shared Japanese American lens, serve as a microcosm for the United States as a whole, and how in turn our discussions continue to strengthen us as leaders in any of the communities we represent.
“As the National President of JACL, I also reflect on the legacy that this board will leave behind. I am thankful for the time this board commits and the great work we continue to do to make sure our foundation is stronger than ever as we move forward: Improving operations so that our infrastructure continues to evolve and support our work. Improving communications to ensure we can better share ideas across chapters and districts and that JACL truly reflects our changing community. Doing our part to ensure that we not only make it to the 100th anniversary, but that we continue thriving long past our first century.
“Ninety years is a truly incredible achievement. I hope that you all have celebrated, both the accomplishments of those who came before us, as well as the accomplishments you have achieved in the present. I thank all of you for your commitment and support of the JACL as we continue to rise to the challenges our communities face, for as long as we are needed.”
JACL National President 2016-18
“The legacy of JACL is, historically, playing a pivotal role in the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. It started with the signing of Executive Order 9066. Since then, JACL chapters all over the U.S. hold Day of Remembrance events. We are the only organization that takes the deepest, darkest event of our community and holds remembrances to never forget what happened.
“During my administration, we commemorated the 75th anniversary of the signing of EO 9066 with the opening of the Smithsonian exhibit in Washington, D.C., entitled ‘Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and World War II.’ I had the honor of speaking at this event. It was very personal for me, as my father, aunts, uncles and grandmother were all incarcerated. Expressing my personal connection as National President illustrated how connected the incarceration of my family was with redress, and being able to share that story with the many honored guests at the Smithsonian is one of the highlights of my term.
“Celebrating the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 is not only historical but also aspirational to remind all people that civil rights is worth fighting for. During my administration, we connected with many Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities, as their communities were being unfairly and unjustly targeted with hatred.
“During the final months of the Obama administration, I, along with a few other JACL members, was invited to a White House event entitled “Generational Experiences of Asian Americans.” We reminded others that what happened to Japanese Americans could happen to other communities and remaining attentive and engaged is key to ensuring this never happens again.
“Connecting with the JACL membership was more than via quarterly National Board meetings and National Conventions. I wrote directly to the membership so that they felt connected to their representatives. It was fun and personal writing about events I participated in, as well as having the opportunity to share thoughts of my parents who had passed. I often think of them, and to this day, I do things that will make them proud.
“I joined and became active in JACL knowing that my dad, aunts and uncles received their redress check and benefited in many other ways because of JACL. I volunteered not for any personal gains but to give back to an organization that has given communities so much. It is not a perfect organization, but its core tenants are pure. We debate, we deliberate, we vote and we move forward as one organization.
“We hear about unhappy members who quit because of an issue. Celebrating our culture, our history, our legacy is greater than any single issue. Our collective future must be strong to ensure our liberties are upheld for future generations. I know my parents have uplifted me in more ways than I will ever realize. We, too, must uplift JACL for all the same reasons.”
JACL National President 2010-12
“In 2010, I had the honor of being elected to serve as the 33rd National President of the JACL. In the 1960s, I was introduced to the JACL through local programs in San Diego and the National Jr. JACL program. Although I served in many capacities with San Diego, Pacific Southwest District and National JACL, it was actually quite a move for me to become the JACL’s National President. Even at the ripe old age of 58, I was one of the few Sansei to serve as National President.
“I have always been impressed with my Nisei predecessors. Their energy and willingness to serve our community has been an inspiration to me, and I truly appreciated their backing and encouragement. Now, the JACL is fortunate to have a new generation of youthful leaders. These individuals carry on the legacy of JACL and have earned our full support.
“The JACL has had many significant accomplishments throughout its 90-year history. When I was studying law, I remember how proud I was to discover that JACL had taken the lead or filed amicus briefs in many landmark civil rights cases. Discriminatory Alien Land Laws, unconstitutional racial restrictive covenants, labor license restrictions based on race, naturalized U.S. citizenship rights and anti-miscegenation laws were just some of the issues that JACL successfully worked on.
“The JACL is a true national organization with over 100 chapters throughout the U.S. This national presence is vital in moving legislature on behalf of our community. I truly believe that JACL’s successful work on so many issues is a significant factor in our ongoing vitality.
“During my presidency, there was much concern over the financial challenges facing our national infrastructure. Miraculously, during my presidency, the JACL received several testamentary bequests totaling more than a million dollars. This easily put our organization ‘in the black.’ In retrospect, I believe that this outcome was not a miraculous windfall, but was more the result of the great past performance of the JACL in providing so many benefits for our community. People appreciate help and will voluntarily repay a perceived personal indebtedness.
“The JACL helps our community in many ways and also works with other communities. During my presidency, a tsunami struck and devastated the Tohoku region of Japan. Many JACL members contacted us to inquire about donating to the relief efforts for Tohoku. Thanks to the great leadership of our then-National Executive Director Floyd Mori, the JACL worked with other organizations and raised over $7 million in relief money for Japan. As a result of this work, Japan now includes the JACL in its “Kakehashi Project – The Bridge for Tomorrow” program. And, the JACL established a college scholarship for a student whose family was impacted by the Tohoku tragedy.
“The JACL has a tradition of service, and that service continues. Working for our community and helping others is the legacy of the JACL. I am so grateful for our younger leaders for their service. I am also very encouraged by the dedicated work of our present National Board. I’m confidant they will carry on the proud legacy of the JACL into the future.”
JACL National President 2006-10
“Looking back on the occasion of JACL’s 90th anniversary, JACL’s lasting legacy is exemplified by the fight for redress, the demonstration that a small committed group, given the right circumstances, can influence the country’s legislation.
“Prior to the 1940s, Japanese immigrants were subject to racial, economic and religious persecution. There were 500 separate laws that prevented Japanese from full participation in pursuing the American Dream. Two of the most egregious were denial of citizenship and property ownership.
“During World War II, they suffered the most blatant disregard of the U.S. Constitution by all three branches of the federal government. We took the time and energy to uncover the fallacies in the reasoning behind the imprisonment of a whole population of people, and JACL was able to substantiate that the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII was because of racial prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership — and not because of ‘military necessity.’
“The campaign to achieve redress was almost a 20-year process that took some brilliant strategy and unbelievable luck. With the assistance of some unlikely allies, we overcame the ignorance and prejudice in our country to achieve our goal.
“What we may not have realized was that though the fight for redress was won, the battle for equality was not over. This was made abundantly clear in 2016 when a lying, cheating fraud was able to convince the ignorant masses that he was going to “Make America Great Again” to save them. “When we analyzed the results of the election, we realized that we had been preaching to the choir. We had been patting ourselves on our backs for making a difference in the world with all our advances in civil rights and congratulating each other on what a good job our organizations have done to advance the cause of human equality.
“The results of the 2016 election gave us a rude awakening. We had failed to educate Middle America about the Japanese American experience and the Constitutional rights of all Americans despite our best efforts. It’s unfortunate that the remedy for ignorance is education, but it takes no effort or exertion to be ignorant.
“During my term in office, I feel we were riding the crest of the wave of civil rights advancement. We were actively pursuing legislation and actions that were protecting the most vulnerable groups in our society, filing an unprecedented number of amicus briefs to assist in advancing our mission. We were enjoying a growing recognition and friendship with Japan and making inroads to correct the euphemisms used to describe our unlawful incarceration during WWII. Even though our Nisei were dying, we were an active and viable organization, whose reputation and credibility was highly regarded.
“I had a cabinet of very talented individuals to ensure the positive direction of the organization: Sheldon Arakaki, vp for general operations; Heidi Tanakatsubo, vp for public affairs; Carol Kawamoto, vp for planning and development; Edwin Endow and Larry Grant, vp for 1000 Club, membership and services; and Mark Kobayashi, secretary/treasurer. Michelle Yoshida was our legal counsel, and Gil Asakawa was the Pacific Citizen Editorial Board Chair. This was a formidable and effective group that can take credit for the initiatives that were accomplished.
“In the intervening years, once my term as president ended, I volunteered to step in to act as secretary/treasurer, since at that time, there was no one that was willing to take on the responsibility. Having recently vacated the position, I knew that the president could not accomplish the responsibilities of both positions by himself. The organization demanded a separation of powers. Since then, I have remained close to the National Board by co-chairing the U.S.-Japan Education Committee with Floyd Mori and Floyd Shimomura, chaired the National Board’s Financial Oversight Committee and helped Judge Ray Uno organize a Past National Presidents Council to advise the National Board.
KENNETH K. INOUYE
JACL National President 2004-06
“As we begin a new decade, my hope is that the JACL will continue to be a national organization that stands up for the civil and human rights of all of those who live in this great country.
“By supporting other communities, we are making a statement that we will not allow other peoples/communities to suffer the injustices suffered by the Issei and Nisei, while at the same time helping to ensure that the Constitution and Bill of Rights continue to protect the rights of all.
“When I first joined the JACL, my hope was to help create a better America for my children/family members and members of the JA community. After working on matters affecting social justice, I now realize that no one will be safe from injustice unless we fight for the rights of ALL. ‘Justice is not free.’
“So, as we enter the new decade, I would like to invite all JACLers and members of the JA community to stand for the rights guaranteed to us all by the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights as we create a more inclusive and just America.”
JACL National President 2000-04
“JACL has become a voice of JUSTICE not only for Japanese Americans but also for three generations of Americans of nonwhite heritage. At the same time, generations of younger Japanese Americans have developed a deeper appreciation for their heritage and engaged in the movement to treat all citizens of this country equally under the law. This continues as the main battle cry for the JACL as we celebrate 90 years as a civil rights organization.
“It was a great opportunity for me to serve as a National President as well as a VP on the National Board of the JACL. I also had the rare privilege of serving as its National Director after first working on the staff as the director of public policy in Washington, D.C. (formerly the Washington Representative). I was able to work closely with John Tateishi, who served ably as the National Director of the JACL for seven years.
“Traditionally a membership-funded organization, the JACL has moved more toward corporate and foundation funding on which I worked. During my tenure as National President and later as National Executive Director, we also added a National JACL Golf Tournament (with the encouragement and support of George Aratani) and a National JACL Washington, D.C. Gala to augment revenue. A Youth Leadership Program for college students was added to development programs.
“On the legislative front, a major milestone was HR 1492, the Camp Preservation Act of 2006. This legislation has provided funding up to $38 million for the preservation of the World War II American Concentration Camps in which Japanese Americans were imprisoned. Since 2007, the JACL, other institutions and individuals have been able to complete a variety of projects through this bill. Gerald Yamada and Former Congressman Bill Thomas (R-CA) are to be thanked for their efforts in passing that legislation along with many others.
“The vigorous debate and passage of an apology to the Resisters of Conscience began the closure of an issue that divided the camp communities. Under the leadership of Andy Noguchi of the Florin chapter, we were able to hold the apology ceremony in San Francisco in 2002. As National President at the time, I was able to write and present the apology speech.
“Vigorous advocacy for the Congressional Gold Medal to the Nisei veterans of World War II gained its eventual passage. Jean Shiraki and Phillip Ozaki, who were Fellows in the Washington, D.C., JACL office at that period of time, were instrumental in helping to get that bill passed, as they visited the offices of many members of Congress with veterans Terry Shima and Grant Ichikawa. This became the model used by Chinese and Filipino American veterans to also pass similar legislation.
“The shift of having the National Director of the JACL in Washington, D.C., provided the opportunity for the JACL to become a more prominent leader on national issues and participate more aggressively in national civil rights coalitions in the Asian American Pacific Islander community, as well as the broader civil rights advocacy process. This enabled a continual close working relationship with the administration, the White House and Congress.
“We also expanded the fellowship and internship programs to provide additional staffing and stronger ties to Congress with Congressional Fellowships, where JACL young people are able to serve in the offices of members of Congress. This provides great leadership experience.
“These are a few of the issues and events of note that occurred during my tenure. The JACL has been an important organization in the U.S. for the past 90 years. The JACL has a rich legacy to continue into the future as we engage more young people and work together.
Floyd Mori has published a book, “The Japanese American Story as Told Through a Collection of Speeches and Articles,” which covers events and issues presented in this article (www.thejapaneseamericanstory.com).
JACL National President 1982-84
“In 1982, I was elected National JACL President and became the first Sansei to hold that office. I was 34 years old. It was a time of transition — from Nisei to Sansei, from ‘Go for broke’ to ‘Hell no, we won’t go’ and from incarceration camps to redress/reparations. It was an exciting time for JACL as Sansei perspectives emerged.
“The recent death on Nov. 27 of Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone at age 101 reminded me of another transition that was going on in the 1980s – JACL’s attitude toward Japan. Most Nisei wanted nothing to do with Japan. It was Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor that put them in incarceration camps. Nisei had spent most of their lives proving that they were Americans, not Japanese. A common Nisei view was that ‘if we get too close to Japan now, they’ll think we were in bed with them in 1941.’
“By the 1980s, Sansei had a more receptive view. Japan had lost the war and become America’s greatest ally in Asia. Foe was now friend. Sansei saw Japan as a modern, democratic, industrialized country that exported Sony TV sets, Toyota cars and even ramen and wasabi to the U.S. The Sansei were ready to engage. Most Nisei remained wary.
“So, what does this have to do with Prime Minister Nakasone? This generational difference about Japan came to a head when Ron Wakabayashi, the JACL Executive Director, and I were invited by the Japanese Foreign Ministry to visit Japan to talk to the media and government officials about trade friction and its backlash on Japanese Americans. (This was after the Vincent Chin attack in Detroit.) By coincidence, our visit was set for late October 1983 when the first redress bills were introduced in Congress. Before we left, one prominent JACLer, who felt our visit clashed with our redress effort, admonished us that ‘he who chases two rabbits catches neither.’ Therefore, Ron and I did not plan to bring up redress in our official meetings in deference to Nisei sentiments.
“However, our meeting with Prime Minister Nakasone changed everything. It was a ‘courtesy call’ at the prime minister’s official residence. After a few photographs, Mr. Nakasone invited us into his office, where we discussed JACL, postwar Japanese American progress and, of course, trade friction.
“Toward the end of our talk, the prime minister turned the conversation toward the upcoming presidential election, which was expected to pit President Reagan against Walter Mondale. Mr. Nakasone also asked several questions about the redress campaign because it was in the Japanese news. Then, he announced that President Reagan was going to visit Tokyo in about 10 days to make a speech to the Japanese Diet and that Mr. Reagan would be staying with him at his official residence. Nakasone asked whether there was anything I wanted him to request of President Reagan. I answered as a Sansei. ‘Yes,’ I said without hesitation. ‘Ask him to sign the redress bills that are just being introduced in Congress.’ Mr. Nakasone grunted his understanding, and the meeting soon ended.
“To me, a Sansei, the chance to get the prime minister of Japan, one of the most powerful persons in the world, to support our redress legislation was an opportunity not to be missed. I knew from the press that Reagan and Nakasone had a good personal relationship, which was called the ‘Ron-Yasu’ friendship. I knew Japan was an important security ally and economic partner to the U.S. I also knew that many Nisei would have been horrified by my answer since I was inviting Japanese involvement in the redress campaign. However, after our private meeting, we heard nothing about whether Nakasone had indeed spoken to Reagan about redress. After a while, I concluded that no such discussion had taken place.
The matter was forgotten.
“It was not until 1999, 10 years after President Reagan left office, that his legislative files became public. Those confidential files revealed that Nakasone and his ministers indeed pressed President Reagan privately to support the redress legislation as ‘one friend to another’ in the period after the meeting.
“Nakasone said that Japan was revising its textbooks and wanted to include the successful passage of redress as part of the revision. Nakasone felt that it would help strengthen the friendship between the two countries.
“The files indicate that one group within the White House bristled at Nakasone’s request as an improper interference in a domestic policy issue and damaging to current relations with Japan. Another faction, led by President Reagan’s chief domestic policy adviser, Jack Svahn, dismissed the arguments as ‘odd’ in his memoir, published in 2011. This was no doubt because it is ‘odd’ to characterize the incarceration as a domestic policy issue when it was triggered by one of the most dramatic international incidents in world history — the attack on Pearl Harbor. Also, it is ‘odd’ to argue that redress would damage relations with Japan when its prime minister said it would strengthen the relationship.
“As we know, President Reagan ultimately signed the redress legislation in 1988 for many reasons and as a result of lobbying from many sources. It is doubtful that Prime Minister Nakasone’s support alone made the difference. However, it did remind the president that redress was not merely a domestic policy issue and that the world was watching. This is especially so for the U.S. that habitually criticizes other countries for their abuses of civil rights.
“This one incident reveals one of the strengths of JACL — the ability to change and transition with the times while maintaining our basic principles. JACL would not be celebrating its 90th birthday if it had not had this capacity for transition.”
HON. JUDGE RAYMOND UNO
JACL National President 1970-72
“Ninety year ago, the nation was experiencing one of its worst depressions, and it was the birth of JACL (1929) and for me (1930). Thus, during and subsequent to those years, we had a parallel existence, i.e., suffering through the Depression, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, four years of unconstitutional internment in America’s concentration camps, struggling through postwar rehabilitation, fighting discriminatory laws and practices and trying to redeem our lost lives, businesses, property and future.
“When I came to Salt Lake City, I attended a JACL-sponsored event at the Japanese Peace Garden. Fortuitously, I happened to meet Alice Kasai. She asked who I was and what I was doing. I told her I was from Ogden and attending the University of Utah. She said she could use me in JACL — and that was my introduction to JACL.
“She and her husband, Henry, became my mentors, which eventually led to my becoming president of the National JACL in 1970. It became a foreboding year for me because of the tragic slaying of Evelyn Okubo and the cutting of the throat of Ranko Yamada at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago.
“I have since been involved in JACL in various capacities but have reduced my active participation considerably by primarily being a booster at JACL activities locally and nationally.
“From literally very humble beginnings, I have been richly rewarded by my JACL experience, and I have tried my best to return the experience that has benefitted my life and career.
“Not to be boastful, but I’d like to express my sincere thanks to JACL being responsible for my being awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humanities from Weber State University and an Honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Utah (the highest award the university gives to one of its graduates), a certificate of commendation from Japan Minister of Foreign Affairs Koichiro Genba and the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette, conferred by the emperor of Japan.
“As I reflect on my JACL experience, I can honestly say that it was one of the most important building blocks of my career. I learned how to conduct meetings; learned Robert’s Rule of Parliamentary Procedure; improved my ability to work with the Japanese community locally, regionally and nationally; learned to network with other groups, primarily ethnic minorities; learned how to form coalitions where JACL initially took the leading role; learned how to lobby at the state legislature, raise funds, run for political office and many other things that made JACL an active and prominent part of the community and a leader in diversity and civil rights and civil liberties in the state of Utah and nationally.
“I consider JACL to be one of the leading organizations locally, regionally and nationally, and even internationally in the area of civil rights and liberties because of its past and current experience and its local and national presence.
“Although many others may disagree, I consider JACL to be one of the most successful social, service and civic organizations in existence. It is comparable to all the Japanese 100th and 442nd, for its size and length of service, the most-decorated unit in U.S. military history.”