‘We Are America’
By Tiffany Ujiiye, Assistant Editor
“Building an America as good as our ideals defines the mission of the JACL,” said JACL National Director Priscilla Ouchida in her opening speech at the 2014 National JACL Convention’s Sayonara Banquet on July 14 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in San Jose.
This year’s theme, titled “We Are America,” was a reflection of the diversity that exists within the Asian Pacific Islander community and the important role the community has in the nation’s socioeconomic future.
“We’ve been working a long time on civil rights,” Ouchida said, “and we’re getting closer to that American ideal, but there’s still work to be done. We are America, building an America as good as our ideals is a 365-day job. These people, all of you in this room, had incredible successes that have benefited all Americans. Together, we can still do more, and that is my challenge to all of us in this room.”
As the oldest and largest Asian civil rights organization in the United States, the JACL has been at the forefront of change. This year’s theme was specifically chosen by the 2014 National JACL Convention Committee and National Board to focus awareness on diversity and inclusion as an integral part of the fabric of American society.
“The diversity of the Asian Pacific American community and the diversity of this country could be a real strength,” JACL National President David Lin said before honorees and guests. “Our job and our obligation as the premier Asian American Civil Rights organization is to lead and harness that strength to better the lives of not only Japanese Americans but all Americans.”
Special recognition was given to those promoting change and diversity, including former U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, Congressman Mike Honda, Consul General of Japan in San Francisco Masato Watanabe, San Jose Assembly member Paul Fong, San Jose City council member Sam Liccardo, Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors member Dave Cortese, Foster City councilmember Steve Okamoto, San Jose City Manager Ed Shikada, Economic Development Manager of Santa Clara Ruth Shikada, the Sano family of Sano Farms and renowned judo instructor Yosh Uchida.
Master of ceremonies Mike Inouye, an Emmy Award-winning TV news anchor, introduced special guests and humored the crowd in remembering the nostalgic TV comedy “Cheers.”
“I’ve always wanted to this, but if you could just shout that famous line to us Mr. Mineta,” Inouye asked of Mineta.
“Hey, everybody!” Mineta shouted.
“Norm!” the room responded with great laughter and applause.
Mineta served as Transportation Secretary in President George W. Bush’s Cabinet and Commerce Secretary during the last six months of President Bill Clinton’s term, in addition to previously serving as the mayor of San Jose, which renamed its international airport in Mineta’s honor in 2001.
“I am a proud son of the city of San Jose,” Mineta said, welcoming the 2014 National Convention. “The San Jose JACL is proud to be hosting all of you for this 2014 convention. I appreciate that all of you have taken time out of your busy schedules to be here for a whole week to participate in various activates, taking on the work of the National JACL.”
The evening’s highest JACL award, the Ruby Pin, was given to David and Carol Kawamoto for their exceptional service to the JACL and the Japanese American community for 42 and 27 years of service, respectively.
“The Kawamotos exhibited unwavering dedication in furthering civil rights, social justice, youth development and cultural preservation that marked both of them as community treasures and a point of pride for the JACL,” said Lin.
Ouchida awarded the Gov. Ralph Carr Award for Courage to the American Friends Service Committee, which was represented by Executive Secretary Shana Pereira. This award is given to an organization or individual for their principles in protecting civil rights; the AFSC was one of the few organizations to take a position opposing the Japanese American incarceration.
“I would say that one of the things that impressed me most about the JACL has been the courage and commitment that you have brought out of the incarnation experience to work for the rights and justice for all,” Pereira said. “To fight discrimination wherever you saw it and to receive this award from such a principled organization is such an honor.”
Stewart Kwoh, founding president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice Los Angeles, was awarded the Edison Uno Civil Rights Award, recognizing the organization’s dedicated leadership in the field of civil rights.
The Japanese American of the Biennium Awards were given to Marsha Aizumi for her LGBTQ advocacy, Dale Minami for his civil rights activism and involvement in the Fred Korematsu conviction and Rob and PJ Hirabayashi for their cultural legacy in the Japanese American community. Each Biennium Award is presented to individuals with outstanding achievements in different fields of endeavor for their contributions to the sum of human knowledge and how they have enhanced the quality of life in American society.
The evening remembered, celebrated and honored all of those who have contributed and who are contributing to the American narrative, bringing color to the “We Are America” theme.
Originally published on July 25, 2014