By Heidi Tolentino
In recognition of Day of Remembrance, the Portland JACL board held an Appreciation Luncheon on Feb. 22 to honor its local Nisei at the Multnomah Athletic Club. The luncheon was attended by more than 70 Nisei honorees.
Following an opening welcome from emcee Jeff Selby, the Pledge of Allegiance was led by Ron Iwasaki of Oregon Nisei Veterans, followed by an invocation from Rev. Anna Cho of the Epworth United Methodist Church. Among the distinguished guests in the audience was JACL National President David Lin, who thanked the Nisei honorees for their service and sacrifice to our country.
The program’s keynote speaker featured Linda Tamura, professor emerita of education at Willamette University and a Sansei who has extensively researched and written about the Issei and Nisei generation in her books “The Hood River Issei” and “Nisei Soldiers Break Their Silence.”
In her speech, titled “Lessons From Our Nisei,” Tamura referred to the Nisei as “the bridge” for the Japanese American community, in that they connect the Japanese traditions of their Issei parents with the American culture that is their birthright. Thus, they have many lessons to teach us.
Tamura credited the Nisei with teaching her three valuable lessons. The first is to “Know the Full Story,” as Nisei have taught her to be informed about the past, including all of the different stories that make up Japanese American history. Nisei have reminded her to then educate the public about Japanese American history so that these stories will not be lost.
The second lesson Nisei have bequeathed to her is to “Know Your Story.” Tamura said that knowing your story is understanding your own history, which is why the Nisei stories are so crucial to helping us understand who the Nikkei community is today. The third lesson is “Share Your Story,” as Nisei have taught her to speak up for herself and for others. She gave examples of Nisei who have spoken out against injustice and taken action for themselves and their community, among them Segie Nishioka, Min Yasui and Lury Sato.
Tamura then asked the audience to find a Nisei and take a “selfie” with them, after which each person was to ask that same Nisei, “What is a lesson we can learn from the Nisei?”
During the activity, I had the pleasure of talking with Bill Matsuda of Portland. He told me that a lesson we can learn from the Nisei is something he learned from the Issei, “Regardless of whatever hardships you face, never give up.”
So simple and yet so profound. He modestly told me that his Issei parents were really the ones who had a difficult time. They built a life for themselves and then had it all taken away from them. I asked him about his time in camp, and he told me that he was very young during camp and he felt it was not as hard for him because he didn’t really understand what was happening. His family was first at Tule Lake and then was moved to Heart Mountain. After the war, Mr. Matsuda’s family moved to Ontario, Ore., before returning to Portland. I was so appreciative of his willingness to talk with me and share parts of his story and his wisdom.
The activity was so successful that Tamura had trouble quieting the audience because of the passionate discussions that had surfaced around the room. People were then asked to share what they learned from their Nisei interviews.
Individuals spoke about interviewing their family members and tablemates and the lessons that came from the Nisei.
As her talk came to a close, Tamura encouraged us to continue asking Nisei family members and friends to share their stories, and she thanked the Nisei for being our bridge.
I left the event feeling thankful for my Nisei grandparents, Joe and Nellie Saito, and the numerous lessons they have taught me over my lifetime; they have truly inspired me. Thank you to all of the Nisei for the sacrifices you have made for us; there are no words to express our gratitude.