From left: Meg Mizutani, Sonoma County JACL board member; Patrick Slayter, Sebastopol City Council member; Michael Bryant, Sonoma County JACL president; Priscilla Ouchida, National JACL executive director; Mei Nakano, Marie Sugiyama and Jodi Hottel, Sonoma County JACL board members; Efren Carrillo, Sonoma County supervisor; Mark Hayashi, Sonoma County JACL board member; Lina Hoshino, filmmaker; Sachiko Knappman, Sonoma County JACL board member. (Photo by David Abbott) 

SEBASTOPOL — The annual general meeting of the Japanese American Citizens League’s Sonoma County Chapter was held Nov. 17 Enmanji Buddhist Temple in Sebastopol.

The chapter had the honor of welcoming Priscilla Ouchida, JACL’s executive director. She spoke about her views on the organization’s next steps and the need to inspire the next generation to support JACL’s important work.

As part of the program, Jodi Hottel, a chapter board member, read poems from her recently published poetry book, “Heart Mountain,” inspired by her mother’s internment experience at the Wyoming camp.

Also, a special recognition was given to another board member. Earlier this year, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma) acknowledged Mei Nakano’s accomplishments with a commendation in the U.S. Congressional Record, chronicling her lifetime achievements in the field of social justice.

Sonoma County historian Gaye LeBaron and Sonoma County 5th District Supervisor Efren Carrillo joined Ouchida in celebrating Nakano’s contributions to the Japanese American community and global efforts to promote human rights for the next generation.

The meeting was attended by a hundred people, including JACL chapter members and community supporters.

Powerful Advocate

Following is Rep. Woolsey’s statement from the Congressional Record (July 24):

Mr. Speaker, I rise with pride today to honor Mei T. Nakano of Sebastopol, Calif. Ms. Nakano has spoken out about her life in a World War II internment camp and has become a powerful advocate for human rights, justice and world peace.

Born in Colorado in 1924 to Japanese immigrants who farmed there, Ms. Nakano was later interned in a camp in Amache, Colo., for three years during World War II. She met and married her husband Shiro there and then saw him drafted into the U.S. Military Intelligence Service.

After the war, she raised three children, and, inspired by women’s liberation and civil rights movements, went back to school and earned a master’s degree in language and literature at age 51. According to Mei, “The Japanese American community finally began to claim its history during the 1970s in the foment of the liberation movements. Simultaneously, we began to feel the full rights of citizenship and entitlements due us.”

After working for several years as an English instructor at Laney College and Diablo Valley College, Ms. Nakano became a partner and editor at Mina Press Publishing. She turned increasingly to freelance writing and human rights activism, becoming well-known for her depictions of the Japanese American experience and the importance of social justice and multiculturalism.

One of her seminal books, “Japanese American Women: Three Generations,” first published by Mina Press in 1991 and now in its fifth printing, was hailed as a first-of-its-kind historical survey of Japanese American women from the initial immigrant generation trying to adapt their cultural values to America through later generations who balanced these values with those of the society they were born into. For Mei’s generation, the second, the experience of the World War II concentration camps defined everything that followed.

Mei Nakano organized the first Asian American women’s conference in Oakland in 1992 and continues to speak out movingly and cogently about her believes and experiences at high schools, colleges, other institutions, and public events.

“The salient point to be made,” she says, “is how pernicious and destructive racism is, how anti-human. It can cause people to defer their aspirations, lose hope, and at time, strike out in anti-social behavior. Others may go down that sinkhole of safety of ‘having done well enough’ … The issue of injustice because of ‘otherness’ is not done. It takes vigilance to recognize it, a commitment to be moved to do something about it.”

Ms. Nakano has always been very active in her local community. Since 1979, she has been a member of the Executive Board of the Sonoma County Japanese American Citizens League, and she was an organizer of the successful effort to establish the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights. She served as the commission’s first chair (1992).

In speaking out on the injustices she sees, Mei Nakano also gives us a message of hope: “Finally, I need to say that I rejoice in the fact that we’ve come a long way here in America regarding the issue of ‘otherness,’ not the least of which is the extraordinary fact of electing an African American president. For me, the ‘foreignness’ which I felt so starkly in my childhood and in my growing years has gradually dissipated as I find myself tossed in the salad bowl of American society, proud to be in the skin I’m in.”

Mr. Speaker, Mei T. Nakano has used the experiences of her life to inspire others and is now enjoying time with her husband of 69 years and her three children as well as her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She is also gardening, reading, responding to requests for writing articles, working on a book of short stories, and, of course, speaking out when the need arises.

Please join me in honoring this special activist who reminds us of the causes worth fighting for.

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