From left: PSW JACL honorees Sidney Shiroma, Patti Hirahara, Marissa Kitazawa, Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, Patricia Wyatt (for JACCC), Mario Reyes, Ken Nakano.

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Shimpo

TORRANCE — “Honoring Our History and Forging Our Future” was the theme as the Pacific Southwest JACL honored seven individuals and an organization at its 2019 District Awards Luncheon on Oct. 26 at the Torrance Marriott Redondo Beach in Torrance.

Serving as emcees were filmmaker and actor Lane Nishikawa and Awards Luncheon Committee member Doug Urata.

The Pledge of Allegiance was led by Ken Inouye, past JACL national president, PSW district governor and SELANOCO (Southeast Los Angeles-North Orange County) chapter president, assisted by his grandchildren: Amelia, 12, Grace, 7, and David, 4.

A hula was performed by keiki (kids) from Hālau Hula Keali`i O Nālani.

PSW District Governor Carol Kawamoto made a surprise presentation of JACL’s Sapphire Pin to Urata and Awards Luncheon Committee member Linda Hara. Both have been involved in JACL for more than a quarter of a century.

“These two people … have been hugely involved with the success of these awards luncheons … Many years they have chaired the event. They have emceed … They don’t say no when I ask them,” said Kawamoto.

A member of Riverside JACL, Urata served on the National JACL Investment Policy Committee, now known as the Japanese American Community Foundation. Hara served on the PSW District board for many years as well as president of the Marina-SCAN chapter.

LInda Hara (left) and Doug Urata received the Sapphire Pin from PSW Governor Carol Kawamoto.

Torrance Mayor Patrick Furey welcomed everyone to his city. “Between our business partners and residents, we have a vast population of civically minded Japanese Americans in our community. In fact, since 1973 the city of Torrance has enjoyed a tremendous relationship with our sister city Kashiwa, Chiba, Japan …

“It’s an honor to be here and celebrate your 90th anniversary of the founding of the Japanese American Citizens League. It is because of organizations like PSWD JACL that promote and defend diversity that we are able to protect our community from injustice and bigotry. Thank you for protecting our cultural, educational and social values and also for sharing in the preservation of the heritage and legacy of the Japanese American community.”

Marissa Kitazawa

The JACL Service Award went to Marissa Kitazawa, who works as senior creative producer at Dailey Associates, specializing in branded content creation, and has handled award winning advertising campaigns for such clients as Nestle, Dole, Honda, McDonald’s and Lexus. At PSW she has served as program associate and interim associate regional director, coordinating and leading youth programs, including Camp Musubi, Bridging Communities, and Nikkei Community Internship.

Honoree Marissa Kitazawa (right) with 2019 Nisei Week Queen Juli Yoshinaga, who is also PSW district youth representative.

Kitazawa left her staff position at JACL to pursue a master’s degree in documentary filmmaking. After graduating, she served as PSW District vice governor and governor, and chaired the Personnel Committee. She is currently National JACL vice president of general operations and a board member of Asian Pacific Media Coalition and Visual Communications.

“I owe so much to the JACL community, and it has provided me a network of fierce advocates and activists, progressive educators and young leaders, and a lot of life-long friends,” Kitazawa said. “ … It really takes a village, and PSW has really allowed me and given me the confidence to take on my new role as vice president of general operations. So this past year I’ve really been inspired by the National Board and our ability to continue to work together and move the organization forward.”

Kitazawa shared a personal story from high school when she was taking a U.S. history class and her teacher discussed the World War II camps. “I was really excited because I wanted to know more. I knew a little bit about from my grandparents, but not beyond that. I remember sitting in the classroom and I remember the teacher telling us that Japanese Americans were rounded up and put in concentration camps. And I also remember him saying that no person of Japanese ancestry in the United States was ever convicted of any serious espionage or sabotage during the war.

“Then he said, ‘But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t true.’ And then he said, ‘In my opinion, I think that it probably was good that Japanese Americans went to the camps because it was safer for everyone.’ … I didn’t have the right tools to speak up. I remember looking around the classroom and no one else was speaking up. I was the only one mortified in the room …S o I sat there in silence and I didn’t say anything.

“I remember feeling really crushed and I remember feeling really alone in that particular moment because I didn’t know what to do. I replay that moment a lot in my mind. It has really impacted the way that I approach activism and advocacy and even understanding how important education is …

“It is often said that history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes. And we saw this after 9/11 when American Muslims were scapegoated. And we see this today, what’s happening at our borders and the immigration detention centers. And we also see this as the FBI is reporting that the number of hate crimes are increasing. So today, as we honor the 90-year-old history of this organization, and as we forge forward to the future, I think it’s also important to remember our community’s unique history … JACL has really taught me to stand for my convictions and has given me the strength and has empowered me to speak up and advocate for others.”

Mario Reyes

The Rafu Shimpo contingent included Gail Matsui, Ellen Endo, Gwen Muranaka, Mario Reyes, filmmaker Steve Nagano, Martha Nakagawa and J.K. Yamamoto. (Rafu Shimpo photo)

The Community Service Award went to Rafu Shimpo Photo Editor Mario Reyes. He was introduced with a short documentary by Steve Nagano titled “More Than a Thousand Words,” in which he discusses how he got started at the newspaper and how much the work means to him.

Mario Reyes, who has been told he doesn’t smile enough, displayed a smiley face during his acceptance speech.

Nancy Takayama, PSW board member, said, “You probably didn’t know much about Mario, the person behind the camera … I actually noticed Mario about two decades ago, this non-Asian person running around taking pictures. Then I realized I saw him at every single JA event that I was at. I’m like, who is this guy? Well, now you know who Mario is and his passion for the JA community …

“He’s made such a huge contribution to our community and I think we really need to pay our respects and a huge thank you … for bringing your talent, your photos, and then your love of our community, which is why we’re here to embrace you.”

“I have two fears in life, and one of them is flying … I won’t get on a plane,” Reyes said. “Second is public speaking … Hiding behind the camera, that’s the only thing I know how to do.”

Recalling that a friend, Nancy Hayata, recently told him he doesn’t smile enough, Reyes said, “Here comes the smile” and held up a smiley-face mask. “That’s all you’re going to get.”

Thanking Nagano for the documentary, Reyes said, “He put me on the map. But I also want to thank the people who worked on that film. It’s not just Steve; his wife and quite a few folks participated. And of course, I’d like to let you know that this award is not just for me. It’s for The Rafu Shimpo and all the staffs that I have worked with — writers, editors, photographers. There’s quite a few Rafu alumni here today … So I humbly accept this award.”


Co-emcee Lane Nishikawa (left) with JACCC representatives Patricia Wyatt, Alison De La Cruz, Craig Tomiyoshi and Alan Nishio.

The Community Partnership Award went to the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, which opened its doors in 1980.embodying the dreams of visionary Issei and Nisei. In addition to providing office space for over 20 nonprofits, including PSW JACL, the JACCC includes the George J. Doizaki Gallery, the Aratani Theatre, the plaza designed by Isamu Noguchi, the James Irvine Japanese Garden, and the upcoming Toshizo Watanabe Culinary Cultural Center.

JACCC President and CEO Patricia Wyatt said, “I actually don’t have a fear of public speaking, but I do have a concern about standing to accept an award for which I’ve really done no work. I’ve only been at JACCC for about three weeks, but it’s been such an honor and I am delighted to be here meeting all of you today as a representative of this wonderful group of people that come together to create a community center that shares and celebrates everything that’s wonderful about Japanese and Japanese American culture. So I wanted my friends and colleagues to come up here because they are the ones that deserve the praise.”

Alan Nishio, speaking on behalf of the board, said, “We’re so happy to have Pat as part of our team. I think she brings a new vision and direction for the JACCC. We’re happy to be the landlords for the JACL PSW and we look forward to continuing our partnership together in future years.”

Vice President of Programs Alison De La Cruz said, “We do a lot because we know there’s a lot to be done … We are a place for voice and it is my great honor every day to collaborate, like Mario, to not be Japanese American, but to work on behalf of this community … We’ve partnered several times with many different chapters of JACL. We continue to want to be your partner and not just your landlord, but really to continue to amplify what you’re doing …

“Twenty-plus years ago, I was a recent college graduate and I was part of an organization called Hapa Issues Forum, and JACL was the very first Asian Pacific American organization to give money to us, to acknowledge the reality of multiracial Japanese and Japanese Americans, but also the broader Asian Pacific American community. And since our leader is now a Hapa person and I am also a mixed-race person, I just want to say thank you for continuing to see all of your community, all of our community, because all of our voices need a place so that we can be a choir for social justice and change.”

Craig Tomiyoshi, chairman of the board, recalled, “When we brought ‘Allegiance’ to JACCC to bring a Broadway-level production to Little Tokyo and we were looking for community partners … in Orange County, it was JACL that raised their hand first … to make sure that the story of our community during World War II was reaching as many people as possible … I just wanted to say thank you so much for that partnership.”

Patti Hirahara

Patti Hirahara (right) received her chapter award from PSW Governor Carol Kawamoto.

The SELANOCO chapter honoree was Patti Hirahara, who has worked with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History on its Japanese American Collection and with the City of Anaheim, her hometown, on projects to honor the Japanese American families that settled there before and after World War II. She was the driving force behind a program at Anaheim High School earlier this year honoring Nisei students who were sent to Poston, and “I Am an American: Japanese Incarceration in a Time of Fear,” an exhibition at Muzeo in Anaheim. She was named Woman of the Year in the 46th Congressional District by Rep. Lou Correa.

“I have worked with many of you here in this room and it has been an honor to preserve the Japanese American legacy in this country,” Hirahara said. “My husband has been disabled and I’ve been his caregiver for many years, which many of you did not know. But my husband, Terry Takeda, has been my rock, being beside me and allowing me to have the time to be able to tell your story … I love my husband very much and this year we celebrated our 24-year wedding anniversary …

“I thank you so much again for honoring me and I wish that everyone will consider the model that the City of Anaheim has created to tell the Japanese American legacy story in one American city, and I hope that it will be duplicated in many cities across this country for years to come.”

To be continued

Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO (except where noted)

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