By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Shimpo
Continuing from the Nov. 9 issue, following is Part 2 of Rafu’s coverage of “Honoring Our History and Forging Our Future,” the Pacific Southwest JACL’s 2019 District Awards Luncheon, held Oct. 26 at the Torrance Marriott Redondo Beach.
The San Fernando Valley chapter honoree was Marcia Mahoney, who was unable to attend. Born in Minnesota to former Topaz incarcerees and raised in New York, she moved to California and worked for Universal Studios’ law department and business affairs division for 35 years. She became a board member of San Fernando Valley JACL, where her father, Tom Doi, served as president.
Mahoney has volunteered at Suzume no Gakko, a summer program for children; chaired the doughball booth during the Obon Festival; chairs fundraising for the Pacific Citizen Holiday Issue; teaches line dancing at the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center; and volunteers at her church and her grandson’s high school. The chapter describes her as “caring, helpful, efficient, perceptive, supportive, wise, considerate and mindful.”
Accepting on her behalf was PSW board member Nancy Takayama, who explained, “There’s been a lot of fires here in Southern California and the Saddleridge fire affected the area where the majority of our San Fernando Valley chapter members live. Her house was saved, except her neighbor’s house was devastated, but everybody in Porter Ranch and the northern part of San Fernando were hit by the smoke, and so there’s a lot of smoke damage. So Marcia is taking care of her home and hopefully everybody’s taking care of their health …
“Marcia has done an incredible amount of work for our chapter … San Fernando has led in the holiday ads, which I’m very proud to say, because Marcia has been our chair. She’s done a really terrific job and we hope this year we can do the same for the Pacific Citizen.
The San Diego chapter honoree was Sydney Shiroma, a native of Waipahu, Oahu, who studied Japanese at Keio University in Tokyo and started his own college textbook publishing company. He learned about JACL while researching books on Japanese Americans, and with financial support from the Japanese American Community Foundation, he put together a seven-panel display that included historical pictures of chapter picnics and youth events, and a panoramic photo of attendees from the 1966 JACL National Convention hosted by the San Diego chapter.
Shiroma has been involved with the Scholarship Selection Committee, served as chapter treasurer, and pushed to have the chapter take charge of its investment portfolio, which has saved thousands of dollars a year in fees and delivered better returns.
“I think we do have more deserving people in our chapter who should be recognized,” Shiroma said. “I always feel a little bit guilty, which kind of inspires me to work harder, because we have people like David and Carol Kawamoto … and of course, Lane Nishikawa. So you can see the kind of people that I have to try to work to keep up with. But anyway, I really feel honored and a bit embarrassed, because I’m Japanese, to be recognized.”
The Ventura County chapter honoree was Ken Nakano, whose parents were packing their bags to go to Manzanar when his mother went into labor. In order to take her to the hospital, his father had to go to a police station to get permission to break curfew. His father and older sister went to Manzanar first while he and his mother were transferred to L.A. County Hospital, then to Santa Anita Assembly Center, and eventually to Manzanar.
After the war, Nakano graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a degree in horticulture, and he has been doing landscape design and installation ever since. He became active in Ventura County JACL in the mid-1980s and has served as treasurer for many years.
He participated in the preservation of Oxnard’s historic Japanese Cemetery with other chapter members, including former Mayor Tsujio Kato. Nakano has supported the annual spring cleanup and used his skills in landscape design to map out the grave markers. When the cemetery was vandalized in 2017, he led the chapter’s restoration efforts.
Nakano said that his wife and others had to talk him into coming to the luncheon to be honored, but added, “I’ve been involved with the JACL for … maybe 30 years, it’s been really a great experience in working with the many people that are really dedicated to improving our community.”
The district’s first Courage Award was presented to Lisa Bartlett, chair of the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
Ken Inouye, past national president, district governor and SELANOCO chapter president, recalled, “When I was chair of the Orange County Human Relations Commission, I had the privilege and honor of working with this woman and I knew her to be … of character, principle and somebody who had compassion for others. She understood that sometimes people need a helping hand and in spite of what some people would consider conventional wisdom in Orange County, she was always there to give that helping hand …
“Supervisor Bartlett started her career as a city councilwoman in Dana Point, one of the more affluent parts of Orange County, and she eventually became mayor. She recently completed a second run for a second term for supervisor of the 2nd District, and she’s so popular that nobody ran against her … I’ve heard that throughout Orange County, they’re so very proud that she represents them.
“On June 7, this woman put it all on the line because that evening … a fellow Republican who is running for re-election to the California Assembly asked the Orange County Republican Party to endorse his candidacy. At that moment, Lisa Bartlett said, ‘No, I’m not going to endorse that man because when we were on the City Council together, he harassed me. Further, since that time, three other women have filed claims against that man.’ …
“She said, ‘No, we cannot continue to endorse people who use their position and power to prey on women.’ That’s an amazing thing in today’s day and age. I think she deserves a hand just for that.”
Joined by his grandchildren — Amelia, 12, Grace, 7, and David, 4 — in presenting the award, Inouye said, “At a time when tribalism and political affiliation have caused people to lose their sense of dignity and character, this woman has stayed steadfast and stayed true to her values …
“When we talk about heroes, political heroes, although we’re nonpartisan, the political heroes of the JA community we talk about are [Spark] Matsunaga, [Robert] Matsui, [Norman] Mineta. More recently we talk about George Nakano … Al Muratsuchi … I would like to add another name to that list.”
Bartlett remarked, “It’s not easy as a high-profile elected official when you have a bad experience to really want to talk about it. But I felt it was really important to, and we’re still trying to get this assemblymember out of office because there are a number of other women who have come forward. But … when you have a bad experience, sometimes you want to push it behind you and not talk about it. I still have relatives, many of whom were in the internment camps, and they still to this day can’t talk about their experience because it’s still so real to them …
“They lost their houses, their farms, their pets, and they had to come back and rebuild their lives and they’re doing fine today. But those experiences are still very real to them and still hold a lot of pain. So for me, going through that painful experience of getting sexually harassed and having to talk about it, you relive everything all over again, but it was the right thing to do because this person did not get the endorsement of our party. And now other women have come forward because I came out and spoke about it and that gave them the courage to speak up.”
Expressing pride in her heritage, Bartlett said, “I think as Japanese Americans, we have so much to give to this world and to certainly our state and our counties. And I proudly represent my county … I’ve been a resident now of Dana Point for over 30 years, and when I ran for the City Council, I changed from being a corporate executive to running for council. So I literally changed from business suits to wearing a sweat outfit in the morning at 7 o’clock, holding up a sign on a street corner that says ‘Vote for me,’ and it was a very different experience …
“I remember running in 2006 and people coming up to me and saying, ‘Gosh, we’ve never had an Asian on our City Council before.’ I said, ‘Well, you’re going to have the first Asian on your City Council.’ There were eight candidates for three seats and I was the No. 1 vote-getter, and I’ve been able to get a lot done on the City Council during my eight years there.
“Then we had an opportunity with an open seat to run for the Board of Supervisors, and I know how important that is. California has 58 counties and Orange County is the third-largest county in our state, sixth-largest county in America. It’s bigger than 22 states. And so we needed somebody who could really take the helm … get out there and get good things done …
“When I ran for the Board of Supervisors and got elected in 2014 … what was so impactful to me as a Japanese American [is the fact that] our County of Orange had been a county now for 130 years, and I was the very first Japanese American to be elected to the Board of Supervisors … It’s just great to be out there and to represent all Japanese Americans and get good work done in the community.”
Co-emcee Lane Nishikawa screened clips from his new documentary, “League of Dreams,” which is about the 90-year history of the JACL. Some of it was shot at this year’s JACL National Convention in Salt Lake City. He also announced that his documentary about the camps, “Our Lost Years,” is available for free to any JACL chapter that wants to screen it.
Traci Ishigo, a former PSW staffer, gave a presentation on the Bridging Communities program and its Solidarity Arts Fellowship, a collaboration with PSW, CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations), Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress, and Nikkei Progressives. Japanese Americans and Muslim Americans ages 18 to 24 who are interested in the fellowship are asked to contact Ishigo at firstname.lastname@example.org. Applications are due Dec. 1.
Other speakers included David Kawamoto, PSW board member and past national president, and Ryan Yoshikawa, Awards Luncheon Committee member. District Youth Representative Juli Yoshinaga was also a special guest as 2019 Nisei Week Queen.
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo