By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
An elementary school in the Bay Area has undergone a name change as part of an effort to stop honoring historical figures with racist views and to recognize local heroes.
Located at 253 Martens Ave. in Mountain View, Amy Imai Elementary School was known as Frank L. Huff Elementary until the Mountain View Whisman School District Board of Trustees voted unanimously to rename it on June 17.
The decision to drop Huff — who was regarded as one of Santa Clara County’s “native sons” — was made last year after it was learned that he had espoused racist and anti-immigrant views.
According to a biography published in the 1920s, Huff, Mountain View’s postmaster at the time, was a “stanch (sic) Republican who sincerely believes in America for Americans, and is strongly opposed to the immigration into our country of people who are out of harmony with American institutions and ideals, particularly those of such blood as cannot be assimilated by the Caucasian race to its benefit.”
The biography also said that “his objection to foreign immigration is based on duty to our own and our children’s children, and a desire to build up a clean-cut American type with similarity in ideals of life and government rather than on the question of the possibility, through our schools and civic life, of bringing the foreigner to American standards.”
Chris Chiang, a board member of the Mountain View Whisman School District, said that Huff “spoke against Asian immigration in the early 1900s, and his family lobbied to take Japanese American farmland.”
Although nationally known figures such as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and NASA scientist Katherine Johnson were considered for the new name, Imai was chosen because of her importance to the local community. The school board wanted a new namesake that “better reflects shared values of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.”
Born in 1930, Imai grew up in Mountain View and was incarcerated with her family during World War II. She graduated from Fremont High School in Sunnyvale, moved back to Mountain View and ran a carnation business with her husband. She died in 2013 at the age of 83.
Margaret Abe-Koga, Mountain View City Council member and former mayor, submitted this statement to the school board: “Amy Imai is the perfect person to rename Huff Elementary School after given her direct ties to the Mountain View community, her long-time service, her dedication to our schools, and her support in empowering the Asian Pacific American community …
“Amy spent her childhood in rural Mountain View, and lived in the Huff neighborhood on Eunice Avenue until she and her family were relocated to Heart Mountain, Wyoming during World War II as one of the 120,000 Japanese Americans who were interned. Though she lived in Sunnyvale for some time after returning from internment, she eventually moved back to Mountain View to build a carnation-growing business with her husband.
“Amy was very involved with her children’s activities and in the community with her service to the Mountain View Buddhist Temple, the Mountain View/Los Altos High School District, Community Services Agency, and the Mountain View/Iwata Sister Cities Program, which she helped run for 35 years.
“With her passion for education, she often spoke of her life experiences and that of Japanese internment during WWII in classrooms, summer camps, at libraries and other venues to pass on the history and the lessons around racism and discrimination in our country’s past. Her service in this regard is so relevant in these current times when the community is experiencing another wave of anti-Asian sentiment, xenophobia and grappling with race and equity issues.
“Her internment experience instilled in Amy the importance of being involved and having a voice in the community and the political process. She herself ran for the Mountain View Los Altos High School Board in the early 1980s and though she was not successful, she remained very involved in community affairs and encouraged and supported other Asian Pacific Americans to run for elected office.
“Both former Mayor Art Takahara and I, the first two Asian Pacific Americans elected to the Mountain View City Council, were encouraged and supported by Amy. I had the honor of getting to know her and benefitting from her mentorship with her experience and knowledge of the Mountain View community.
“Amy’s quest was to ‘make a difference in my passing through this life.’ She certainly touched the lives of many and made an impact in our Mountain View community. I cannot think of a more appropriate individual to name a Mountain View school after … It would be a terrific way to ensure Amy’s legacy lives on.”
Abe-Koga added, “I think it is rare to have a school named after an Asian Pacific American, and even more rare after an AAPI woman, so Amy Imai Elementary School is very significant.”
In a letter to the MVWSD trustees, Shawn Imai wrote, “It is without hesitation that I offer my enthusiastic support for Amy Imai. In the interest of full disclosure, I am married to her son, Darren.
“From the moment I met Amy, it was obvious she placed a high priority on education and achievement. As she and her husband were carnation growers, income was limited. However, they still managed to put four children through college. It was extremely important to Amy, in particular. She knew it would give them a broader perspective of the world, and opportunities for a better life.
“Amy also encouraged participation in school clubs and activities, as well as church and community organizations. Her children were all active in athletics, as well. She knew the skills they learned through these pursuits would make them well-rounded, and give them the necessary resources to succeed later in life.
“Amy’s enthusiasm did not end with her family. When she worked at Lucky’s, she encouraged her young co-workers to work hard in school and get engaged in community activities. She even played matchmaker for two of them. They are now married and teaching English in Japan. They had such high regard for her that they flew all the way from Japan for her funeral service.
“It is no secret that Amy and her family spent several years at the Heart Mountain, Wyoming internment camp during WWII. Although it was not a pleasant experience, they made the best of it. Rather than become bitter, Amy chose to use it as a teachable moment in history. She wanted people to understand why the treatment of the Japanese people was unjust, so that such events would not be repeated. When 9/11 happened, and hate crimes against those of Middle Eastern descent were occurring, she was very concerned that history would be repeated.
“Over her lifetime, she made it her mission to speak at schools, libraries, and other venues to educate others on the dangers of injustice. In summary, Amy believed that a well-educated populace would help eliminate prejudice and injustice. This is particularly relevant in today’s world. She encouraged others to get involved in their communities, as she did, to be a positive catalyst for change and advancement.”
Shawn Imai also noted, “Amy taught Sunday school at the Mountain View Buddhist Temple for over 45 years. She was the editor of the church newsletter, ‘The Echo,’ and chaired the church Otoki committee for many years. She was also in charge of the Senior Activities group, planning excursions and presentations for the church’s senior members.
“In addition, she planned an annual ‘Old-Timers’ luncheon, giving WWII internees a chance to get together, discuss their experiences, and relay their stories to others. When Amy passed away, one church member joked that it would take five people to replace her.
“Throughout her life, Amy was a very humble, accepting person. She once told me that ‘You should be kind to everyone. If they have a problem, you try to help them. If you cannot, you just accept them as they are.’
“Amy was very compassionate, and a mentor to many. More importantly, she had a genuine interest in other people. She would always ask how they were doing, and what they were doing. If she knew their families, she would ask about them too. She had a natural curiosity about everything. No matter what she was involved in, she was always trying to learn something from it.
“She also had a great sense of humor, laughing not only with others, but at herself as well. Speaking as one of her daughters-in-law, I can honestly say that she was an amazingly kind, energetic, and motivating person.
“Amy’s entire family is very happy that she has received this great honor. We are so pleased that her legacy of education, community involvement, and respect and compassion for others will continue. I have no doubt that Amy would be very humbled and honored, as well.”
A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held at the school at a date to be announced.