By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
For Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Johnny Cepeda Gogo, a seemingly simple idea — having Japanese American World War II incarcerees sign vintage American flags to be put on public display — has become a personal project that has taken him throughout California and across the country.
The first signature was from former Rep. Mike Honda of San Jose, who was held at Amache in Colorado as a child, on March 21, 2021.
Gogo said, “I have visited the following cities for folks to sign the flags: San Jose, Washington, D.C., Seattle, Sacramento, Watsonville, Santa Maria, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Honolulu, Little Rock, San Diego, Los Angeles (five visits), Orange County, San Francisco, Alameda, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, San Pablo, Walnut Creek, Fremont, Carpinteria, Camarillo.”
Future destinations include Berkeley, Pasadena, “and hopefully Phoenix and Chicago.”
Since his last visit to the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles in November, Gogo has had flag-signing events in Monterey, which included 101-year-old World War II veteran Yasuo Takasaki, who served with the Military Intelligence Service, and Fresno, which included Carlene Tanigoshi Tinker, who wrote an Oct. 5 article in The Washington Post titled “I Survived a Japanese American Internment Camp. We Cannot Forget That History.”
“This coming Saturday I will be in Portland and then on Sunday in Mountain View for additional flag-signings,” he said. “Also, during the week of Thanksgiving, I took the flags to Poston and Gila River (in Arizona) and on Dec. 31, I took the flags to Manzanar — thus completing my goal of visiting all 10 major internment camps with the signed flags.”
Those who sign are asked to include the names of all the sites where they were imprisoned, including the War Relocation Authority “relocation centers,” assembly centers, and Department of Justice internment camps.
The eventual goal is to display the flags at JANM, the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, and the Korematsu Institute in San Francisco.
The flags are not from the camps but are of the 48-star type in use during World War II. “People sell their 48-star flags on Ebay, so it has not been difficult to obtain the flags for survivors to sign,” Gogo said.
Approximately 1,000 people have signed the flags, including former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, who was sent to Heart Mountain in Wyoming with his family as a child. Veterans are asked to sign the stars. People whose deceased parents and grandparents were incarcerated are also asked to sign.
For camp survivors, the flag-signings are often a family affair as they are accompanied by their children and grandchildren.
Gogo explained how the project got started. “Before helping (Santa Clara County Superior Court) Judge Roberta Hayashi with outreach for Fred Korematsu Day a few years ago, I knew a little about the incarceration of our Japanese American citizens during World War II. I learned more by supporting and attending presentations during Korematsu Day events in San Jose. I listened to speakers like Judge Hayashi, Dr. Karen Korematsu (Fred Korematsu’s daughter) and civil rights attorney Dale Minami and learned their stories.
“After meeting Dr. Karen Korematsu, Dale Minami and Judge Hayashi, I was inspired to try and help recognize surviving incarcerees because I did not get to meet Fred Korematsu before Fred passed away (in 2005). But I knew that other camp survivors were still with us and I wanted to try to do something to help recognize them and honor their sacrifice, hardship and resilience.
“This project has been so rewarding as I’ve meet so many inspirational survivors and listened to their stories. And everyone who has signed has expressed how appreciative and grateful they are for the opportunity to sign the 48-star flags and have themselves and their families honored and recognized.”
According to Discover Nikkei, Gogo previously served as a prosecutor in Santa Clara County and Guam. His father was in the military and so the family has lived in Germany, Japan, Guam, California, Alaska and Kentucky. Gogo attended Sacramento City College and Riverside City College, graduated from UC San Diego with a BA in political science, and obtained his JD from Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego.
For more information on the project, email JGogo@scscourt.org.