It is with profound sadness that we bid farewell to our friend and columnist William T. “Wimpy” Hiroto, who passed away on June 23 at age 94.
Throughout his life, Wimpy was authentic every day and in every way.
He considered himself a beacon for the Greatest Generation, those born in the early 1900s through the 1920s. The Nisei came of age just as the Great Depression and World War II tested their mettle. They leaned into the values taught to them by their immigrant Issei parents and earned the right to lead the Japanese American community for the next 60 years.
Perhaps it was Hiroto’s inflexible sense of justice or his impatience with anything he thought fell short of his standards, but in June 1948 as Japanese Americans were still in the throes of post-war resettlement, something compelled him to launch his own newspaper.
In June 1948, he published the first issue of his all-English tabloid, which he named Crossroads to signify the intersection of the older and younger generations. He covered the Asian American civil rights and anti-war movement in the 1960s and was the first to invite movement leaders like Warren Furutani to write for his newspaper.
When Hiroto observed the rise in the popularity of golf among the Nisei businessmen, he became the first to print comprehensive tournament results.
By the early 1970s, the field of vernacular newspapers was crowded with three dailies and two weeklies as well as the short-lived alternative Gidra. In addition to Rafu Shimpo there were Kashu Mainchi, Shin Nichibei, and Pacific Citizen, all scrambling for the monolingual and bilingual Japanese American subscribers and advertisers.
The Southern California Nikkei community proved to be too small to support six newspapers, and Crossroads struggled to survive. In August 1971, Hiroto announced that he was terminating his publishing operation.
Asked how he came to be known as “Wimpy,” Hiroto said it grew out of his first name and middle initial, William T., which is said rapidly, sounded like “Wimpy, a hamburger-loving character in the “Popeye” cartoons.
About a year ago, when an interviewer asked him how he would want to be remembered, Hiroto stalled a bit before answering. He said he continued to write into his later years “because I felt the Nisei needed a voice.”
Indeed, Hiroto became that voice, mirroring many of his fellow Nisei in tone and attitude.
He once wrote: “Hawaiians remember when home was a plantation; Okinawans suffered countless indignations; our parents weren’t even citizens, let alone second class. In 1942, more than 100,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were forcibly incarcerated in a variety of interior gulags … but there are never tears or hatred.”
We at The Rafu miss our irascible friend. He would want us to emulate his generation. Never tears or hatred.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, July 29. at 11 a.m. at Centenary United Methodist Church, 300 S. Central Ave. in Little Tokyo, with Rev. Mark Nakagawa officiating. The family requests casual or aloha attire.
— ELLEN ENDO