Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Jim Matsuoka Interview
Narrator: Jim Matsuoka
Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: May 24, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-mjim-01-0040

<Begin Segment 40>

MN: Well, so after that, you were also scheduled to make a presentation at the senate hearing.

JM: That one they told me, they thought now they were afraid, they were afraid that I was a runaway locomotive and that I'm gonna wind up screaming at them again. They said, "Jim, we have to look at this thing very, a senate hearing is a little different. We only got a... what we're gonna try to do is win over the senator from Alaska."

MN: Stevens.

JM: Ted Stevens. "And if we go in there shouting at him..." I said, "Please, please." I said, "I'm ahead of you. You will hear nothing from me, except if you want me to read a written statement, that's all you're gonna get." So we caucused and we said, "All we're gonna do is present our argument in a very rational, very unemotional way. All the sparks and emotion and firepower, we've already done that. I don't think Ted Stevens is gonna appreciate it." And it went right to script. The other anti-redress people, these whackos is about the only word for it, these Holocaust denial, you know, these Lillian Baker types that kept saying that Manzanar was a picnic, and "at least they were well-fed and everything," they went crazy. They were like ranting and raving, especially one lady by the name of... something Kawasaki. She was married to a Japanese person, she was like six-foot-five almost, blonde, big mouth. She wore one of those Spanish dons type of hat, she would strut up and down and she was like, oh, she was raising a ruckus. And it was wonderful. We was just like, "Oh boy, can't get any better than this." It really worked. Ted Stevens got completely turned off. Halfway through, when they were ranting and raving, he stopped listening to them. He just closed his book or something, and he started talking to his aide, totally ignored them. And the message was brought home to me really well: there's a lot of ways to win.

MN: Now, in the early years, though, did you think that redress could be won?

JM: It was difficult. No, I don't think it could be won.

MN: When was it that you really thought, "We can win this"?

JM: We went on a lobbying trip to D.C., and I was a team captain, and I led a small group into five or six different congressmens' office. And we were very well-received with the except of David Dreier's office. We went to David Dreier's office, and they laughed, they actually laughed at us. I said, "Well, I had a one o'clock appointment with Congressman Dreier," and that punk looked up and he said, "Oh, yes, you did have one, didn't you? Ha, ha, well, I'm afraid he isn't here." So like, too bad, you know. Another guy I went to had no idea what we were about. He was from Colorado, Denver, and it was an agonizing five minutes. He says, "Are any of you from Denver?" We said, "No, we're here to, we're from Los Angeles, and we're here to thank you for support of our bill." He had no idea what our bill was about. He had no idea what he was supporting. He was gonna vote for the redress bill, but he had no idea what it was. What had happened was they had traded bills. So that's how it works. "You vote for mine, I'll vote for yours." "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." Then we went into... I was given the assignment of going into -- and I had a team with me -- going into the one from Florida, a congressman from Florida, and I forgot his name, but he was Mr. Senior Citizen. And we brought a member of the Gray Panthers with us, little old white lady. [Laughs] So we were pulling all the stops out. And she was very effective. I thought he voted against us for the simple reason he was a FDR loyalist. But when I really went back and looked it over, I found that he had abstained, I think, abstained. He did not vote against us. And another guy I was surprised at, who abstained, was that kind of, the really right-winger from Orange County. I forgot what his name was... Bob Dornan. I thought if anybody would vote against us, it would be Bob Dornan, and he abstained. 'Cause he saw the logic of our argument. So it was very strange. You kind of didn't know... and later on I found out a sponsor of the 442 was from, was that fellow from Wyoming in the Bush cabinet, vice president.

MN: From the Bush cabinet?

JM: Yeah.

MN: You're talking about Cheney?

JM: Dick Cheney was the co-sponsor. [Laughs] So it's kind of like, things are really wild. But getting back to when I found out, we were called into a meeting room, senate meeting room, and it was by Senator Spark Matsunaga. And he was like, my god, he was like everything you expect a United States Senator to be. Genial, you know, the old boy's club, he had beaten out Patsy Mink for the senateship. Yeah, he looked like a, he almost looked like a southern senator. He said, "I want to welcome all you folks here. And if you look on the table, there's homemade cookies for all of you. And soda pop, and there's drinks and everything, help yourself." Says, "I called you here this evening, just to let you know," he says, "that you're here, that we're aware that you're here, and I want, I just wanted you to know that please don't waste your time with the Senate." He says, "I have seventy-five votes, which will override a presidential veto, so don't waste your time there. I have the Senate, just take care of the House." And that's when all the lightbulbs went off. I said, "Oh, my god, we're gonna win. We're gonna win this thing." I couldn't believe it, it was so like winning the lottery. Now this is no longer a pipe dream, this is no longer a... you know, let's stick it back to these suckers. It wasn't a personal argument anymore, it was like we were looking at victory now. And now all we have to do is follow through on the House -- and we had a lot of strength in the House -- and we were gonna win this thing. So that was the defining moment for me. If there's anybody... of course, there's no one person that won redress, but I would say one of the most significant persons would be Spark Matsunaga. Because in order to get seventy-five votes, just think how many commitments he had to make in this trading process. He had to practically sell his Senate soul, but he did it. He delivered the damn thing.

MN: What year was this meeting?

JM: 1987. 1987.

<End Segment 40> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.