Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Ron Wakabayashi Interview
Narrator: Ron Wakabayashi
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: February 5, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-460

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: Today is February 5, 2019, we're in Los Angeles in a suite in the DoubleTree in Little Tokyo. My name is Tom Ikeda, I'm the interviewer. On camera is Dana Hoshide, and we have Ron Wakabayashi. So, Ron, just the first question to get it on the record, when and where were you born?

RW: I was born in Reno, Nevada, Washoe County, November 13, 1944.

TI: So this is during the war. Why Reno?

RW: Because the West Coast was still excluded, so my parents got out of camp, but they couldn't come back to the West Coast. So Reno was an available place.

TI: Okay, let's talk about your parents a little bit, first about your dad. Can you tell me his name and a little bit about his family?

RW: Part of it is that I can't fill in all that. My dad was Issei, and he was chonan, he's the number one son in the family. He migrated from Yamanashi prefecture. He told me the story because of his travel, what strikes me is that he's not the number two son, he's number one, he's an adventurer, and that showed up in a lot of ways. So he jumped ship in Peru, and doesn't like it, jumps back on ship. Jumps ship again in Baja, and then he told me the story of how he crossed in Baja to get to an area near El Centro, California. But the back story is Japan doesn't have deserts, and they have plenty of water. So he didn't have a concept of desert, and he's walking in the Sonoran Desert. And so he would have died except for Mexicans and Indians. And that always was a very strong, it had a strong effect on me, that story of how he crossed. And he crossed at El Centro near Mexicali, and historically, Mexicali, the Chinese railroad workers on that southern leg, they were abandoned there and the railroad wouldn't bring them back. So Mexicali, the capital of Baja, it's formed by two hundred Chinese, Toisan generation Chinese and six Mexicans. So it was just an interesting place where he intersected, and then he comes in, and one of his companions traveling is Takekuma Takei, George Takei's dad.

TI: And so how did George Takei's dad, same thing, he jumped the ship?

RW: Yeah, I don't know all the details of how they... but in that last leg of it at least, because they're both Yamanashi, they start same place.

TI: And do you know about when, what year this might be?

RW: This is during Gentlemen's Agreement.

TI: So it was before, so post-Gentleman's Agreement but pre-1924?

RW: Oh, yeah. I don't know exactly, but he crossed without documents, right? Came in the old school way. I found some documents of him in El Centro. So he worked as a migrant worker, got as far north as San Francisco that I could tell as a longshoreman, and then eventually kind of settled into doing kind of the laundryman and then dry cleaning.

TI: It's funny, because I know you work for the Department of Justice now, do you ever tell that story about your father kind of coming at a time when, as a Japanese laborer, he was kind of banned from coming in, and walked across the southern border, it just seems so, kind of, reminiscent of what's going on today.

RW: It is, and it's actually kind of one of the reasons why the border issues are really very important to me. It's a mixture of that and having grown up in East L.A., and we can touch on some of that, but I've got a strong affinity, and even sort of identity with Mexico and Chicanos. I think, like one of the things I do as a human relations professional, is do a little exercise with people and say, "Okay, everyone make a list of everything you can remember in your refrigerator," and then we exchange it and say, "Okay, find the person that that belongs to." And then really when you look at those kind of lists, you really can't always tell who it belongs to by the food in their refrigerator.

TI: And that's the point of that exercise, do actually do that? Because people have stereotypical kind of...

RW: Yeah, it's how you present is different than who you are and what your experience is. Like I'll have rice in my refrigerator, but I'll have tortillas always.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: So I'm going to bring you back now, so tell me a little bit about your mother, what you know.

RW: My mom is Kibei-Nisei, so there's a lot of mystery. Like my aunt, her sister, at ninety-seven just passed away recently. So we tried to do, among family, piece together things. But I can't piece together all of it, but there's little clues. What I do know is my grandfather is also from Yamanashi, I suspect my grandmother was, too. And she's a piece of work, from what I could tell. Like she was probably one... in terms of, like, really tiny, petite, but I think there's aspects of her that are really sort of marginal. They had a boarding house from what I can tell, and I have her shamisen. So she's a bit of an entertainer, and I suspect, courtesan. But the family, my parents, my aunt, that generation wouldn't talk about it, I don't even know where Grandma's buried. So my mother came out of, kind of like, I think a destabilized household, she gets shipped back to Japan early, she's Kibei-Nisei. And she's there during the Kanto earthquake, and then she gets removed even to more distant relatives. So when she comes back to the U.S., my sense of who she was is that she's pretty fragile. She didn't have the kind of home life that my aunt did who stayed here. And I also think that, in many ways, explains that she and my dad, who's like twenty-five years older, hooked up and get married.

TI: Interesting. Because your father was previously married.

RW: He was previously married.

TI: And you said divorced?

RW: Yeah, divorced. But the family relationship, even from my stepbrother and stepsisters -- because he's got five children from that marriage. But I grew up with us all being part of one family, like Shogatsu or everything, she was there.

TI: This is your father's...

RW: Ex-wife.

TI: ...ex-wife.

RW: And I didn't have any sense that there was anything unusual or any tension. I mean, she was as much a part of my life as anyone. And I didn't know that that was unusual, when you just live it, you don't know that it's unusual. And my brothers, my Kibei-Nisei brothers, were -- because they were sent back to Japan, too -- they were in many ways like my father. I mean, they took me to the football games and baseball games and trips, where my dad was older. He took me to the kenjinkai meetings and chanbara movies.

TI: But yeah, your father, about how old was he when he had you?

RW: Fifty-six.

TI: Okay, so he was quite a bit... and your mom, you said, was about twenty-five years younger?

RW: Yeah.

TI: And do you know, I mean, I guess you're touching upon this, but how they actually met?

RW: Yeah. My grandfather had a laundry, dry cleaners, and my dad was the driver that would pick up. So they met that way, and I guess the family was really resistant, because he was older, "You got to watch that guy." Turns out, my dad was like an awfully good guy, he took care of everybody. I mean, he was competent, hardworking, like where my mom was flaky, my dad was the opposite. So the family learned that after a while, like now I think my dad, the family that remembers, is held in really high esteem, like, "That's a remarkable man." And I totally agree, he was. My mom was, like, wonderful. You know, like working a crowd, if we went to anyplace in Little Tokyo, everyone knew my mom, she was gregarious, pretty, worked the crowd, but she was flaky, unreliable, really relied on my father. It's such an interesting family.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: And just a little bit, because in your notes you mentioned how the family were in different camps and things like that during the war?

RW: Yeah. My dad gets picked up early, so he ends up in Rohwer. So a lot of his immediate early family ends up in Rohwer with him, and I don't know all the details of how that occurred.

TI: But at this point, was he married to your mother?

RW: Not yet. Well, actually, I'm not sure. I think not yet, because I think they got married out of camp. And then they were there, my mom, because my grandfather and her father was not well, comes back to the Bay Area to be with him. And so they end up at Topaz, and then my brothers, half brothers end up at Tule, 'cause they go "no-no."

TI: Got it, okay. So they were quite a bit older, then. They were, like, in their twenties, or how old were they at that point?

RW: Yeah, they would be adults, young adults. And they were both remarkable but very different.

TI: So we have Rohwer, Tule Lake and...

RW: Topaz.

TI: Topaz, okay.

RW: And then I don't know exactly, but my parents told me I was carried into Manzanar, they visited.

TI: So who was at Manzanar?

RW: I'm not sure, if they were just friends, because all the L.A. people were in Manzanar, they had friends, because they came out of L.A. So I really suspect that... see, and my dad was Nihonjinkai and kenjinkai and all that stuff, so I'm sure he had plenty of...

TI: When you said he was picked up early, was that by, like, the FBI?

RW: Yeah. Much like the Buddhist priests, because he was an officer in those other organizations, he was no priest, but...

TI: So did he have to go to any of the DOJ camps?

RW: Justice camps? Not that I know of, not that I know of. I can only trace him back to Rohwer.

TI: Okay. Actually, we have records, I could probably, after this, go back and take a look to see.

RW: Oh, that would be interesting if you do find out. Because even though I did all that JACL stuff, there was stuff... I didn't have time, actually, to kind of jump into it. I accompanied some friends that did it, and I know that they found some surprises. After they were surprised, I got like, maybe I don't even want to know.

TI: Yeah, I talk to Roger Daniels quite a bit, and when he was teaching at UCLA, he would help students do research, and they would find out things that weren't told to them, and in some cases, how devastating that was to some of them.

RW: I can understand, even like in the JACL world came the stories, like, "I was there, but I'm not documented there." "What?" and he was living through someone else's identity because he was a bigamist.

TI: Right, right. You have all these sort of hidden community secrets.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: So Reno, how long were you there?

RW: Couple years. I have a kid sister, so she's born in L.A. in '47, so we came back just before that, after the exclusion was lifted. And we're in Eastside by then, so we had to have been here for a little while, because I think our first destination was South Central. We lived near the historic black cultural center, the Dunbar Hotel and all that kind of stuff. And then the move comes to the Eastside.

TI: And is that kind of your first memories, are more on the Eastside?

RW: Dunbar, like I have real faint recollections. Like we lived in the store, we lived upstairs, kind of in the loft that looked down on the counter. So I have some recollection of that, but not a whole lot.

TI: And what kind of store was that?

RW: Laundry.

TI: Laundry. And then same thing in East L.A.?

RW: East L.A., my dad starts working for a dry cleaner, and so it's a small house. You know how things are in recollection? That thing had to be four hundred square feet. But at the time, it didn't strike me that it was, had any limitations.

TI: Right, right. Because from your perspective as a toddler or something, you look around and it looks big.

RW: Well, it sounded like, when we used to come home, the routine was my mom gets out the key, and the rest of us take off our shoe. And as soon as she opens the door, we're out there killing cockroaches. And that was normal, right?

TI: [Laughs] Get 'em before they scatter?

RW: It was Eastside, but it was marginal. But it was amazing to me that when my dad, whatever he was doing, saved enough money, and when the down payment on the house that I grew up in for most of my life, he paid cash on the down. I mean literally, I remember him bringing the paper bag.

TI: And what kind of dwelling or house was this?

RW: It's a three-bedroom in City Terrace. It had a good-sized yard, eventually we had cherry trees in the front and all kinds of fruit trees in the back.

TI: So tell me a little bit about growing up in that neighborhood and that house. Who were your friends and what did you do?

RW: Well, my neighborhood was largely Jewish and Chicano. And so it was really running around with them, but I went to Maryknoll. So my days, I was with Japanese American kids. But even then, I think our geographic distribution, because we had different buses that drove us home, so I'm on the Eastside trip, right? So I know the kids more on the Eastside, but there was the Westside bus. And then there's kind of the Downtown bus, there were a lot of people in Downtown in boarding houses and things like that. But on Eastside, there was a fair number, and we had not quite a Little Tokyo, but First Street had Brotherhood Market and had the Japanese Hospital. Had restaurants, there was enough of a nexus for community to interact, that was from Eastside, Boyle Heights. And it was a short streetcar ride straight into Little Tokyo. So getting to, like, Nishi Hongwanji or whatever, those kind of things, was just really easy. But it's with a mixture, like you have a Japanese American sort of backdrop, but you're largely running with, I'm largely running with Chicanos. Earlier on with more Jewish kids, but they moved out.

TI: So the question is, you mentioned earlier your dad was Buddhist, you're going to Maryknoll, which is Catholic, why Maryknoll and not...

RW: My sense is their perception is that you get a better education. And so I think like in hindsight, I think tuition was only fifteen dollars. Back then, that was a huge sacrifice, but just didn't recognize it. But I'm pretty sure that their view of it is that you got a better education, and that's kind of an Asian, Japanese immigrant story.

TI: And so you would go to school with Japanese Americans, but in your neighborhood you'd hang out more with the Jewish and Chicano?

RW: Latino.

TI: Latino, okay. How about other Japanese or Japanese American community things? Whether it was at the Buddhist Temple, or what were some things that you did growing up?

RW: Well, because my dad was Issei, so he's, at different times, because it's kind of a rotation, was kenjinkaii president. Like church-wise, we went to Nichiren Buddhist Church, which is a different sect than Jodo Shinshu, But still on Eastside, so the kind of things of, like, Obon, Shogatsu, that all kind of goes on. And my mother was involved with Nishi Hongwanji. There's kind of a women's group called Junior Matrons, and she was active in that, so we get hauled into that. And the other aspect is my granddad, Little Tokyo has got a number of hotels on the north side. So he lived in one of the hotels, the Sato Hotel, which would be like the Panama Hotel in Seattle. And he was anmasan, did massage, but he liked his independence, so I went to Boy Scout meetings at the Maryknoll troop, Friday nights, but I'd overnight with my grandfather, because I'd go to the troop meetings and hang out with him. So there's a lot of Little Tokyo kind of contact for me. When I talk to Brian Kito and the folks that had stores here, my mom's best friend had a beauty shop above what we called Joseph's Men's Store. And that tagline was "Joseph's Men's Store: Clothes for Mr. Short."

TI: Oh, I remember that, yeah.

RW: But upstairs, there was Futaba beauty salon, my mom would be there, so we'd hang out there and at my grandfather's. And next door to Futaba's, there was this room where Hawaiian guys hung out. And the main guy was a guy named Creepy, and he was the bookie in J-Town. If you saw him, you'd know why he's called Creepy. So there was a lot of, like, J-Town, I ran around in J-Town. Even though we started that, we were at Nichiren, we'd do a lot of things at Nishi, because that was the main temple, had events.

TI: How about Japanese school? Did you attend Japanese school?

RW: No, I didn't go to Japanese school because I had Japanese classes at Maryknoll. And plus, because my dad is Issei and my mom's Kibei-Nisei, it's not like I'm fluent in all this stuff, but relatives and cohorts, I can speak Japanese and I can read hiragana, there's a few things I can do. So they didn't push that. On Eastside, there's a number of Japanese American or Japanese cultural institutes, kind of were language schools, so in Eastside it's Chuo Gakuen, and that was a language school during the day, but in the evenings it was judo, kendo, that kind of stuff, and I did do kendo.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: So during this time period, growing up, did you have a sense, or was there... could you see the impact of the war on the community during this time period? I mean, you're a kid running the streets, so it may not have come up or something, but I'm just trying to get a sense of...

RW: Only in this way a lot of people have articulated, that you meet people in J-Town and your parents will say, "This is Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So, they were on the next block from us in camp." And our camp references, like with a lot of people, it's like Mount Hermon, the Christian camp, or there was kind of a human rights camp, Brotherhood Anytown. But the reference to camp didn't take hold for the longest time. Because I remember even when we were in our twenties, the only two books I can identify was the Daniels book and the tenBroek book. There's very little literature that I could find. But then, I did do things like I started scouring old bookstores and finding old magazine articles about the internment.

TI: And so about when was this? When did this concept of what happened to the community...

RW: I think it starts with the Black Civil Rights Movement. And it raises the parallel question of what's in it for us? And then I'm in Eastside, so we eventually get to the place of like the Blowouts in East L.A. and those kind of things. And I guess by the time I'm in college, I'm joining UMAS, United Mexican American Students, but I think it was the Black Civil Rights Movement that raised the first questions. And then, as a Japanese American thing, the thread here is that the Junior JACLers kind of outgrew that. Because that was largely a social kind of thing that was set up. And I think they paralleled, were going to, like what is our place in all this civil rights struggle?

TI: Oh, so it was almost like a study group or discovery for that cohort?

RW: It started with, like there was a thing that developed called Sansei Concern, and it's an immediate successor to Junior JACL. So that's the nucleus, those folks just kind of move over and create... on college campuses, and mostly UCLA, they're UCLA based. And someone pulls together a conference in conjunction with the L.A. County Human Relations Commission, it was a guy named John Saito who has passed, but whose story about how much, how quietly he did community building, because those original Oriental organizations, that's his organizing.

TI: So tell me about that. What were some of the, I mean, we were talking about before the interview started, but tell me about some of those organizations. Oriental Concern I think was one.

RW: Well, in the beginning it was Oriental Concern is the first one, and that stays around for a while, and then parallel, up north, you start, like Yuji Ichioka, like Berkeley are developing things like Asian American Political Alliance, AAPA, and then you start hearing about, like, Alex Hing, Red Guard, and stuff that's far more out there than what we were doing. We were doing kind of like, who are we and what does it mean? So down here there was a conference, late '60s, called, "Are You Yellow?" And it's kind of a typical, I think, college-age conference, you're into groups and discussion. But it triggered something. There was this sense of coming home. Like you didn't know all these other kids, but you were home. And that was the momentum that carried the development of Sansei Concern, Oriental Concern, and then the timing of other kind of things like I described, like when we organized the Council of Oriental Organizations, the War on Poverty is going, out of that we started getting little chunks of money initially. So one of the first chunks was to do a survey of the Issei, and then sort of the discovery of who the Issei are, right? And that there's a whole slew of these guys, single males that are living alone, and no pensions or social security, nothing. And the Issei in my view, they're different than your parents. Issei are like Jiichan, Baachan, for Sansei, anyway, when you skip that generation, what Isseis conjure is Jiichan, Baachan, the people that spoil you, it's different. Your mom and pop discipline you, and so the pioneer projects just take off. Like Pioneer Center develops, I remember even like one outing, we used to get buses from the city. And Tom Bradley becomes mayor, Noguchi becomes coroner, how these changes are happening. But on these outings, one outing we went to the port, because L.A. is weird, right? You have the city of L.A. in this narrow thread that's called Harbor Gateway.

TI: Yeah, explain that to me.

RW: The city of L.A., if you look at a map, there's a big bulb that's the city of L.A., then there's a narrow strip that runs about 15 miles to the harbor.

TI: I didn't know that.

RW: And because the city of L.A. wanted the harbor because of the revenue of the harbor. So they had a lot of harbor related things, so that we get a bus, we take the Isseis on an outing. And with Isseis, you develop a strategy. There's the real fast ones and the real slow ones, so you have some people in the front and some people in the back, and you pinch them in, because you lose them otherwise. So I remember coming back, and we get back on the bus, and there's one guy missing. And we look out there, oh, man, he's way at the end of the pier. So I go running out there and I say, "Ojisan, kaerimasho." And he doesn't say anything, he just is still. So I come up in front of him, and he tells me, "I'm from Wakayama." But I don't know my geography, and says, like, "So?" Says, "I haven't seen the ocean since I come to America." And I went, "You know what? Stay right there." I said, "Hey, can we hold the bus?"

TI: That's a good story.

RW: But because I hung out with my grandfather, right? You find all these other single Issei men, and you hear their stories and they're tragic. The successful ones end up with families to support them, but there's a whole bunch that are not. So Pioneer Project picks up that gap. And then one of the subsidiary projects that we did was a thing called Oshokujikai.

TI: Going back to that Pioneer Project, are there any remnants from that? Did you guys document any of these stories?

RW: I'm sure there is, but I don't know where, what the repository is.

TI: Because that's one of my, things we just missed, and we started the project twenty-three years ago, so we missed that whole generation. As you're telling me these stories, I just realize how much a missing that is for me not to have these stories.

RW: Yeah, I think for a lot of us, I know like other oral history projects, like Fresno Library did a whole bunch on "picture brides," they interviewed them, and I saw a few of those, and they're wrenching. Because at one level you say, oh, okay, they got married by photographs, how cute. It was disastrous. Those poor women. My dad even tells me a story like he went out to meet a boat with his friend, 'cause his wife was coming. And this woman gets off the boat and comes up to my dad and starts bowing. The guy sent my dad's picture.

TI: Oh, no. [Laughs]

RW: That's awful. Can you imagine how she felt? And I've heard things like that in the oral interviews in Fresno, and some of the women are pretty candid, "And I was hoping he'd die," "He was a bastard." And some of those Isseis, I remember, like were, talk about chauvinism, man, unreal.

TI: And so this was a collection at, what, Cal State University?

RW: I recall Fresno Library.

TI: Okay.

RW: But they were videoing it, and it was an oral history. But this is while I was at JACL, I remember it was going on, and it intrigued me.

TI: Yeah, I'm going to have to research that. I'm not familiar with that, maybe Brian Niiya...

RW: But I think there's other oral histories like that, of the Isseis.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: I mean, when you now kind of look back at the community, and recognizing that the previous decades, they had gone through the removal and incarceration experience. From your perspective, what insights do you have in terms of what they were dealing with? You kind of lived through it, but it was the eyes of a kid. But now, as an adult looking back, any insights about what, almost...

RW: At a macro level, my sense is like if you listen to the voices of Sansei, because remember, redress starts out in the margins with kind of radical folks that raise the issue --

TI: And Edison Uno was one?

RW: Well, you had Michi Weglyn earlier, Edison certainly, Ray Okumura, up your way, like even Shosuke Sasaki.

TI: Shosuke and Henry Miyatake.

RW: Yeah. There were some oldtimers on that. But like for Sansei, it was like a marginal issue and it was almost flippant to be talking about it. Because it's kind of a parallel to 40 acres and a mule. I mean, there was no research, no concrete thought about what does it mean, how do you do it?

TI: So explain that again. So from a Sansei perspective, they thought that it wasn't a real issue? What do you mean by flippant?

RW: I think it's kind of like a romantic idea. Like Don Quixote, we need to right a wrong, but I don't think we had much substance about, okay, what does that mean, what does that involve? But the energy out of the Sansei certainly put it on a plane, because within JACL, it was a nonstarter, it wasn't going to get raised there. In fact, when we talk about this being the 50th anniversary of the Manzanar pilgrimage, like I was the JACL Youth Director, and Warren Furutani was on staff, and Victor Shibata. And so the idea is Warren's like, "How about we go check out the camps?" So we checked them out and said, "Yeah, there's still stuff there, man. There's a guardhouse, how about a pilgrimage?" And we found Reverend Mayeda, who had been going every year to do services, said, "Yeah, let's do a pilgrimage," and we're stupid. We go in December, it's colder than hell, we get a car that flipped, I mean, if you've seen the old Gidra photograph with the Manzanar, the Nakamura photo in the center, and then all these pictures, I'm one of the pictures right on top. But when we went, it was stupid, we shouldn't have gone in December. But it's serendipity that we did from the standpoint of, like, this was pretty grim.

TI: I've been in Manzanar in winter, and yeah, you really get a sense of how horrible it was.

RW: Yeah, it's grim.

TI: I mean, the snow was going sideways.

RW: Yeah. But we didn't know, it's like ours was romantic, oh, we're going to go there, we're going to clean up the ohaka, right? It's romantic. And the thing is, you know what? Real life is a lot crueler, and the people that were there had to go through it. But when we did the pilgrimage...

TI: So describe the very first pilgrimage, because you were at the very first pilgrimage? Describe that.

RW: Yeah, we just got in the Rafu, like basic organizer, we're going. And there's a base, there's a market for it, because you have all this Sansei Concern and all this other stuff that's going. And what I described about, like, the JACS office, there's really a lot of Sansei base to draw from, to go. So we went, but the reaction from the Nisei, because remember, I'm JACL Youth Director, so I'm in the JACL office. And the Nisei wanted to fire us, literally. We had to go to meetings in Fresno, and Bob Takasugi was not a federal judge yet, but he was a friend of mine from East L.A. We brought him up, and he had to defend us.

TI: So what was the rationale for them opposing this?

RW: "Don't bring it up, what's wrong with you? You're bringing down hell on the community, let it lie." And it kind of captured, even the interview with Reverend Senzaki about burying things Japanese. I mean, I think it ties into AADAP and all these other things, but we didn't understand that there would be that kind of reaction. And you're going, "What's up with this?" "What's underneath all that?"

TI: Right, exactly. Because it's just, whenever you see a reaction that's kind of out of proportion to what is happening, you're thinking, "What's going on?"

RW: That kind of thing shows up for me just when I become the JACL director itself. Because when the commission is starting, I get the bright idea that, hey, let's get some chapter presidents together and have them hone down a vignette about camp, five minutes, and I'll get Quentin Kamp, who's kind of a curmudgeon, board of supervisors and some judges to play commission, and let's walk through it, let's test it out. And the first guy that goes up -- and these are chapter presidents, they're used to talking and all that, he breaks down and can't finish. Then the second guy breaks down, and the third and the fourth, we didn't get one finished. And then we're going, "Oh, shit, what is that about?" So like one of the people that testified in L.A. was a woman like Amy Mass, she's a psychiatric social worker, and so one of my other ties was, I was president of Asian American Social Workers at one point, even though I'm not MSW. But I met Amy and a lot of mental health professionals, and I called her up and said, "Amy, I've never seen anything like this." I have an AADAP background, and some things that you might call generally clinical. But the language of post-traumatic stress was not talked about. That's the first time I heard that language when she says, "It might be that." And so we organized it, like, these commission hearings are going on, let's get our mental health professionals ready, because I don't know what that taps into.

TI: That's interesting.

RW: But just the Manzanar pilgrimage, all the reaction to that was we didn't know what we tapped into.

TI: So that's really, I mean, that must have been an exciting time. I mean, sure, you got resistance and pushback, but it's almost like you hit a nerve, and it's almost like, oh, this is really, there's a lot of juice here.

RW: "What's there?" Because there was really very little material. You know, like I said, it was tenBroek and Daniels. Because the Niseis weren't talking, and remember, the book that was kind of prominent around that time is Nisei: The Quiet American. And we're taking umbrage at that, like, "What's up with you calling it 'Quiet American'? Just stop it." And I think it's a legitimate book, but it's a perspective we didn't understand.

TI: Well, so as this is starting to happen, because, in a similar way, when we started Densho twenty-three years ago and we were going to document these stories, I got some pushback in terms of, "You don't want to do this." And it wasn't so much... what I realized, it wasn't so much in terms of the Japanese American community being seen as sort of this force that was bringing things up, it was the internal fights that would come up. That was the stuff that people didn't want to come up. It wasn't about standing up for your rights or the fear of that, it was all of a sudden this internal kind of...

RW: You know, it's kind of like the experience I had with the 442 guys. Because I'm an idiot now, I come out of the antiwar movement, so even when I become a JACL director, Eric Saul, who did the exhibit at the Presidio, the first one, he says, "You know much about these guys?" I said, "The only thing I know is they wear funny hats, they run the dime pitch at Nisei Week." He said, "You're the JACL director, you need to understand this story," and he took me through that and says, "Sit down, you need to understand this story." And I thank him for that, because I didn't understand the story. And then this other woman gave me her v-mail that she got from her boyfriend, and some of it is, like, romantic tripe, but there's, interspersed in that, "We know we've got to prove that we're loyal. This is our main role." And then he dies, he gets killed, and his friends write back, "He really loved you, Haru." It's just wrenching. And then his dad writes this really philosophical letter, and all of that's just like, "This is deep shit that went on there, and people can't talk about it." Like some of the documentaries on the Nisei soldier, we premiered them or previewed them in my office at JACL. And I brought in the 442 guys that I had gotten to know, friends, and I couldn't stand it. These guys don't cry, but they do. Or even during the hearings, I remember sitting in the L.A. hearings with one of the community leaders, and (Mitsu Sonoda), while her husband's testifying, and he's a dentist and he talks about being sent over to the health facility with nothing there, and this baby is dehydrated, and he talks about it dying in his arms. And I'm sitting next to her and she's going, "Kiyoshi doesn't cry, Kiyoshi doesn't cry. He didn't cry at his mother's funeral, Kiyoshi doesn't cry." And you're sitting there in the middle of this, and you say, no, there's stuff that's just really wrenching for people that's within it. And not for everybody, because some people said, "No, I had a ball there. We were all kids, we ran around, it was fun." And I'm sure there's different segments of stories, but for some people, it was heavily lost, but within it overall... for me, the macro story was when I talked about Hosokawa and that book. If you listen to the beginning testimony, pre-commission, and even in the early commission hearings, the Sanseis take after the Niseis, that they didn't stand up, right?

TI: Right.

RW: But by the end of the hearings, the Sansei voice is like, "We appreciate the dilemma you were in and the contributions you made." And I remember my last round with JACL, they kind of let me do a victory lap with chapters. And this immigration attorney's association gave us an award. And I said, like for me, the twenty thousand dollars is good, and I talked to a lot of people what they're going to do, and I had great stories of what different people did with the twenty thousand. But I think the greatest gift we got is, my son was six then, and if my son told me, "Dad, I'm really disappointed, you weren't there when I needed you." And I actually heard those words and those stories out of our national president at one time, that his son told him, "You weren't there." It wasn't about redress, but told him, "You weren't there when I needed you, and I felt like you weren't strong, you were a disappointment." And as a father, I felt like, I never want to hear that from my son.

TI: So explain that... so I'm not quite sure. So...

RW: It's a disappointment.

TI: A father talking to his son, or the son talking to the father?

RW: Well, I'm using that as a metaphor. That for the Niseis, what they lost was the respect and affection of their children's generation.

TI: Got it, got it, okay.

RW: And in my mind, that's a huge loss. I mean, it's epic loss. Like if I list all the things you don't want, the love and respect of your children? So I think what the Nisei in particular -- well, not just the Nisei -- what the Nisei got back is, you know what you got back, is you got back their respect and their affection. And Sanseis, you know what we got back? We always needed, "My dad could beat up your dad." That you needed your parents to be powerful, and you recognized in what way they were powerful. Like that 442 story, that's crazy. Like Battle of the Bulge, people falling to their death and not screaming, or Lost Battalion, who does that kind of stuff? Because we know ourselves, we know our community, and I mean, one, like I think we knew that this is not a threat, these people are not a threat. If anything, they're quiet, it's crazy. But the recovery of what they lost to what they got, Niseis and Sanseis, I think that's the great gift. But it's not something that's as tangible.

TI: No, but it's really powerful, as I'm listening, because I think about my dad's generation, what he went through, and he was in the military service during World War II. But what you said really hit home because, one, they were placed in these camps, so there was some form of emasculation in that, they go off and fight, and they didn't really talk about this, but then, yeah, I grew up during the anti-war protests of Vietnam. And so I remember when I found out, I read the novel No-No Boy and stuff like that, and getting in this argument with my dad, said, "Why didn't you guys, how could you guys not stand up?" and had just that same conversation. But it wasn't until after Densho when I learned, as you said, as I learned the story, that I came back and we really were able to connect on this.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

RW: See, and the tragedy for me in my current life, is like working with the Muslim community, is that same dynamic is going on there. I mean, my friend is an Iman, he says, "Remember when we took Mohammed to Hajj, and he came back and he was so excited he put the posters and all that?" Well, like a few years later, he says, "Now, Mohammed's telling me he wants to change his name to Michael and he took down all the posters." And for me, that parallels what happened with AADAP, why we had thirty-one ODs. I mean, what explains that many dying of overdose?

TI: So, I'm sorry, so talk about this, so let's move back to, you're kind of getting involved with the Asian American Drug Abuse Program, AADAP, is what you're referring to.

RW: Okay, the precursor piece is that, when I said there was the old Shonien orphanage, it's an Issei institution, the need extinguishes, the property gets sold, it's over in, like, Echo Park, that money is held in trust and it's used once for, to create Japanese American Community Services in the '50s when there was a gang shooting and one of the Black Juan guys kills a Chinese guy in Chinatown. Louie claims he was aiming, he was aiming for his leg, but he shoots and kills him, but the community went crazy behind that. And then in that same immediate timeframe, there's a story that runs that there's a Japanese girls' gang called Ichibans, and their initiation is sleeping with black guys. So the community goes nuts, and so they started, we need to start services. So the Shonien money goes into this, so the people like this guy Mike Suzuki, Jack Soo's brother, who eventually becomes the Administration on Aging commissioner, he's hired as the social worker. Because he, Jerry Enomoto, Harry Kitano, they all come out of Berkeley social worker school. But that fades after a while, but that money goes back into trust, a couple of us end up on the JACS board, Alan Nishio and myself, and we gave a proposal to create this JACS Asian Involvement office. So we get enough, I mean, small money, just to have an office where it's really a volunteer force of Sanseis, and it's right directly across the hall from the JACL office. So we're in town, because Warren and I are over in this side, and everyone else is over here, we feed them supplies and all this other stuff. But a lot of the organizing, for Isseis, for military veterans, Asian women, it all comes out of there. So down in L.A., when you talk about Asian movement, people will tie it back to the JACS office. So out of that, there's a whole part of that that has to do with drugs, with the overdose.

So Yellow Brotherhood was probably the most prominently known group, but there were groups all over the city. So there was South Bay Asian Involvement, there was a group called LOVE in Echo Park, Eastside, where I’m from, we had a group that we called, the kids named themselves Go For Broke after we told them the story. And the groups really had very different philosophies, like Yellow Brotherhood would take kids in the basement and kick the shit out of them. Where we were much more therapeutic, and I think we had more women working in the group, so it's a softer touch. But all of that, it becomes drug offensive and a whole lot of other things about drugs. And then I get a mini grant, because other people move into positions, like Patrick Okura ends up at the National Institute of Mental Health, and Ford Kuramoto was out there. But they helped school us on how to get grants, we were given a mini grant to do weeks at Mills College, we have a women's team and our team, we write up a proposal. The women's proposal ends up becoming the Asian Women's Center, and the other team proposal ends up becoming AADAP.

TI: And these are like state grants?

RW: No, federal. National Institute of Mental Health. Because Pat Okura, he's a former JACL national president, he goes to Boys Town, and then the guys from there, I forgot his name, but becomes the director of NIMH, and he takes Patrick with him, and then Ford follows him out there, and we get our first entry into federal money. And it was both controversial, should we, shouldn't we, what are the downsides, because we're kind of anti-government in a lot of ways.

TI: But then going back, just so I'm clear, and the JACS money kind of helped you guys get started?

RW: It did. It creates the basis for this community organizing. You can virtually trace almost every social service that exists today in L.A. to that.

TI: Now, whatever happened to JACS?

RW: It eventually dies out. It just kind of dies out, because it becomes, there were so many other second generation specialties of it, Amerasia book store, Asian Visual Communications, which are very substantial entities now, right? You don't need the JACS anymore. And you couldn't sustain the growth. There's a, I don't know if it was a conscious or unconscious decision, like when we were doing AADAP, AADAP itself, it's in this time period where you had a lot of community development agencies. Bob Santos did a lot of that in Seattle, and down here, there's a black version of it and a Latino version of it, TELACU, and Watts Community Action Committee. They became sort of umbrella agencies to incubate a lot of services. AADAP incubated a lot, but we didn't keep them, we spun them off, where they kept it. And it was a philosophy difference, saying like if we're going to have a program for the handicapped, it's better if they have that program, they run it, and they focus on one thing. I think we were right, but you can never be sure. But with all those developing, there was, the need kind of subsided.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: But so now talk about the need for this program. What was going on in the community that sort of precipitated the need for AADAP? What was happening? You mentioned the overdoses and stuff, talk about what was going on.

RW: Anecdotally, like in your cohorts, you know there's a lot of ODs and there's a lot of drug abuse. I don't know if you watch... there's a guy who's putting a lot of stuff about what Sanseis were doing in the '60s and '70s, dances, like on Facebook, Mitch.

TI: Mitch... oh, I think I know. Homma?

RW: No, I'd know it right off, but his last name was Matsu...

TI: Okay, I think I am friended or whatever on that feed.

RW: Yeah, so he's become, I haven't talked to him, but he's kind developed this recapturing the Sansei thing, with the bands that we listened to and all that, and there were different dances, like Roger Young, there were places where we went socially. But at those things, you know people were getting loaded, if you weren't doing it yourself. And in that timeframe, like Yellow Brotherhood, we have Asian American Hardcore, which is guys that did joint time. But we know within our neighborhoods, you start seeing these self-help groups develop. But the other thing that exists in that time period is this guy Isamu Noguchi becomes the coroner for L.A. County. And he's a controversial figure, he's a gourmet cook, he's coroner, and he's Shin-Issei, he's from Japan. And he's really inappropriate in a lot of ways, like community dinners, they'd invite him because he's the county department head. But he would show autopsy photos at a dinner.

TI: Oh, my.

RW: And you're going, "That's disgusting." But one of the things was it gave us access to death certificates. So there was a woman that I had a great deal of trust in, she was just kind of rigorous, smart, she comes back and she says, "I talked to the doctor, we can find thirty-one ODs. They don't say 'OD' on the (death) certificate, they say other things, but that's what community doctors did to protect the families. But Noguchi's saying these are ODs. So I'm the JACL Youth Director, I go out with the news release, and the community goes nuts.

TI: Oh, because you exposed this secret.

RW: Yeah, they go nuts. So I'm supposed to get fired for that, and then Mas Fukai, city councilman in Gardena, Mas is a good guy. But because Gardena is heavily implicated in all this stuff, he says, "That can't be true." He's just beating me up. Turns out that our numbers were a little wrong, but the basic thrust of it was right, that there was a huge number of OD deaths. And he wanted me to retract. And I was being stubborn and said, "I'm not retracting, this is getting too much agitation," just as an organizer, I'll retract, maybe, but I'm going to do it slow, because I still knew it was going on. And that really crystallized a lot of stuff taking place, for the community to understand what was taking place. Because you have the young people themselves saying, "There's a drug problem, and I'm it." And then you start getting deeper into it, saying, like, "Hey, check out the drug of choice is barbiturates. It's not uppers, it's not heroin." And as we get more educated, it's like barbiturates depress your inhibition center first. So our experience with it, like these guys would pop a red to be able to talk to a girl. There was this diminished sense of self-esteem, to kind of go and deal. And then you get deeper and deeper into it, because barbiturates are chemically very much like alcohol. But like other communities, white communities are taking acid and speed, they're taking uppers. We're taking downers. And then as we get into it, you can see these difference in patterns and different communities of color, saying, "Ah, there's more to it." And that's what I'm saying, like for us, eventually at AADAP, you start seeing these patterns and saying, this has to do with, I think, Niseis absorbing the lesson, like it's not so good to be Japanese, at least not overtly. And like the translation of that to their kids, it's misguided. It's one thing to kind of like, okay, you need to manage your identity. Like when you walk into certain places, we do that. If I'm going to a meeting in whatever community it is, I'm thinking about, okay, what this place is going to play like when I walk in. That makes sense. But if it inhibits me or makes me feel diminished, and I think that's... so if you look at the pattern of overdose deaths, we didn't do this in a research way, but just anecdotally, they were guys that were physically smaller. If you just sit there and talk about it, and people go, "Yeah, huh?"

TI: And so I'm curious, with this kind of insight, so you're in some ways treating the symptoms of all that, did you guys start thinking about how you can address the source of this? The self esteem issues?

RW: It came up in a lot of different ways. And so one of the ways it manifests is like in development, like in the push for Asian American Studies. We don't know boo about what we went through, and it's sort of a presumption that the more we understood, you can give it context. Even like, sort of, the view of the Niseis, like were they cowardly, or is that sort of a cultural manifestation in this context, and the situation that their parents are put in? I mean, how do you exercise that judgment? And it is more complex. But I think being more complex, the advantage of complexity is that it's forgiving.

TI: Say that one more time? The advantage of...

RW: Of complexity is that it's more forgiving.

TI: So explain that.

RW: Like if you go black and white, saying like they were cowards or not, it's not forgiving. They messed up, they were cowards. Or if it's all the other side, it's all oppression, and it's all the fault of oppression. But it's neither of those; it's a mixture of those, and it manifests differently. And to place the burden of either one of those on individuals, I think is unfair, because the individual pathways are so different. But at least give the tools of what are some of the elements in the complexity, for people to sort it out, and that's more work, but you know what? It is more work.

TI: No, this is fabulous. I really appreciate you giving us these insights, because it gives me another appreciation for the whole Asian American movement. Probably, listening to you, part of it came from a crisis happening in the community.

RW: It did.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

RW: And then we had other kinds of things, like even as this is going, Tom Bradley's mayor, and when Tom Bradley becomes mayor, you're answering the phones at the office, and more than half the calls are death threats. And you're going, "What?"

TI: So explain, so you were working in Bradley's office?

RW: Yeah. Because Jeff Matsui was kind of his adopted son, and Jeff protected a lot of folks in there. I really didn't join into the office, but I'm around it. And when we had the first Asian Pacific Heritage Week, he asked me, "Would you do the dinner, put that together?" And the lesson in the dinner was just like all these different Asian groups, because I pulled in people from the Thai community, Cambodian, pulled them all in. And we would meet in the mayor's conference room, and just the location of the conference room, different department heads and deputy mayors would walk through, poke their head in, and you introduce them and they exchange cards. It really explained to me, like, once these guys had a sense that they belonged inside, and they had an inside phone number, their behavior was different. Because there's inside behavior and outside behavior, and we've always been outsiders. And if you're outsiders, you throw stones to get attention. When you're an insider, you give up some things and you play... and it's not like one is better than the other, but it's just that both exist. And sometimes, like it's true in redress, there's an inside part and there's an outside part. And there's a stupid argument that one is more important than the other and it's not true.

TI: Well, during this time, did you start forming strategies in terms of how you can marry the two, the inside/outside approach so that they worked together? Because oftentimes they're just pitted against each other, right? It's hard.

RW: I think it's hard, and I don't know that there was all that conscious of a strategy, just kind of a learning. And for people... and it exists in my work now, like when I work with groups, because I do a lot of protest events, and saying, "Okay, this is outside, but if you get inside, what do you want to do?" Or, "You've got some of your folks inside, how can you work with them without killing them, or do you want to kill them?" There's a lot of questions you can raise, but I think the work of a community organizer is really complex, and revolves a lot of different things to understand those different dynamics, and help bridge them. And without being... I think it's really useful not to initially be judgmental, to just kind of look at, this is what is, and how this works, and then you just kind of take into forcefield, this works for me, this doesn't work for me. And the more you apply that, I think when you get the fifty-one percent, you eventually win over the long run. But there's so much working against us, because we don't have control of it, or there's a lack of understanding of how it works inside. And I think for people who have been -- like redress had so much of that, that it was just... 'cause I'm an outsider.

TI: Yeah, that's what becomes clear in this interview, you're an outsider, and I think you think of yourself as an outsider, but now you're an insider.

RW: Right. And then there's a responsibility that comes with that, that says, to help both sides not throw away the baby with the bathwater. Because if you look back at some of the figures involved with redress, a lot of them are really obnoxious.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: So let's get into this, and let me walk into this. So your appointment as the national director of JACL. So I went back to the Pacific Citizen, happened February 1981, and the previous national director had resigned, and they had J.D. Hokoyama as the interim, and there were three finalists for this position. It was J.D., who was the interim, there was John Tateishi who was the head of the redress, and you. At this point, did you have any formal JACL connections?

RW: Yeah, I mean, I kind of grew up at a chapter level, like East L.A. JACL. My cousin was very active in it, so at the level of, like, going to the Easter egg hunt. And they did an event that they called the Emerald Ball, So I had social ties with it, and then remember I said I was the JACL Youth Director? The previous youth director, Alan Kumamoto, had recruited me in, when I was doing college organizing. So I had that experience of being inside JACL. But then my journey really came into doing community building within the Asian community. And when that position came open...

TI: Yeah, so why did they select you? Because again, I think of the other two as sort of, at least from a national JACL perspective, having more of an inside track than you would have.

RW: Oh, clearly, they clearly did. Like initially, it was like within PSW, Pacific Southwest District, people were saying, "Let's throw your name in just to make sure the process is honest." Because you have enough, sort of, credentials to be competitive, but they have track, inside track on you.

TI: Well, first let me ask the question, so what were you thinking when people were asking you or saying, "Let's put your name in"? Is that something you wanted to do, and why?

RW: I think I did... I mean, when you said, I came through sort of this Asian movement and identity, and to me, like redress became the holy grail. And I can't think of anything else that I've been involved with where I felt it had really substantial importance, deep. Sort of the way I framed it was not that, whether we got redress or not, but if I didn't do a really sort of diligent job in working on this, my mother could not walk through J-Town, which is not something I would ever want to happen, right? And my own sort of journeys in looking at discovering internment... and actually, I think of myself in some ways as a marginal person, and I said, "I'm Nisei on my father's side, Sansei technically on my mother's side, but she's Kibei." I've got brothers that were in the resistance, I'm Buddhist, I went to Maryknoll, being the resident heathen, pagan infidel, they used that language. And in Catholic theology you're actually a "bastard," right? Because you're illegitimate because the marriage isn't recognized.

TI: Well, that, and you weren't confirmed or you weren't baptized.

RW: Yeah. And even when I talk about the Asian movement, like when we were forming Gidra and that kind of stuff, I was at the formation of Gidra. Like I was at the meetings where we named it, but if you look at all the literature on it, I'm invisible in it. And even JACL, there's an invisibility in the role. And for a while that sort of plagued me, like I was there through more of the stuff than most folks, but there's no visibility. And there was a period where I lamented that, but now it's more like I kind of appreciate that, saying, it turns out that way because I was doing it right.

TI: But going back, from all the things you said, when I hear about this, would not make you maybe the likely candidate to be the next national director.

RW: No, because I don't have that kind of profile in all this stuff.

TI: Exactly. Like you mentioned you were kind of this marginal candidate, so why did they select you?

RW: Well, one thing is, just generally speaking, I interview well. So if you look at me career-wise, I've gotten every job that I've ever applied for. Who does that? And I look back on that, because becoming director of this... like I may have been the first to be a department head in the city and the county, Asian and all, so there's that kind of stuff. But I interview well, and part of my learning is I value getting to what people's interests are. Because in my work as a mediator, we'd be focused in on the difference between position and interest. And people talk from position all the time, and that's fine, but if you talk from position, it's really hard to bring people together. But if you say, okay, you want that because, and you get to interest, are there other ways we can get to that interest that might meet this interest as well, or at least not conflict. And so it's that, and I guess the other thing I recall is that back in what I call the movement days, they had a meeting of what they called the "quiet people," and they invited me to the meeting, said, "You can come to the meeting." So I'm a "quiet person." And I wasn't really sure, at first I went, like, "Okay, I'm quiet." But then, in retrospect, you know what? Most of the folks that were involved came out of the Westside, I was one of the few Eastside people. So everyone else had longer relationships and histories, and I didn't, and that's kind of the other marginal thing, even in that. So, for me, it's just something I had to process through. And so with...

TI: And so with the JACL, do you recall what you might have said that really kind of resonated with them to say, okay, you're the one?

RW: I think what I said earlier about that... I had read those letters from this Nisei woman, and I knew the Hosokawa controversy about being "quiet Americans," and for myself being labeled that way and also being labeled marginal in different ways. I said my interest is not out of one camp. Like I know that I come out of the Asian movement and I don't want to do any denial of it. That's been sort of remarkable and I value it. I still consider that home. But where that brings me to is that I really think that this is not something that the JACL could and should do alone. There's different facets to it, and it turned out, I think, actually true. Like when you look at what NCRR did at a community base level, it was really important. It's what demonstrated that there was real community passion about this stuff. And the other thing that gets missed is Miya Iwataki was a congressional aide to Merv Dymally. Merv Dymally, in spite of being a liberal Democrat, was very close to Reagan.

TI: I didn't know that.

RW: And it made a difference. It was not like what made the difference, but it made a difference.

TI: At what level, or at what point do you think that connection made a difference?

RW: Because throughout the Reagan presidency, he kept talking to Dymally. And then what Frank has shared with you about this Jack Svahn, that adds in there. It's not like one person did it, I mean, it's a lot of things. And we get some serendipity.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: So let's kind of walk through this a little bit. So you're appointed the new national director, what was the reaction?

RW: At first it's like when the board... well, first, like on the interviews, we were scheduled for interviews, and then I'm packing to go home. And they said, "Can you stay another day?" Because the first interview was with the committee. He said, "Now the full board wants to interview you." I said, "Well, that wasn't the design." Said, "I know, but they weren't expecting you to be recommended, so let's check this out."

TI: And where were the interviews held?

RW: At headquarters.

TI: In San Francisco?

RW: Uh-huh. So I had to make arrangements to stay, and I did. And when I did get home, Jean and I had kind of a date thing with Debbie Nakatomi and a guy named Cary Nishimoto. And Cary was a district governor, he became a presiding superior court judge. Probably one of the handsomest Sanseis you'll ever meet, he's a Ken doll, only Japanese. And it was a great fit, but we go out together, and Debbie turns around in the car, and she says, "Come on, Ron, tell me, is it J.D., is it John?" I said, "You know, Debbie, they asked me to not say anything 'til everyone is contacted." She says, "You can tell me." But I'm sitting there thinking, "Goddamnit, Debbie, you didn't ask me if it was me." But I think it was a surprise to a lot of people, including me. I saw myself as an outlier going into it. When I did the interview... I mean, you know when you've interviewed well. I did that, and I think...

TI: But it's almost like with the JACL board, I'm still surprised they chose you, actually, just during that time. That's my sense... it surprised me, and I'll have to give them more credit, that they were open enough and had enough foresight to realize it had to be larger, these connections you talked about, was something that they appreciated.

RW: That's why I think... when I say I think I interview well, like when I interviewed for county human relations director or city human relations, I think you needed to have a more macro view of things.

TI: You almost had to tell them what they were looking for.

RW: Yeah. And I think that was, when I say I interview well, it's more a thing like, "This is what you need, and this is how we can do this." And then at each stage, I think I've gotten better at it. Because if I had to it over again, there's a whole lot I would do differently, I didn't do as well as I think I could have. But I do have a clear sense, because I interviewed well, I have an ability to try and capture the bigger picture and articulate it. Because even further back, one of the things... I'm not a natural speaker, and there was a friend of mine, she's passed away, but she was in the theater, but she made me come to her class to do impromptu comedy. And I found that really helpful on how to frame how to be present. And so I learned a lot from that, but it was a surprise to me as well.

TI: Okay, so you were surprised, your friends were surprised, but once people got, like, you're going to be the national director, what was the reaction? What kind of things did you hear and see?

RW: It's a difficult reaction. On one hand, it's kind of like... while I was selected, those things of, like, the dude is Buddhist, he comes out of the far left...

TI: And arguably, this was one of the most... what's the right word? Important positions in the Japanese American community, national director of the JACL.

RW: And that's the way I felt, like I felt that way twice in my life, that I was entering the thing where it's a very special space.

TI: Right, at a historic moment in the organization, I mean, they were embarking on redress, which was, I think, perhaps the most important thing they've ever done.

RW: Agreed, and I was terrified. It was kind of the feeling like...

TI: And so because of that, people, I mean, it's not just like, oh, new national director. I'm sure people had strong opinions and feelings about that.

RW: Actually, I think it's kind of like electoral politics, in the sense that I had different audiences that had questions, was helpful in hindsight. I mean, it was uncomfortable. Because when I left --

TI: Oh, interesting, I think I know what you're saying, Yeah, explain this.

RW: When I left L.A., I felt like I lost a large part of my roots, my foundation. Because there was a safety in being part of the left, right? Because then you're an outsider, an outlier, and your role is, "I can throw a rock, I can do that." Now that I'm becoming an insider, okay, I can't throw the rock, but I have feelings about not throwing rocks. And these people are worried that I'm going to throw rocks from the inside. And so there's a personal navigation to that. But I think I was fortunate that our national leadership at that time, Jerry Enomoto was a very broad-minded person, just remarkably. And in their own ways, every, under the national presidents I served under except the last had that. And I had, like even when Min was redress chair, Min and I had a really good relationship. For me, I articulated with them, like, "Min, there are some things you do that are crazy, don't do that. You'll get in trouble. But on the other hand, I think you are just so important to this." I mean, symbolically, energy-wise, there was no other Nisei that could speak like him. He was just rousing. Like in my generation, we've got Warren Furutani. Warren could do that, but there's no Nisei that could do that. I mean, Masaoka could talk a long time, but he was not stirring. Min was stirring, it's remarkable. Gordon wasn't stirring, neither was Fred, but Min was stirring. And so it's like, we need this. And it's the learning of all of our... learning that all of the people who pulled off things, they need to have this passion and even be off the wall. But the communities need a hero. It's not an intimate process where you can kind of go into details of what's totally correct, we need to move a lot of folks.

TI: But I know Min was a strong personality. When I interviewed Dale Minami, he said that he had words with Min, because Min was really against the coram nobis cases, and that was a source of contention between Dale and Min.

RW: Yeah. And for me, when you mention Dale, Dale was one of the... Dale's a remarkable person in his openness. Because I'm not from San Francisco either, right? And that's a tough community. Seattle is easier than San Francisco.

TI: Oh, I think Los Angeles is a pretty tough community. [Laughs]

RW: Yeah, but I'm from here, it's different. And even with Min, I mean, True, his wife, would say -- and I still have letters from her -- that say, "Min appreciated what you did to help him through that." But I saw Min that way. I even saw Masaoka that way. Masaoka is flawed in a lot of ways, but it's not like he's irrelevant or that he's totally bad. I just don't have a black/white kind of view of things, and actually, I don't like it, I think it's unfair. Because I would hate to be judged that way. There are things I'm good at, and there are things I suck at.

TI: Wait, so go back, because something that... because I've also interviewed John Tateishi, and so I know that he left right after you became national director.

RW: He was hurt.

TI: So was that the reason he left?

RW: I think so.

TI: It wasn't clear when I interviewed him, why he left. He keeps that very amorphous.

RW: I think John's gone through his own journeys on things, but he's a proud man. So Carol worked more directly for him, but there were just kind of things you recognized. Like John is someone like me, we come out of the community, we're not Washington establishment. But when he talked to the chapters, he would say things like, "My familiarity with commissions..." and he would talk, but that's a power statement, the way that's framed. And it's really like, I don't know shit about commissions, they're rare, and they all seem to be different, but I don't know about the reliance on that. So I think John had his own difficult journey for his own place, and it's difficult in JACL because you've got people taking shots at you all kinds of ways. Like if you look at after Mas Satow, nobody really survived being national director. [Laughs] It's really a tough environment to be in. I thought city council was tough with five city council members, the politics of that, and one of my reasons to move to the county is there's only five there to deal with. And now, in my current job, I'm so glad I'm not near D.C. Because it is hard to navigate the politics of something.

TI: And so you're saying the JACL national director, you're just in the middle of everything.

RW: Yeah, because you have so many different camps, and people are in there for so many different reasons. And it's not necessarily a cross-section of the Nikkei community, it's much more elite, it's people who have a certain degree of success within sort of the American system that become JACL members and its backbone. And you've got to satisfy that.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: Okay, so you're now stepping in as national director, the guy who was leading the redress just leaves, it's at a time when the commission hearings are just going to start, everything is happening right now, and you're stepping right into it. Tell me a little bit of what was going on. What was that like?

RW: Well, I actually, I think the main thing that concerned me was that I was walking into -- like the JACL budget was maybe about a half million dollars.

TI: You mean for the whole organization?

RW: Yeah.

TI: That astounds me, it was that low.

RW: And we were facing a hundred thousand dollar deficit. So the thing that was on my head is like if we're facing a twenty percent deficit and we couldn't sustain the organization, because it could crumble under that, my first priority was to put it back on financial footing, which is not my basic orientation. I think if we really talked about, probably I'm fiscally conservative, because I don't like waste. But the only way I can get the JACL to be a balanced budget when we have a solid organization platform to go forward, is not to hire anybody. So I was the youth director, the program director, and the JACL director. So I guess I view that as one of my major sacrifices, and one of my major learnings is to do that kind of thing. It's really hard, but you get no credit for it, and you have to just take that, that there's no credit for pulling it into a solvent position. But that part was critical, but the other part that was critical is to maintain the identity of the organization in civil rights, and that's why stuff outside of redress, that we had to maintain a sort of platform and presence, I think I did a very good job at staying with that. So I'm involved, like Henry Der, who ran Chinese for Affirmative Action, Henry and I became like conjoined at the hip. Like on so many issues, we were joined, whatever it was, that involved the Asian community. And other things I learned about JACL, like the Vincent Chin thing takes place then. So Shimura calls us and he starts talking about it, and OCA was not, they existed east of the Mississippi, they didn't have a West Coast presence, really. And they were being kicked out because they would show up and say, "Okay, we're the national organization, we'll be in charge," and the folks kicked them out. There are some lessons in that, like even now, like in my work, it's recognizing local folks and their work. And with JACL, I asked Jim, "What do you need, man?" He says, "We need money, we need to kind of keep this on the screen." And so I went out to the chapters and made the pitch. And one of the things JACL is good for like that is raising money. Within a few weeks, we got fifty grand into Detroit, and we still stayed quiet, it's invisible. Like Jim probably maybe remembers it, Helen Zia may remember it, but it's not something we broadcast.

TI: And that was very generous, because at a time when you could have used the money yourself, organizationally you helped raise money for something that...

RW: Yeah, but anti-Asian violence was a cross-current issue with U.S.-Japan.

TI: Sure, the Japan-bashing happening.

RW: Right. And we had conflicting currents in all of that.

TI: Well, because, during that time, I know there was more focus and attention to make a Japan connection from the JACL, right?

RW: There was a mix. There was a camp that said, don't touch that, we don't want to be associated with it, we want to be non-Japanese, no contacts.

TI: But there was a faction that wanted to make that connection, right?

RW: Right.

TI: And so you had to navigate that.

RW: Well, sort of. But we had, the plusses is that we had some really remarkable people, like Sen Nishiyama. Sen was this remarkable Nisei that got trapped in Japan when the war broke out, and he had a double-E degree, he really wasn't Japanese proficient. But being trapped there, his literacy just... he became a scholar and recognized. And he became the international executive for Sony, but he did the on-air translation on NHK on the American moon landing. He's just this remarkable man. So I regard him as senpai, you know, as a teacher. But there were just some remarkable people around to help give us guidance. And Fukushima was around, too, like he was emerging as a U.S. trade rep in kind of a position with Japan. So we had some folks to help us navigate it, and I think there was a good base within people who were balancing that approach, and we had national presidents that had that view as well. So Frank Sato and Floyd are among them.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: How about the role of Mike Masaoka? Because he was still around during that time, he was still active in D.C. What was his role?

RW: I think it was diminishing. Mike was used to being godfather, because there was a time period where you just watched where Mike was going... [nods]. I mean, the board would vote that way, that's quite remarkable. But I think his role was diminishing. I think he had a hard time embracing that, because I think it is hard. When you're used to being in that number one spot, because he had that for a really long time.

TI: So was there an instance where you two clashed?

RW: No, I didn't clash with Mike, not really. There was clearly some differences, but like the clash really happened with other people who were raising it, and there were sort of just personalities that were going to clash on the issue of who wanted to throw down on it. I didn't particularly want to throw down. And then I found some other avenues that worked better for me. See, during that time, I get involved with another thing. Remember there was all that unfortunate language, like the finance ministers, minister makes a statement like, "The U.S. has a disadvantage because, Japan's at an advantage because we're homogenous, and you guys in the U.S. are mongrelized." That's an unfortunate word, right? And there were things like that. And the NAACP was upset with black mannequins, and then Sanrio, of all people, you know Dakko-chan?

TI: No.

RW: Dakko-chan is a prewar inflatable doll, that you blow it up, and it looks graphically like Black Sambo. But when you inflate it, the arms hug, and you stick it on your arm. That's been a thing that existed in Japan a long time. So Sanrio's main line was Hello Kitty, but this Dakko-chan doll becomes controversial. And it turns out that Sanrio had their main distribution in south San Francisco, so I just did a cold call. And my call to them, I talked to this guy Frank Lopes, this Portuguese guy, but he got it right away. I said, "Hey look, this is sort of the backlash, this situation in history. When this happens with Japan, we get beat up, so my interest is, I'd like to be helpful, to help manage that for you." And what I didn't know was that Sanrio was a family-owned thing, not a public corporation. So I met the executive VP, we talked, and he says, "What would you do?" And I gave him kind of a basic plan, and damn, he comes back and he says, "Okay, we're going to do it."

TI: And what was that plan?

RW: One is publicly take back all the inventory, publicly apologize. But included in the apology is explaining your misunderstanding of it, and then creating an apparatus to help your company prevent that from happening again. Because as Japan is entering this new market with the United States and American diversity, there were things you recognized we don't understand and we need to understand better. Because even if it's inadvertent, if you hurt people, we don't want to do that. But Old Man Tsuji, from Sanrio, he says, "Okay, we'll do it." Because initially that's going to cost him millions, they're not going to do it, but he said, "Let's throw it out there." But because it was family-owned, turns out, this guy's a romantic, he really is. If you read his stuff, it's not like he doesn't have flaws, but he's a romantic, he says, "We're going to do this." And we did it, and so the back end of that story is the Congressional Black Caucus gets involved...

TI: And did you manage that?

RW: Yeah, I met with Jesse Jackson on it. And it ends up successful for them, and so we started doing this, we have this, with Sanrio we carried the Young Ambassador program, I bring eight high school students from L.A. to Japan, but I'm also bringing eight escorts, but they're the heads of MALDEF and LULAC and NAACP. I'm bringing them as escorts, but we're interacting with Keidanren, and saying, "Look, American diversity is more..." I brought Muslims, I brought probably early transgender folks, the Japanese were freaked out. And we had women as the co-chairs of our delegation, there was a lot of learning for them.

TI: That's an amazing story. Do you think it was too fast for the Japanese? Because I think about where they are, and even their embracing of diversity, it's happening, but it's very gradual. And what you were doing is so many steps ahead of where they are now.

RW: Yeah, it's like you could recognize, like Fukushima was really helpful.

TI: We're talking about Glen Fukushima?

RW: Yeah. And sort of recognizing the difference, because I knew what I was as a Japanese Americans, but there's kind of discoveries like the lens for a person from Japan, it's really different than my lens, and learning that. And Sen, because he was there, learned a lot of it. And in fact, in some ways, he became too Japanese for me. Like, "I don't agree with you, Sen," this is stuff that people need to take on. But the Japanese environment is, companies need to take care of their workers, and that was the focus, right? And it wasn't in any kind of philanthropy, and you check the philanthropy here, their giving was to, like, theater. It was safe stuff, or things, and they were putting, their customer base was increasingly communities of color. And they, on one hand, recognized their vulnerability, and Sanrio in particular was, their retail operation was the kid stuff. They need to maintain a certain degree view as innocent, right? And so Keidanren had us do workshops with them while we were there, but it was done quietly.

TI: I've never heard this, this is really interesting.

RW: So it comes back, and the kids were really a large part of their learning. It's like, this is American diversity, and the kids don't hold back.

TI: But again, so all this happened, this is back in the '80s, right?

RW: Yeah. Most of this takes off after I leave JACL. I mean, I started the contact with them when we were helping them work with their contract, but that takes a few years. But it's when I leave JACL that they recontacted me and... because just upon leaving, there was this incident where they came and they were going to give me money, I said, "I can't take this. Give it to Keiro or get something else, and I appreciate the gesture," but what I didn't understand is in the Japanese sense, if I took it, we're done. Because I didn't take it, they said, "Would you come back and talk?"

TI: There's something that...

RW: And I said, "Yeah," and we talked about this program. And he says, "Keidanren has approached us," and actually, Sanrio was too small to be a member of Keidanren, and they get invited in. So it worked for them, their status elevates. But I get to take fifteen delegations eventually to Japan, so that's well over a hundred kids, well over a hundred...

TI: All paid for by...

RW: Yeah, and they did remarkable hosting, just remarkable.

TI: And that was their way of thanking you and paying you back for...

RW: It was their way of continuing to learn. Because if you look at who I brought back, I mean, they're well-positioned people now. Like my first co-chairs involved, he's passed, but Harvey Lehman was the PR guy for what became Columbia Pictures that Sony eventually bought. And Monica Lozano, who was the publisher of La Opinión newspaper, and she's like California royalty, she's chair of the board of regents. That's royalty in California, right? But they weren't, early in their careers, they weren't --

TI: Part of your delegations that you would bring?

RW: They were the leaders that brought... but if you look back at that, it was helpful for me, too, right? Because it helps reinforce the relationships. Like with some of these folks, you're spending ten days in Japan, and you get a chance to talk to them about, like what we're doing now.

TI: And was MOFA, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, were they involved in this, or was this more the corporate...

RW: It was more corporate. Because even LDP and all those early -- I mean, I knew about them, but I kept in the lane that Sanrio wanted to stay in. And they weren't particularly interested in, sort of, the political lane.

TI: Because the reason I'm asking, because I'm thinking about the emphasis, and mostly from the Japanese government, to cater to Japanese Americans, almost, in some ways, for the reasons that you just described in terms of the connections that are made. But they have been, for the last, I think, fifteen years, sponsoring delegations of Japanese Americans to go there with Irene Hirano, and she's been doing that. And I was on one of those delegations, and I asked him, "So why are you doing this?" And he says, "Well, there's this belief that Japanese Americans can help us, one, understand this important market, this important partner, but also when we need it, just having friends in the United States is going to be important. So in many ways, you were fulfilling that role back in the '80s and '90s.

RW: And personally, the aspect that we brought into it with who we were bringing, was largely with communities of color, or identity communities, more than generally elites. Or the JAs, like I wasn't bringing... I mean, I had JAs there, but that wasn't my focus, it was to bring American diversity. And for the Japanese to understand -- but it was to bring American diversity. And for the Japanese to understand it, but equally, like when I had, like, MALDEF or LULAC folks, when the Japanese were doing something, I could explain something to them, so you're kind of a cultural interpreter, and saying, "This is significant." In the Japanese context, this is very difficult for them to do. They can't see that, but I can. So you can help give them that lens. And then it's like saying, "Okay, we appreciate what they do," so even the way they dance later on, it helps sort of magnify and elevate the cultural differences that they need to understand, at least. I mean, they could choose not to do it, but at least understand it.

TI: Right. That's fascinating.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: So I want to kind of pivot back a little bit, to earlier we talked about, sort of, inside-outside in terms of getting things done, and in your role of national director and going back to redress, there was all the work in terms of Congress and getting their support, and also the White House. Because there was early indications that the White House might resist, the Reagan Administration would resist this. And I kind of want to go back to something that I just became aware of in terms of some of the inside meetings that were happening with higher up people in the White House about redress. And in particular, there was a meeting, I believe it was in 1984, that the current national president at that point was Frank Sato, and he was also the Inspector General of the VA, and so he had some connections, and arranged for a meeting at the White House about redress. Do you remember that meeting, can you talk about that?

RW: Yeah, I wasn't part of that meeting directly, right? And our role was... and I actually didn't know a whole lot about it even as, until recently, I know more about it now. But the perspective that I would have on that is that when Frank Sato said he was going to run for national president, my interpretation of that was like saying, that's an indication of support. Because everything I learned about is like those guys in D.C. vet everything, even before we started using the word "vetting." Like if Frank was going to run for JACL national president, and JACL has as its main agenda redress, they wouldn't let him run, they would cut that off, because it's prevention of a potentially embarrassing situation for them if they have to cut it off.

TI: So that's interesting. So you have to kind of read the tea leaves, even as national director --

RW: Oh, sure.

TI: -- what was going strategically, where the organization was going?

RW: Yeah. And that meeting takes place before Frank is national president, it's right at the tail end of Floyd's term. And later on, as I get to know Frank better -- I mean, I knew Frank already, but you get to more as national president -- I just found it remarkable because someone like me never gets a view inside the White House. You have no idea what goes on, I have more of a view now out of my work. But I did sort of make the presumption that they would vet this stuff. And Frank, in terms of the stuff that he would ask for support, like he's going to Camp David, "Craig Fuller is going to put this in the briefing book, can you get it together by tomorrow?" and you go, "By tomorrow?" And they put us in a position where we looked for what kind of things that we could preposition. So actually, like in the meeting that you talked about, one of the things that was prepared was the Reagan recognition of Corporal Masuda. So that's... it wasn't just happenstance that we had it, it's good old Carole Hayashino, telling me, "Stillwell stuff is over here, I'm going to go look at it." I said, "Yeah, go." And then she comes back eventually and says, "Hey, you know what? And here's this and here's this." So all of a sudden, briefing book. But at the time, we didn't know that that may play this larger role. It was kind of like this might be useful, and you save it, and it turns out it looks like was very significant.

TI: And so at that point, it's like, I guess you're just doing several things, you're not really quite sure. I mean, sure, you have this overall strategy in terms of what you're doing, but when these opportunities, when these things are available, then you just sort of...

RW: You know, like we had people who were kind of elite people on redress, and it's not me. Like I know I got some pushback from the standpoint, like, you're the national director, you should be leading us, and going, "I don't think so." I think there were people who understand this stuff better than me, my job is to make sure that they can pull it off. So there's times when you carry the ball, and there's times when you block, and I saw my role much more as blocking. Like when I go back, I need to get this budget solid, I need to get stuff prepared that they could use. Like even on the bill introductions, Sparky was making me crazy because he kept changing, he kept moving the goalposts. Said, "We're going to roll out today," you get ready, says, "No, we're going to put it off three days, because I got two more cosponsors." He kept doing that.

TI: Until he got over fifty, right, or something?

RW: He got to it veto-proof.

TI: So it wasn't just the majority, he wanted to get it veto-proof.

RW: Like even he changed his own standards. And when I finally talked to his staffperson, Elma Henderson, I said, "Elma what's up with him? Sparky's driving us crazy. He keeps moving the thing." He says, "He's driving us crazy, too, but," he says, "you know he's dying?"

TI: I didn't know that.

RW: "You know he's dying," like, "he's gone banzai. Anyone that he can talk to about that, this is what he's talking about."

TI: So I didn't realize this. So in the throes of redress, Sparky knew he was dying?

RW: That's what Elma said. And this was -- 'cause he was always the "junior senator," right?

TI: Right.

RW: But I think even Dan recognized, this guy's gone whack. Like how many times do you get a veto-proof introduction in that Congress? I mean, I think that's kind of... I mean, there's a lot of amazing stories in the redress, I mean, Aiko was an amazing story, Michi Weglyn's an amazing story. But Sparky's an amazing story. And he's just kind of remarkable to me, but he doesn't get the play. But for me he does. But anyway, I saw my role as kind of like, I block. And some of the blocking is internally, like we were sort of addressing with other groups. Because different parts of the community would piss on each other, even within the left, you get into, "I'm lefter than thou," and, "My way is right, your way is wrong." And it really wasn't that, but people...

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: Well, I learned more about you, so in terms of other organizations, and because of your activist background, your L.A. roots, NCRR, they were a strong force also during redress, and at times they would bump heads with the JACL. So did your relationships with the folks at NCRR help at all?

RW: I think so, I think so. But I think that's part of the sacrifice on my part. I've got to give a pint of blood for that to occur. And it's like saying, like that same thing, when I was describing Japan, like you do the interpretations, so you're talking to folks and saying, "Hey, look, I can understand this looking this way." And some of it is actually true, like so-and-so said that, and he's an asshole. But I do know that other people within JACL think he's an asshole, too.

TI: Okay, so you tell that to these... yeah.

RW: Yeah. And you can't control all of your assholes, we can't control all of our assholes. And then so we had --

TI: But from an interest standpoint, we have this common interest that we have to work with.

RW: Yeah. And then you could kind of take advantage of, I could take a Frank or a Floyd to meet with, quotes, "movement people," and they would not regard them as the enemy because Frank and Floyd are folks with integrity. And you can pick that up in how they talk about issues and sort out something. Like, "Help me understand this, this is what our interest is." I mean, they're negotiating with people in the sense of, "This is my understanding, if you could improve my understanding." And there's not a put-down, I mean, there were portions on both sides that were putting down others, that went on in both. And to some extent, you can't avoid that, that's going to go on. I mean, that went on in all segments. Bill Hohri said nasty things. Aiko was in that camp...

TI: Well, and then the Seattle camp, too, that was another camp.

RW: Seattle had their own camp. The Seattle testimony was like, "We want a million dollars except for Idaho farmers," right?

TI: No, I don't know about that one.

RW: That came out in one of the testimonies, like someone was pissed off at Idaho farmers.

TI: Oh, so everyone should get money but the Idaho farmers?

RW: Yeah. And we're going, what is that about? But they're just words... people are people, there's gonna be some of that. There's stuff within JACL.

TI: Were there times when you just wanted to throw your hands -- because I look at all the characters and the groups and what they were saying, and even to this day what they say. Were there times when you just said, "Screw it?"

RW: No, I didn't say, screw it, but I felt like it. I mean, it was hard, it was hard. I can see our progress, like there was a point when... like my son was adopted, and at the very beginning, I remember Senator Inouye saying, "We don't have a chance for this bill." He says, "But we have some real opportunities to do some remarkable public education." And that was sort of my orientation to it.

TI: And that was early when he was encouraging for the commission hearings versus...

RW: Right, and that's one of the rationales for the commission. He says, "Who knows, the hearings may change that." But right now, if we went to a vote now, you had no chance. And if you went down, you don't get a second bite at it. He says, "This give us a shot, and I still don't think we can do it." So when we got further down into the campaign, my original plan was, I'll give five years, and then Jay would be time for first grade, I want to be back in L.A. Because we had no support system in the Bay Area, really. Like when you're back in L.A., hey mom, take him, you don't have that. And I wanted Jay to have the sense of, a stronger sense of family and community. I mean, you have it in San Francisco, but it's different. Then Inouye says, "I hear you're gonna leave." I said, "Well, I didn't say that, I said my plan was..." and said, "and actually, it's 'cause you said we only had a chance for a public education campaign." I agreed with him, I thought that was a wonderful opportunity, and we really kind of built a lot around that. "But my son is this age now, this sort of our plan." And he goes, "We can get this, you can't leave now."

TI: At what point was that?

RW: You know, I don't remember the exact date, but it was kind of like later.

TI: So after the...

RW: It's got to be somewhere around '85/'86.

TI: Okay.

RW: Because that's when we're looking at Jay.

TI: He's about, getting ready for school, right?

RW: First grade. It's different when he's younger. I had Jay with me, like I remember holding Jay as baby and having the bottle and talking to Congressman Matsui, right? It's different, and our JACL staff, they're wonderful. Massie's like, "Young man, give me that baby," and she'd take him.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: So I was going to ask the question, so at what point did you think, oh, this is going to actually happen? Or I mean, really thinking that it was going to happen?

RW: I don't think you're ever sure. But when someone like Inouye says that, you go, like early on, my view of it was I got to do due diligence on this. Remember I said that I don't want my mom not to be able to go to J-Town? Because it's not like whether you succeed, it's more like if you fuck up. I mean, like you went you gave it...

TI: Everything, and you threw yourself on the sword.

RW: Yeah. Like I was working crazy hours to do three jobs. So from own standpoint, that's not anything people can see from the outside, because I knew myself, right, to do that, I gave it everything I could, and to kind of help even block for people, and even control my own... because like anyone else, you're kind of like, wow, I'd like more recognition, or get credit for this. There were things that I think we did that were important, but it's not like it made the difference, the difference. Like we did a thing of saying, once we saw Mary Tsukamoto, we need elementary school teachers. Steve was doing that film on the hibakusha and we gave him space downstairs.

TI: Steve... the Academy Award-winning...

RW: Yeah. And I was interested, the three people featured are all women hibakusha, and he says, "Because men don't get any sympathy." And I took that lesson. And when I saw, first time I saw Mary Tsukamoto... Mary Tsukamoto is apple pie. She's an elementary school teacher, she has these little glasses, rosy cheeks, Betty Boop, and her first grade presentation is, "Hi, boys and girls." Like this is your military necessity. And Carole raised it, it's like, we need to recruit elementary school teachers, and we did.

TI: Interesting.

RW: And I think that was an important strategy to overcome -- and I really think people like Mary were instrumental. Like if we had our 442 story, it'd be great, but Mary, they locked her up. Because that woman, she's arthritic to the point where she can't dress herself, and she's going out doing this. I think it's epic, that's about as important, or as much sacrifice as Battle of the Bulge.

TI: From your perspective, what are some of the people that you think have, not enough acknowledgement has been paid to them in terms of redress? We're talking about people that, most of the people that I'm pretty familiar with, were there some people behind the scenes that you think, from your perspective, were important to the whole movement?

RW: I think there's a lot... I mean, if you go early, I think Michi Weglyn gets overlooked. I don't know how the hell she kind of launched onto the thing in the first place, I never got that story.

TI: So her book, Years of Infamy...

RW: Yeah. I mean, how did you imagine that... you know, she comes out of the same group as Aiko, right? And I remember Warren and I went out and met with them. And I developed a kind of writing relationship with Michi. I really didn't know her very well, but we exchanged. And she wrote me a really nice note about, "I liked your poem in Gidra." Who compliments a poem in Gidra? But I don't know all the story to that, but I just, it just had to be in that early period. Aiko in a different way, like I know what she did there, but she was an outlier even within that group. She was too pretty to be, you get a "lefter than thou" thing that she overcame, and she ends up being like a major heroine, but in the beginning...

TI: What people...

RW: She was not as radical or... I think they underestimated -- you know, I don't think you have to be hardcore throwing hand grenades to be effective. Like she did it by just plugging away, going to the archives every day, like, "Oh, look what I found?" And it's not like I agreed with her all the time. I didn't agree with Hohri. And Hohri was obnoxious, but I think...

TI: Do you think his effort and NCJAR was valuable?

RW: No, I think it's because there is a question of, "Why don't we go directly?"

TI: Why not have a legal case and ask for damages?

RW: Yeah. I think there needs to be a lot of exploration, like the first Lowry Bill, that million dollar calculation? That makes sense. But then through the practical, this was difficult. But I think there's a lot of processing, and in many cases, there's no right answer until there is an answer. And in hindsight --

TI: Well, that's why your position was so interesting to me, because, the term "herding cats," it was even more than that, I mean, it wasn't passive, this was so important to so many people, and when I talk to people, and they thought their way was the only way. Not just like this common interest thing, no, this is the only way, and you had to navigate all that.

RW: Yeah, and I think that's kind of normal that it happens that way. I mean, the work I do now is with protests largely, right? And you see that kind of conflict within groups. That just seems to be just human. Like if you go inside any organization when they're doing a campaign, there's a lot of ego, there's a lot of testosterone, there's a lot of difference in experiences, there's differences in values and experience, that's all quite natural. The process of kind of getting to, shaking out to reaching a conclusion, like after we had redress, it's like everyone kind of had the right idea in the first place, which really wasn't true. But it's okay.

TI: Well, so for your work now, going through that whole process must have been so valuable. Not to just see it, but actually be part of it, and just knowing how it felt to be in those moments.

RW: And it's helpful to my work. I mean, even here, like after 9/11, I remember meeting with Muslim groups, right? And I said, I went through the redress thing, I was the JACL national director through that. And my belief is that the camps, that can't happen again. But years later, I go back to them saying, "You know what? I retract that." That's what I thought then, now, given what's taken place, I think we do have to be concerned.

TI: That must be scary for them because you're DOJ, right? For you to say something like that?

RW: Yeah, but I think that by now they'd know me personally, right? And it's even stuff like the story I said about the Iman and his kids, I recognized it, or the internal fights between... because the Muslims are going through, "We need to show our loyalty." And then another school is like, "We need to stand up for our rights." And they're both right, but testosterone makes them both wrong. And in some ways, because I'm an outsider and not in one camp or the other, and can share it from a different community experience, it's easier for me to say, "You're both right and you're both wrong." But in our case, the bad part is it's remained a scar that's divided people. Because if I'd looked back at that stuff that the resisters wrote, that's among the most honorable stuff that was written during camp.

TI: So you're talking about the Fair Play Committee out of Heart Mountain?

RW: Yeah. All that stuff is like thoughtful, articulate. On the other hand, in my office, I have Saburo Kido's typewriter, he gave it to me. Like I value that as well, like he wrote all the briefs on this thing. I wanted the museum to have it eventually, right? It's a weird piece. But Masaoka, the same, there are parts of Mike, like, "You son of a bitch."

TI: Oh, some of the things that he was proposing during the war, World War II?

RW: Yeah. But I can understand some people arriving at that. But I don't like it.

TI: I mean, was there something in particular that really stands out? Something Mike did during World War II?

RW: I think it's more generic. Like when you look at... because he's theatrical, like the "suicide battalion," that's theater. He knows downright that's not going to be accepted, but he plays theater. But I don't know that that there's things you play with that way. It's not like the folks that were in D.C., Mike included, were not helpful to give us insights into what we have to do on that end. I mean, D.C., even now, that's not real world, I mean, it's sort of like what happens to walk through. Folks talk about Ray Murakami, right? And personally...

TI: So he's the dentist...

RW: He's Rodino's dentist. It's like there were things you could say to someone when they're sitting in their chair. There was a remarkable group of people who have a life experience there that gave them a window into D.C. that most of us didn't have. Like there were windows that I got just being the JACL director going through there periodically. And then there's other windows even now, as being a kind of a senior DOJ staff person, and having friends who were in the White House, that's just such bullshit. And even like during Obama, right, there were people that have great fondness and respect for it, that you know that's bullshit. But you kind of understand, okay, I understand you had to put up with it, but I'm sure glad I didn't have to make that call, because that would hurt.

TI: That's one of the, I guess, difficulties of being an insider sometimes, having to do things that...

RW: Yeah, you give up something to be inside. You get something, too, I mean, there were things that you could push and you could accomplish by being inside, but there's other things that you give up.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: So the next question I have for you, because you're kind of in this unique position. Because not only were you there for redress in this really critical role, but then the work you do now with other communities, taking a step back and looking at redress from, like, an American history standpoint, what's the significance? Was there something unique about it or something interesting? Because I'm kind of looking at American history, and it's very rare that the U.S. government apologizes for something like this. I mean, you can count on one hand some of these type of apologies. What made this happen? You have some people, like, when I interviewed Roger Daniels, Roger said, early on he said redress had to happen because it was the right thing, but then you talk to so many other people, says, no, it was so tenuous, it could very easily not have happened. So it did, but what's your takeaway?

RW: There's so many right things that haven't happened. I think we were...

TI: Was there something special about the community, the players? I'm just trying to get a handle on...

RW: I think it's confluence of all that. If you look at the aggregation of stuff, how do you get a 442 story? That's just... like Eric Saul, like when he says, like, this is an epic story, this is Thermopylae. People don't understand how, like in a military sense, how remarkable this is. Because I sure didn't get it, because the veterans didn't talk about it. But then you learned through that. Then the kind of... when you get to know the Nikkei members, both their strength and their frailties, it's just, it's sort of remarkable that they were in those places. Like when else have we had that many Nikkei in key positions, and with the qualities that they have?

TI: So you're talking about in, like, Congress?

RW: Yeah, how do you get that? That's not happening again.

TI: For a population with such a small percentage of the population to have so many members of Congress?

RW: Yeah, like Hawaii going in at the time that it did, that was critical. And Inouye rising up, and Inouye's, in his own way, a strange creature. He's buddies with Orrin Hatch, right? And Sparky is kind of... see, Sparky's Nikkei. He has so much Nikkei in him, like his table in the Senate dining room, he had shoyu, right, hidden in the... he carved his name in kanji on the desk. We don't have that. And Norm Mineta just astounds me. And Bob was much more of, kind of a cohort, and I think Bob had his flaws, but with Bob it was kind of like I saw him go through the journey with us. Because he wasn't the same Bob Matsui at the end than he was at the beginning.

TI: Tell me about that. Because I remember talking to Bob before he died, and the idea was I was going to sit down and have an interview with him, and unfortunately, that never happened. So I never really got his story. So when you say that he changed during that process, because I got a sense that redress was very important to him, and in some ways, he had this personal connection to it more than it felt with Mineta.

RW: I think it became that. I think, early on, I think he's a bit insecure. He's the junior Nikkei member of Congress, the other folks... these are heavyweights. I mean, Inouye's a heavyweight, so is Sparky, and Norm is just amazing. The affection that that man has, just because of the way he is, it's understandable that if you were in that same club as them, that you feel insecure, like, "How do I match up against these guys?" And I think Bob had to work through a lot of that, and I think he was not clear how redress would affect his career. I think there was a certain amount of tentativeness. So on one hand, like any other Nikkei, you couldn't turn your back on it, but you're not quite sure how this is going to play for you career-wise. Those other three had less risk, they were much more established. But Bob, at the end... here's a story. Right at the end, the day of the signing, I'm an opportunist, so I could get the room, and I look around, I only see one pen on the table. And so, okay, he's not going to give away pens. There's no printed program, but you know what there are? There are three-by-five cards on the stage. One says, "Mr. President," and then it says, "Mr. Inouye," they're all...

TI: Where they're supposed to stand?

RW: They're markers for them. And then there's a few in the audience, "Reserved." So as soon as the signing ceremony was over, I swooped, I grabbed every card that I could. Grabbed my hands, and then later in the day, Barney Frank is talking to us, and says, "I don't get invited to the White House, so I kept a souvenir, Mr. Frank. And I kept this one, too," it said, "Mr. President." And he made a joke about, you know, you'd think he would know where to stand by now. But as he was doing that, I was standing behind Bob and Doris, and I could hear Bob saying, "I should have got mine." And I tapped Bob on the shoulder, and I reach in and I fan them. And I could see the look on Bob's face, "You'd better give me mine." [Laughs] Because Bob was the only member of Congress that I was bigger than. I didn't feel physically threatened by him. And Bob was much more reserved, that sucker picked me off the ground.

TI: At that moment, right then? Because he wanted that card?

RW: And the whole event.

TI: Oh, because he was just so elated about everything.

RW: Yeah. So I think Bob Matsui, at the beginning, was much more tentative about, like, how should I play this? I want to have a successful Congressional -- and that's understandable. When I went in the JACL director the first year, I'm more tentative, I don't want to piss anybody off. Like I know the history of this place is like everyone gets... except for Mas Satow, gets kicked out in a hurry.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: So tell me how this experience, the redress, your time as national director, changed you. How were you changed in terms of maybe your trajectory? Before, you probably had this certain trajectory, this happened, how did your life change? And not just career-wise, but personally, how were you changed?

RW: I learned... I guess one of the personal lessons is when you're the JACL director, there's a degree of celebrity to it. So like when you go out to eat, people will come up to you and interrupt your dinner. And when you see it from the outside, kind of like, "Oh, that's cool, being recognized," and you get perks out of it. You get invited to things and all that, and that was kind of neat. We got to go to different things, you got good seats. I mean, I went to the twenty-fifth anniversary of Hawaii statehood sitting in the box with John Waihe'e. Hey, that's neat, right? There's a lot of neat stuff. But when I left, I kind of learned, there's a part of me that missed some of that, but the learning is like, all that isn't me. And in fact, it was important for me to learn not to hold on to that. Because you could become addicted to that. I've seen that in a lot of people, both in work, but also just looking at people who are celebrities. You know, when they no longer have that spotlight, it becomes hard for them. And it's not like the JACL thing compares, but there is some of that. You get accolades you don't deserve, there's all kinds of stuff you get. There's a lot of privilege to it. And so part of it is learning to relinquish privilege, and I think that's an important thing to do. Because if you keep it, it'll destroy you. It'll interfere from you doing other things, and you'll become one of the things you don't want to be. And I'm glad I had the chance to go into it that way.

TI: So was that transition hard for you? And I guess we should back up a little bit, so after the redress, the signing of that, you left shortly after that.

RW: Yeah, when I knew we would get a signature on the bill, I said, "Okay, I'm leaving, I'm going now. What I came for is done." I mean, within reason, transitional. But I didn't know what I was going to do, but I wanted to get out. I wanted to get back to what I considered home. I didn't realize that home wasn't there anymore.

TI: You mean home in Los Angeles?

RW: Yeah, home wasn't there anymore from the standpoint of my kind of standing in the, quotes, "movement," my cohorts and colleagues. No one was mean to me, but it's kind of like, "You left." There's a lot of disconnects, there's a whole different generation of leadership that you don't know that didn't come through.

TI: We're talking about seven years, eight years?

RW: Yeah, that's a period of huge change demographically, huge change.

TI: And you're talking about the JA community?

RW: Both. JA, but part of it is like my friends from back there were still my friends. The folks that we were close socially, that didn't change. But other folks that, like colleagues that you worked with, it wasn't the same.

TI: And was it because you were just gone for seven years, or was it because you were national JACL?

RW: No, I think it's mostly because you're gone, and you don't get to keep up the kind of experience that is shared. And then you do pick up some of the baggage, there were some things where people were mistreated or mischaracterized, I think, by some JACL folks or people. So that got carried over, and it takes a long time to reconnect those, to have conversations, to say, this is backstory on that, and what was going on. And that's a slow repair. But it's like it doesn't, you really can't step back into where you left.

TI: So that must have been very difficult, because withdrawal from being national JACL director and then coming back to what you thought was home and not really being home.

RW: It worked two ways. One is because that transition is now I become City Human Relations Director, and county, and part of my mindset is I am no longer just Japanese American. My constituency and my responsibility is to our broader constituency. So I was seeking out building that, so in some sense, I don't miss it. Because it's being filled by new things that are new to me. Like even the percentage of Latinos that were immigrant when I left, that percentage had changed in a huge way. And then in my first job here, was I was the vice president of community problem solving for the United Way. So the first projects, hey, CHIRLA, Campaign for Humane Immigration Reform. So that's the first major -- and they're big now. But I'm involved in the startup, because this is community problem-solving, you have a small fund that I could tap into, let's get this immigrant advocacy going. The other thing I got going was in AIDS Project L.A., and then the literacy program. But it moved me into other communities where I didn't... I think JACL helped prepare me in some ways, like it occupied my time. I had to learn different things. I knew Chicano stuff because I grew up with it, but I didn't know the immigrant experience. And I learned much more of that.

TI: Do you think it would have been difficult for you, as I listen to you, I get how you're moving into these new areas and you're excited about that. Do you think there would have been a difficulty for you to, did you get involved in any Japanese American causes or organizations after coming back to Los Angeles? Or was that difficult for you?

RW: I did some, but...

TI: Or let me ask this question. Did JA organizations reach out to you, saying, "Wow, with your experience, your connections, your knowledge, come help us"?

RW: There were some, but it was not reaching out, it was more like the ones that I had stronger connections with before asked me to come back. And it's not just JA, because if you look at my foundation for the period that I left before JACL, was as AADAP. And at AADAP we incubated the Korean Youth Center, the Samoan Center, the Filipino one, so it's really sort of a pan-Asian thing. And those folks, even early on, while I was at AADAP, like Asian American social workers, we were involved with projects on the West Coast. So that's how I got to know Bob Santos. So I spent a lot of time with Bob up north.

TI: He was a great man. I interviewed him.

RW: Remarkable. And then Sue Taoka, I met her in Denver. Warren and I, when we first went there, organizing way back, so there were ties. And then Diane Wong, when she came, when she was married to Dale and was heading Asian American Journalists, I gave her space in the JACL building for AJA. But that was conscious; I wanted the Asian press to cover redress, and what more than to have AJA housed there, right? Plus, Diane's just a joy. So there were things that took up that space, and I was only at United Way a couple years, I do the Mayor Bradley thing and started human relations, but then there's a tier of folks that we can work with in other communities that was just fascinating. Because I don't think any of us come in with a full diversity portfolio. You have a little bit, but it's really a little bit, I mean, you just scratch at it. But in that role, you really kind of get to start entering deeper, to different communities. I just found that remarkable, both in terms of parallels and differences. And then, from there, after five years in both city and county, which gives me a pretty strong base within diversity communities in L.A., and then I get invited to do the work at CRS.

TI: This is with the DOJ?

RW: Yeah.

TI: So community...

RW: It's community relations.

TI: Conflict resolution?

RW: Yeah, it's Title X of the Civil Rights Act, but you're a neutral third party doing community conflict resolution on situations that are race, color, national origin based. And the idea was when civil rights was passed, there was going to be pushback. And so folks were deployed to work on mitigating that pushback. So it has a really fascinating history, like some of our guys went to the Lorraine Motel, two doors down from King, when all that took place. And that same guy, Hozell, was instrumental in creating the African American museum, that's just a fascinating bunch. You may have, like in Seattle, our regional director there, Bob... what's Bob's last name? But he was legendary, too. He's this huge man with a shock of white hair. But I remember going to my first meeting as a regional director, I felt like I was going to the Knights of the Round Table. I was in awe of these people because of the work they have done.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: So what's it like with the current administration, has your work or your ability to work changed?

RW: The largest part is like the agency has shrunk, so it's much more limited in terms of our numbers. But at the same time, I think the refinement of methodology and understanding of how conflict works, and how we can be most efficient and effective in what we do, I think we are premier at that now. And I think our responsibility now is not to lose that methodology but to preserve it for the future, whatever happens to us. And like my team out here that I work with, I'm regarded as senior in the agency, right, and sort of in practice.

TI: You're one of the Knights now.

RW: Oh, clearly, clearly. But my own view is that the folks that work for me are better than me. And so that's really self-satisfying, because that's what I should be doing. And so it gives me confidence that into the future, this will be carried forward, and we want to refine the capture more. But when I went from human relations to CRS, I started learning more methodology and theory to understand, and dynamics, and how to look at these situations and discriminate between different kinds of events. Because they're not all the same, they're all different. But there are some patterns that you could spot, and some things that are more effective to do quickly, and it's important not to get distracted. Because there are differences between events and critical incidents, like something happens that's spontaneous, creates a reaction, people rising up, that's a different situation than even something like a jury verdict, because that's an event, and you can prepare for that differently. When it's a critical incident, it doesn't have real structure, and your role is to kind of give structure to it, and to bring those elements together so it has some degree of structure, problem solving.

TI: And predictability, I suppose.

RW: Right. And the quicker you could do that, and you can it faster or slower, there are proficiencies.

TI: Intentionally faster or slower?

RW: Oh, yeah. Like you're intentionally looking at who's out there. Sometimes it's one mass group, sometimes it's multiple groups, there's layers.

TI: So there are actually times when you actually go slower, realizing certain things have to play out before...

RW: Or you know this is not going to reach a stage where you can engage. That's where you want to get 'em to, but it's not going to engage now. So right now, you want to prevent some stuff. Like law enforcement will have a tendency to view a crowd is a crowd is a crowd, rather than to distinguish, you know what? There's this element, there's this element, this element. And if you do this, and just play crowd control, you're going to shift these folks from not being a threat to being a threat. You're going to make it worse. And the seasoned practitioners understand it, they've gone through enough...

TI: That goes back to what you said earlier in terms of complexity, it makes it less black and white.

RW: Yeah. Because initially, like crowd control, yeah, you just don't muscle that. So our training is with cops, but it's also making entry with cops. And it really helps to be DOJ, because as a human relations director, cops are going to lock you out, and I know that, and I could see the difference. And I recognize other things, like you call up a city manager, "Hi, I'm from DOJ, and I read about this incident. Can you kind of debrief me on what's going on with it?" But just what happens afterwards, even if I never show up, they go, "Hey, DOJ called, we better get on this." But there's a catalytic thing, you think, "Hey, you know what? We can do a lot of good just by making phone calls."

TI: Right, exactly.

RW: So we're out there.

TI: Yeah, so I have your card, because if I ever need you to make a phone call for me... [laughs].

RW: Yeah, and if you call our office, when it goes to voice message, the number you have, like if this is an emergency, is my cell phone number. Call me. I'm serious, because it's learning that in this spot, you can call a city manager and get your call returned, and just ask a question, and set off dynamics that help improve the situation just by doing that. And same, like if you have that in your pocket, you have a responsibility to make that accessible. And some of our training with folks, it's like I can't tell you to do that, but just recognize these dynamics.

TI: No, I totally get what you're saying.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

TI: So we're kind of at the end of the interview, and I was just thinking, is there anything that we haven't talked about...

RW: Probably all kinds of things.

TI: ...that you want to share? Yeah, there's just so many things. This is a pretty remarkable interview.

RW: I don't know, I think there's always things, but I think it's sort of just folks... I think it's Buddhistic in a sense, that if you can clear away the cobwebs of ego, that you can kind of see your place and the place of your work and your community more clearly. That it doesn't have to be a certain way.

TI: So tell me, so when you say the "cobwebs of memories" or of the journey that we're going through, give me an example, be specific.

RW: I think, for me, the major takeaway is that the role that I can look back and see the role to, in a sense, be a bridge or be a bridge to kind of build, like even a fiscal support for the organization, that while those kinds of things don't get identified as kind of the guy who carries the ball over the goal line, right? But you know what? Looking at it, I was never really kind of equipped to be that guy. I didn't have the background information, I'm not a scholar, I'm more touchy-feely. But I can be disciplined, I can make sacrifices, I can see big picture, I can help kind of bridge things and talk to people. That's what I brought to the party, and that's what I brought, and sort of the dish I made, was good. I would have liked to have made the main dish, that's kind of cool, too, but that wasn't meant to be. And to say, this is good, and it's in the sense that the kind of... I've got plenty of recognitions, like resolutions, I've had all that kind of stuff, and I actually don't value it. I mean, like I've been in city government where I'm the one that passed it out, and will look at, "Oh, that's a five-signature resolution," or, "That's done by a machine." I mean, some of this is junk.

TI: Well, so yeah, so "clearing the cobwebs"...

RW: But it's just personal satisfaction. Like I'm done, I don't have to go back to... like even we're doing a kind of panel in a few weeks on the memoirs of Jack Svahn. But one of the things, for me, I'm in a better position to, I think there's other folks. Like I think Floyd, Frank, a lot of folks made major contributions, right? But they're not of the sort that kind of waves their own flags, either. But I'd like to play a role in underscoring that, like saying, there are people who had bigger platforms and the microphone and all that. But just kind of the theme work of, like, there's a lot of folks that made this happen, like the Mary Tsukamotos made this happen, NCRR, like Rudy Tokiji.

TI: Rudy Tokiwa?

RW: Tokiwa. Just showing up there, I know it makes a difference to have people walk the halls, it does. And some folks in... some folks, not the JACL, but some folks would discount that, saying, "They're wasting their time, you really need to talk to the powers that be," there's a role for all of that. And anyway, I think that if and when I can get to full retirement, I can help facilitate more of this kind of stuff. And particularly for younger generations, I have a meeting this weekend with some of our younger organizers, and I could see things that they can't see yet.

TI: See, this is the important thing, and why I'm curious about documenting what happened in redress. Because as you're talking, it's clear that there were so many parties, and in my work, if someone asked me who was the one, there's wasn't a "one." But yet, all these individuals that were, in some cases, in the right place at the right time, but it all happened. And I think it's really important for people to understand that that's how things happen sometimes. And that's what I'm trying to get a sense of.

RW: You know, this gets a little weird, but increasingly as I've aged now, I really have sort of this kind of intuitive belief that there is cosmic stuff that goes on. And redress strikes me as that, that all of these folks, and things happening separately all over the country and all over the planet, at different times intersect to build what you can call a campaign or movement or an event or whatever. But there's no way you could script this taking place. You couldn't design it, because it wasn't even knowable to you. Most of these folks, I didn't even know existed, or even their pathways.

TI: But, see, I agree with you, and I'll take it one more step. I think those cosmic forces, sometimes there are these individuals who can make that happen. They don't have to do all those things, but by their beingness or presence, they can create that, is what I...

RW: I think there's pieces of it that go on, but I think if the... when I was at JACL, and I still have it someplace, I had a three-wheeled Rolodex, right? And I always thought, if there's a fire, earthquake, that's what I'm going to take, the three-wheeler. Like right now in my Outlook, it's like around ten thousand. And I don't manage it well because I don't... but I can still search enough, and in hindsight, I should have done that differently. But I think some of that is cosmic as well, just that it's there, because it'll just show up at the darndest times. Like I'll be looking for someone else, and something else will pop up in the search, I go, "Oh yeah, that's who I should..." and I don't know how to explain that. My own pathway of work, it seems to me that the thing of coming out of, like, Asian movement and drug abuse, community building, JACL, human relations, CRS, and getting every job that I ever had, each one prepared me for the next step. Because all that stuff in redress or in drug abuse, that's all stuff that is resource for what I do now. Like even just as an organizer, you could, one, have a deep appreciation for people who do organizing, and you could help them. Not by telling them what to do, but sometimes just by asking questions. "What are you going to do about this?" Like right now, Indians are going to do their third-longest walk across the country, and they're going to start at Alcatraz. So we've done the first two with them, we're working now on the third. And with the new organizers, they called it something like, "We want to do the third-longest walk." I said, "You realize this is February and you've got to go over the Sierras?" And then said, "Did you get a permit to go over the Golden Gate Bridge?" "No." "Well, you need a permit." But you need a permit if you got more than a hundred people. So if you had two marches with each one with ninety-nine, you can just walk along the side. But you should still talk to the cops.

TI: And don't do it in February.

RW: Or he said, "And then we're going to carry signs." I said, "You're not going to want to carry signs." He said, "No, we need to get our message." I said, "You're going to leave the signs on the other side, but when you're crossing the bridge with signs, the gusts are going to take you off the bridge, that's dangerous for your folks." So there's just logistical, practical, that you could kind of go through it. That's cosmic. Because the first time you're going to do a march across the Golden Gate Bridge, you just think, no, just line up your folks, get your stuff, go across, it seems A to B, but there's a whole lot more to it, but we can help people be safer.

TI: Yeah, because your experience...

RW: And I value that. I mean, know like in crowds, I could spot a crowd surge, and now that I'm older, I have to give myself more distance to avoid it, but I could still spot where it's going to surge. And you can't necessarily train that real easily, there were these dynamics. Anyway, I think you for this as well. This is sort of bucket list for me as well.

TI: To get some of this just documented?

RW: Yeah. People have said, "Will you write a book?" And I went, "No, I don't want to write a book." The most I think I'll do episodic things, maybe on Facebook, that capture little vignettes.

TI: Well, what's going to be useful to you is from this interview, we'll generate a full transcript, and you will, based on the length, it's going to be probably about eighty pages, and that could be kind of this thread that you could then annotate more, but it'll give you this foundation.

RW: Yeah, I think it does do that, but I'm not disciplined enough to sit down and do a book.. There may be some other shorter form things, but I think my interest is really trying to capture it in a more anecdotal way, but I don't know what that vehicle is yet.

TI: Well, you're an excellent storyteller, so it's going to come from there, I think.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.