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Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Ronald Ikejiri Interview
Narrator: Ronald Ikejiri
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: February 6, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-461-15

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

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TI: So another kind of, again, and this is something I've read but never had, probably, a person in your position who could comment on this. And you mentioned this earlier in terms of your advisors in D.C., and kind of the old guard would help you, tell you, "These are the things you don't do," and the new guard, more saying, "Here are the things that are possible." I've read that in the early goings, Mike Masaoka was not a big fan of redress. He was probably to that line when redress came up, he was probably saying, "These are the things you don't want to do," or it's going to be difficult to do. But I wanted to get, from your perspective, in the early part, when you first got there, which was the early part of redress, what was Mike's stance on redress?

RI: Mike's stance on redress, at that time, whenever there was a fundraiser -- let me kind of put it into perspective -- if there was a fundraiser if there was something for another member of the Nikkei community or someone that was running for Congress, they would always list Senator Inouye, Senator Matsunaga, Congressman Mineta, and Mike Masaoka, on one page, pictures of them, support x-y-z for Congress, or here's reelection or this fundraiser or whatever it may be. And Mike, in terms of being an advisor to the Nikkei delegation was huge, and deservedly so. And whether or not you want to take issue of his contacts at a grassroots level, I would not dismiss the fact that his grassroots level was probably as deep as anyone else's grassroots level, it's just that he didn't reveal it or show it. I don't think there's anything that Mike had, was necessarily against redress, he wasn't sure how it was going to unroll or reveal itself. Also, he was really concerned about the Nikkei members of Congress and the personal attacks against them that would occur. And I think from a protective standpoint, that may be interpreted as being against redress, I don't think so. Mike has lived life, he understands the process. I think in so many ways he's been maligned unnecessarily. If Mike singlehandedly could have prevented the internment of Japanese Americans, he's more powerful than the President of the United States. And so for the Japanese American community to blame him for being the person that created it, was probably a little bit off the mark. And it's just like -- and I heard it three weeks ago -- one of the people in one of the L.A. Japanese redress committees tells me, and this was forty years after the fact, says, "Yeah, we always didn't like you, we thought you were a son of a bitch."

TI: And they're talking about you?

RI: Me, myself. And that I red-baited them. That I told all the people, the Nikkei members in Congress, that we were just a bunch of Communists. So my response was, "You know, you give me a lot of credit. I'm just the son of a gardener, what do I know about red-baiting?" And so people are going to have their interpretation of what they want to have and they're going to take their view on it, which is unfortunate because that's not the truth. I'll tell you something, when we were working on redress, we didn't have time to worry about all these other things, we were just trying to get this legislation moving forward, trying to get as many people not against us. I can't tell you how many Southern Democratic offices I've been kicked out of. They didn't want to hear it; they don't want to deal with it, "It's not our issue." Redress would have come up in the '40s or '50s, the Southern Democrats controlled the Senate, it was not going to happen. Why did civil rights take forever, because Southern Democrats controlled it. The Southern Democrats at that time were just very right, they weren't going to make changes, it was not going to happen. And in that environment, people like Mike Masaoka had to work. And then after Senator Inouye came into office and Matsunaga was in office, Mineta was in office and Matsui was in office, they were able to make these kind of inroads because they worked together. I remember, you know, I had these two opportunities, really, during this redress period, is that after Bob Matsui became a congressman, he was assigned to Peter Rodino's judiciary committee. And Bob came to me, and I was in JACL probably for a little over a half a year. Said, "Ron, I want you to come to work for me and you'll be my staffperson on the judiciary committee." And this was, what, three or four years after Watergate, so people understand Rodino and the rest. And so I thought about it, and I went and talked to Congressman Mineta. And Congressman Mineta said, "Well, you have to make your own decision, but you just got there. And probably in the long run, it would be better for you to say no, even though the opportunity is probably really wonderful." So I turned it down, and because of that, I was able to work on redress.

TI: That's interesting.

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