Densho Digital Repository
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-1000-461-16

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

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: So I lost my train of thought of what I was going to ask you next. So, let's keep moving along. Now, I remember what I was going to ask you. So your difficulties or some of these viewpoints in terms of people not liking you maybe what you're doing, it gets to that conversation of maybe this inside game versus outside game. And when I think of redress, I think of you and, in particular, people in the JACL and the Congress, members of Congress, as sort of playing this inside game in terms of how to get things done in D.C. Whereas I look at a lot of the groups outside, like NCRR, William Hohri with NCJAR, the Seattle group, almost playing this outside game of kind of more on the West Coast communities, getting people riled up, which was also needed --

RI: Oh, without a doubt.

TI: -- getting support of the community. But there's friction, right? So there are times when people don't see eye to eye. I know a key part in these early days, and this is maybe a couple of years after you're in your position, the idea of a commission hearing, that growing up in Seattle, knowing a lot of the Seattle activists, people to this day just still kind of... although I think I could convince them that it was probably the right path, at that moment, they felt betrayed by the JACL, that we weren't going down the legislative path. You came in about the time the Lowry Bill, I think, was introduced, which is the Seattle congressman from Washington state that represented Seattle, that pretty much was helped elected by the Japanese American community with the promise that he would do legislation. So you have all these factors, so how do you navigate that? Especially you're in D.C., so you know, you're learning how D.C. works, you're hearing from all these advisors, and yet you see all these forces from the community trying to get you to do something else.

RI: Well, there's a couple things. Lowry, Dymally and Lungren were, presented different kinds of issues and approaches, certainly for the JACL. And every elected official, whether it's Congressman Lowry or Congressman Dymally or Congressmen Lungren, they represent their constituents. They got elected because they took a certain position, people believed in them, voted for them, and that's the representative form of government that we have. No one, no one should ever mitigate that, their duty, their responsibility. And maybe the best example of it is in probably Congressman Mineta, people probably don't know, that I think when Congressman Mineta first ran for office, a group in his San Jose community says, "Will you make foursquare dancing the national dance of the United States?" So Congressman Mineta said, "Yes." Every year that Congressman Mineta was in office as a congressman from San Jose, one of the first bills he would introduce is Foursquare Dancing, HR something-something, to make foursquare dancing the national dance. And so those are responsibilities that you have under elected form of government. The difficulty is, and the reason why the JACL -- I'm not saying it's only the JACL, but there needed to be a more singular approach to how to propose this legislative effort, is that if you have a matter that's, Congressman Lowry puts in, and it goes to Governmental Affairs, Danielson's committee. And if Danielson talks to other members, whether it's Mineta or to Matsui in the House, it can never get a hearing, it will die. So you have a bill that's been introduced but won't go anywhere. Dymally, because he represented L.A. and this was a strong community, he represented bills. And so the Nikkei community, especially the delegation, figured out that in order to move any legislation, we have to come up with a plan that's going to be singular and focused to move forward. Now, as you know, the best way to kill something is to create a commission. Because basically, commissions to fact-finding, come with the result, thank you very much, it gets buried. Everyone's fear was that. In this case, the Nikkei members said, "Okay, we'll make it a presidential commission." And fortunately, the right president was in office at the time, that believed in this. And one thing that people don't probably know, Senator Inouye was very quiet about it, is that Senator Inouye would have lunch, I think it was every Tuesday or Wednesday, with President Carter.

TI: I didn't know that.

RI: Once a week. He'd go down to the White House and have lunch with President Carter. Anyway, President Carter was a peanut farmer, governor, but peanut farmer. And he and Senator Inouye got along very well. And so I'm sure, unwritten, during one of those lunches over peanut butter and jelly sandwich or something... and it really bothered, I think, Senator Inouye, because President Carter would always call Senator Inouye Danny. I don't think Senator Inouye likes "Danny." I think if you call him Dan, it's okay, but you call him Danny, he doesn't like it. But this is the President of the United States calling you Danny, I think you accept it. And so I remember essentially Inouye saying, "Well, we'll see what we could do." And I think that's their way. That's the Nisei way of saying, "We'll take care of it." They're not going to tell you they're going to do it, they're just saying, "Okay, we'll see what we can do." And, to me, there's a beauty in that, and we're very, very lucky. But, see, I think that has a long ways to go when the time was right to have President Carter on board for this commission. And so there was just a lot of things like that that you probably, people just don't really understand or know or written about, and a lot of that has to go with the people that we do. Norm Mineta, Bob Matsui, Sparky Matsunaga, Dan Inouye, will never tell you all the little intricacies that were needed and the things they talked about more to get even the commission created. And I think in that Right of Passage by Janice Tanaka, where Congressman Mineta says, "There's two things you don't want to watch being made. One is sausage, and number two is legislation." It's very true. Because it's probably pretty queasy, and not everyone could do that and still come out with something that is good public policy. But the only alternative to doing this process is you kill each other. And fortunately, we found a peaceful way to resolve our differences and move forward.

TI: So what's interesting for this conversation is how much behind-the-scenes, I mean, there was momentum generating in Congress for redress. I mean, there was discussions, and do you think that was... what was the role of the JACL during this period? Because again, I think about, some people are saying, "Well, the JACL just seemed to be moving slowly on redress." But what I'm hearing is it was more behind-the-scenes, and it wasn't maybe as visible? Is that fair to characterize, or how would you describe it? Or was there still resistance at the board level or something in terms of let's not move too fast? Because I think, especially when I think of the Seattle activists, they're saying, "Yeah, it was just like, for them, the biggest hurdle was National JACL, they just always kind of said, "Yes, we were for redress, but then nothing would happen," that was kind of the perception.

RI: Well, during the timeframe that I was there, from '78 to the end of '84, redress was an everyday task, everyday topic. And it was kind of like this. If you downplay the role or the importance of National JACL, which is understandable, and you're from Portland or Los Angeles or San Francisco or Seattle, and if you have a plan that's workable and doable, then you need to push that, and that's why they pushed Lowry to do it. But when Lowry got that into Washington, D.C., the politics of Washington, D.C., is, great, you got a bill, it's introduced, you can print it, you can pass it out to all your constituents, but it's not going to go anywhere.

TI: You're a freshman congressman and you don't have the support of the Nikkei or the Japanese American delegation, so it's not going to go anywhere.

RI: But what I like and what I respect about Congressman Lowry, he did what he was supposed to do, that was his promise. And in a lot of ways, that's the hardest part. Senator Matsunaga and Congressman Mineta always told me, says, "People in the community do not vote for legislation. The Senator or Congressman vote for legislation, so they're the, actually, the people voting are the hurdle. How you get them comfortable is to get elected or get reelected." And so those are the fights that are there.

Now, you know, you have someone else... we'll talk about it later, but I've spent many hours, five or six hours with Congressman Lungren on Larry King Mutual Broadcasting one evening from, like, midnight 'til six in the morning. And his, the banner he was carrying is that he wanted to carry the Republican right view that yes, internment was wrong, but we already apologized, and it's done. In other words, it was a viewpoint that was probably inconsistent with the Japanese American community.

TI: But it's interesting, he thought the government had apologized, or America had apologized to Japanese Americans?

RI: Yeah, "I think they've done enough, because look how successful they are." And I think, at the time, was it Eunice Sato was the mayor of Long Beach? I think her daughter worked on his staff in D.C. I don't blame... and I think Dan Lungren's father was Richard Nixon's personal physician, so there was a lot of interplay in respect to how he wants to be developed, and people felt that he was going to be the leader for the Republican party nationally and certainly in California. So he was trying to pursue that road.

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