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-1000-461-21

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

<Begin Segment 21>

TI: So let's move to... and it's towards the end of your tenure with JACL, it was actually said last night, I was interviewing Ron Wakabayashi, and he said, in many ways, the election of Frank Sato to JACL president following Floyd was kind of interesting to him because it was a sign to him that the JACL National thought that they were close to the redress thing actually happening. And his thinking was, well, because Frank was kind of the highest Nikkei civil servant and had these connections, so that was kind of his read. He said, oh, that's interesting, this was, to him, a sign that something was going on. I wanted to get your sense in terms of where JACL was at that board level, and in many cases, behind the scenes like who was going to be the next president.

RI: Well, I think Frank Sato won by a landslide, like a few votes. He almost lost. So I don't know if there was a consensus that if Frank were elected that it would be closer to redress. Like a lot of things... people didn't know Frank Sato. Frank Sato was one of those Nisei that is quiet, has accomplished so much, has made such a huge difference in the government and American way we do politics and the way that we live. And people just don't know about it. But in and of itself, what's interesting is that, because I want to say Frank won by a few votes. There was an event that we had, a party, and I think it was probably one of the JACL chapter meetings in Washington, D.C., and it was probably an installation dinner of some sort. And then the chief foreign minister for the embassy came by, and I think his name was Peter Sato, and he stood up and said, "Oh, I want to congratulate Landslide Frank Sato on winning the election." [Laughs] And everyone laughed because Frank eked out a win. So I don't know if necessarily the community knew that redress was closer to being done, I think it was momentum there. But at the same time, the momentum, the difficulty, like anything else is that when you're fighting policymakers that are going to dictate things to a president, and a president would go along with it is really hard to move the legislation. You can move the move the legislation in the House and Senate, but getting it signed is a different situation. It's like you may be able to move legislation in the House and Senate today, but if the President doesn't want to sign, it's not going to become law. And at that time, it's interesting how it took, in the last years of President Reagan's presidency... and I don't know, I don't know and I don't think people do it because of what they want to see about their legacy, I think it's something that the time is right for it to happen. And in a large sense, if redress started from about '78 and legislation passed the way it did by '88, that's fast. Now, from a Japanese American viewpoint, took forever, maybe never happen.

TI: Yeah, because I talked to people who started in 1968, it's like, I think maybe that was the first resolution at a JACL national convention, but it was more like a two-decade experience.

RI: Well, there's a couple things on redress. When it did pass, you felt happy. You felt sad for those that sacrificed so much that will never see that day happen. I think often about those that served in the military that gave so much, whether it's MIS, 442nd, or other branches of government that we never knew about. But also when you see the bigger picture of the politics that are involved, it's amazing that it did come about. I remember hearing the story about, from Mike Masaoka, probably in 1978, about Ronald Reagan making that speech.

TI: Oh, during World War II?

RI: Right. And one of the things that people may not understand is that Mike was probably one of the best media people the Japanese American community probably has ever had. I mean, I think the 442nd story wouldn't have come out the way it did, but for the efforts of Mike and others to push the story forward. And even going forward and doing that movie...

TI: The Go For Broke movie?

RI: At that time, that was pretty big and very important. Did you ever have a chance to talk with Senator Inouye when he was at Camp Shelby?

TI: Yes, yes. I interviewed him twice, so heard a lot of his stories.

RI: You know, there's a person named Irene Hirano. Irene Hirano I went to high school with.

TI: Oh, I didn't know that.

RI: Irene's father is Mike Yasutake. Mike Yasutake, if you go into the MIS books, was standing next to, I think, Mr. Yasutake was a major, he was MIS, and Senator Sparky was a captain. He just came back from Europe with the Purple Heart, and Shigeru Mike Yasutake came back from Guadalcanal, and they were honored at Fort Savage by the commander for doing extraordinary work in the Theater of the Pacific and European Theater. And some, probably in 19... I want to say '90 or so, I set up a meeting with Senator Matsunaga and Mike Yasutake, they hadn't seen each other since, for forty something years. And it was just like they saw each other the day before. And Senator Matsunaga would say, "You know, Shig would come by, knock on my door on Sunday mornings to wake me up, and then we would walk together in the snow to church." And then Senator Matsunaga finds out that Shig's, Mr. Yasutake's daughter is Irene Hirano, who was the president of the Japanese American National Museum. So anyway, there was a lot of things like that that came about. There's an interwoven story with the Japanese American community that you just sometimes don't even understand how it came about.

TI: And how it's even, generations removed, it could be like that. That's interesting.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.