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-1000-461-22

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

<Begin Segment 22>

TI: So going back to, so Frank Sato becomes president-elect, and before he takes office, one of the things that Frank Sato has are some connections in the White House, and arranges a meeting there. One, I guess the first question is, were there other attempts to have meetings at the White House prior to that?

RI: Sure. All along the way, we've had this liaison with the White House, and JACL would be invited, the Washington office would be invited to different events. And there were social events, there were different events in the State Room or the East Room, and we would talk to different people. And Floyd Shimomura before the end of his term says, "Look, I want to see if we can have a meeting at the White House," and I said, "Okay." So I wrote a letter to the White House signed on his behalf, and about three or four weeks later, said, "Oh, we're unable to meet you, we're busy," and whatever. And so then after that, I got together with my five advisors, and we're having dinner, and I asked Frank Sato, I said, "Frank, is there a way that we can meet with people and policy on the White House?" And said, "Okay, let me take a look at it." And right before the JACL National Convention in Hawaii, we had a meeting with Jack Svahn at the White House. And I know John Tateishi and others had to prepare like crazy. The documents fly out to D.C., Floyd came in, we had the meeting, and after that, I know Frank would stay in touch with Jack, but we didn't really know what had happened.

TI: So what was your sense about the meeting? How did it go, what did you think about it?

RI: Well, it was a presentation meeting, he was very cordial, very interested. I don't recall him saying that it's an impossible task, I believe he was the chief domestic policy director, so obviously had a sense of it. He said he'd try to run it up the flag and see what happens. He got back to Frank, and I'm sure he said, "Frank, this is where we are," and it's not probably not advancing, but it's not going backwards and it's not dead, that's where it is. And that's where he kept it. And after his book came out, I'm amazed that, one, it's in this book, because it must have been a presentation by the JACL staff that they prepared, with an impact that it stuck in its own viewpoint.

TI: Right, you had that meeting, the materials that you and others presented to him, he essentially took that information and summarized it or whatever and presented it to the President.

RI: Right. Well, and it's a process, right? It takes time. And that's in '84, and by the time '88, that's four years later. But sometimes it takes time for seeds to grow, and that's what it takes. Like a lot of other things, if you get the wrong committee chairman for any bill or legislation, it's going to go nowhere. It's like Glickman was in charge of the House side, so they made Glickman the secretary of agriculture and suddenly that kind of opens up that space, we get someone that's more, it could be Barney Frank, it could be anybody that's gonna be willing to take it and move forward. So if you get the different policy person in the White House to push it, that's good. And like a lot of things, it's all personal relationships. If I trust you, and what you're telling me is where to go, then even if I take the hits and flak from this decision, I can live with it. But if you're telling something totally different and I don't know I'm gonna get hit, then it becomes an issue and I'm going to follow you in the future. So public policy is imperative, and how it gets done, yes, some of it is probably not the best. But right now, it's the most peaceful way of developing public policy and that's this democratic way that we have in the United States.

TI: Yeah, I mean that's the thing that astounds me, and I look about, we talked a little bit about, almost happenstance, you mentioned the Norm Mineta and Alan Simpson connection at Heart Mountain. But even this Jack Svahn, I read some of his book, too, and how he grew up in Hawaii, and so he knew the Japanese American community by his training as a lawyer, knew about Korematsu and so knew about these things. And to have him in that position is, again, kind of...

RI: Fortuitous.

TI: Yeah, very fortuitous. And for him to have a relationship with Frank Sato, that you could even present this information. And then it's like a seed you guys planted, and in this book he said not only once, but he had twice met with the President on this issue, never getting a clear answer, but yet, knowing that he had his attention on this.

RI: You know, in a lot of ways, if Senator Inouye could have eaten lunch once a week with President Reagan, I'm sure it would have been a lot better, like he did with President Carter. But those were the kind of things that you had to have. Fortunately, regardless of how people want to say it was done in this way or that way, I think a lot of forces have to come together, all of this timing. And it could be I have friends and relatives that lived next door to President Reagan before he was president, that I know have talked to him about redress, and it could have been, "Oh, by the way, this is coming up," and they remind him. See, I think a lot of us don't know what we did forty, fifty years ago, but when he reminded, and in uniform, the words he said at that time, is critical. And then for him...

TI: Well, just to imagine that he said those words and then later on he becomes President of the United States, to be in a position to sign it, again, how can you make this up?

RI: Well, and that's why we're fortunate that Rose Ochi was able to send that letter in and get it in. I mean, everyone can send the same letter, but to get it in and then have it be part of the signing ceremony, it's wonderful. And so it's just like this, too, about politics, is that you can get anything done as long as you don't worry about who gets credit for it. And the beauty of redress, at the passage of time, it didn't matter who got credit for it. Only after redress was passed did people start worrying about who should get credit for it, which is, to me, is kind of unfortunate, humorous at the same time. Because JACL people know what they did and didn't do. I know what I did and didn't do, I don't need to make greater or make less what I did and didn't do, I know it. So I'm fine with that. Others want to claim x, y and z, and that's fine, let it go. It's kind of like the State of the Union address. Say what you need to say, and I'll applaud when I can, and when I can't, I won't, and we'll let it go.

TI: But don't you think it's important, because not maybe today, but you great-grandchildren, say in another fifty, a hundred years, what will be essentially the history of the Japanese American community, and one of its greatest achievements, redress, how do you think the story's going to be told? What's your sense, and what's important?

RI: To me, redress was probably, if there's a singular act, so to speak, as to what redress was, it's when the Japanese American community was able to attend the hearings and share with the representative American government their feelings, the things that they went through. To me, those hearings, and when you look at the tapes of those hearings, that was redress. Yes, there was a monetary compensation, but the monetary compensation is certainly secondary to the apology, and those people that received the apology from President Bush, that probably went a long ways to righting the wrong of having their rights taken away from them. I think about it often, and right now I'm feeling strong, and if someone tried to do this to me, I'd fight 'em, and give the government otherwise. But I'm sure if the younger period of time and saw this happening, well, what do you do? It's not as if everyone went willingly. I don't think anyone said, yes, I really want to go, but it was just one of those things and it's part of... I think if the American government were going to pick any group, maybe Japanese American was the best group to pick. Because one, they're cohesive, two, there's a deep feeling of shikata ga nai, can't help it, let's just do it and then we'll figure out a way to make it right. Well, I don't think anyone talked about, when you're going in an internment camp on a train, you're not thinking about, "How am I going to make this right?" I think you're worrying about what's going to happen in the next moment. How am I going to live? How am I going to take care of my family? How am I going to make sure everyone's okay? You worry about those other things later. Fortunately, it albeit maybe took fifty or so years, but strength of the community and the beauty of our country is to be able to do that. I don't think too many countries are willing to do that.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.