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

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

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: Today is February 6, 2019. We're in Los Angeles at the DoubleTree, I'm Tom Ikeda, the interviewer, and on camera is Dana Hoshide, and so we have Ron Ikejiri here. And so, Ron, just the first question, when and where were you born?

RI: I was born on December 3, 1948, right down here in Boyle Heights in the Japanese Hospital, and it was on Fickett Street. And I understand that it was a large Jewish American community, and I was born in Boyle Heights. Little did I know until when I ran for city council in 2001, that being born in Boyle Heights was a really positive aspect of being born somewhere, because Boyle Heights is now part of the barrio, and people said, "Good, you were born at the right place, these are the kind of people that we know."

TI: Oh, so it kind of gave you, like street cred.

RI: Right.

TI: Just because you were, like in Seattle, in a similar way, I was born and raised in the Rainier Valley.

RI: Oh, beautiful.

TI: Which, again, it's kind of a very diverse, multiethnic, and that gives, in Seattle, that gives you street cred because you grew up in kind of a rough neighborhood. That's good. So what was the name given to you at birth?

RI: Ronald Kunio Ikejiri. And Kunio, I think my father figured it out that it would mean "bountiful country." And Ronald came, actually, my mom told me that I was named after Ronald Reagan. So I was named after...

TI: Oh, and he as a movie star.

RI: Yes.

TI: I was thinking politician, you're too, you were born way before he was...

RI: So I guess she liked his acting, but everyone says, "Well, he was a class B actor," or something. I said, well, I don't know. But it was interesting, though, when I graduated from UCLA, his name was on my diploma from UCLA because he was the governor of California.

TI: That's right, so he shows up in your life several times, that's interesting.

RI: Yes.

TI: And you were named after him. That's a good story.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: So you mentioned, let's start with your father. So tell me a little bit about him, his name, and maybe his family.

RI: Well, my father was born on April 6, 1917, in Fillmore, California, which is just north of San Fernando Valley in the Santa Paula area. And he was born on a farm, and when he... his name was Matsuo Ikejiri. Only when he came back after he went to Japan and came back did his name become Mac, M-A-C, because, I guess, Matsuo was hard to say, so people used Mac. In 1923, when my father was six, the entire family moved back to Fukuoka-ken, Japan. And my father's grandfather apparently had a lot of farming land and other landholdings, and he was becoming ill so my father was called back. And as the oldest son, he needed to go back to Japan, so he took the whole family back. So in 1923, after six years old, my father went back to Japan.

TI: Oh, so that was your grandfather was called back.

RI: Yes.

TI: Because your father was six.

RI: Right. The great grandfather was ill. So my father stayed in Japan until about 1936. And what happened is that the recruiters from the imperial Japanese army would come to the rural areas in Fukuoka-ken and said, "Oh, okay, you're now of age, we need for you to join the imperial Japanese army and we're going to send you to Manchuria." Well, my father thought about it and said, "Well wait a minute, I'm an American citizen," and so he opted to return back to the United States. His parents remained, and his siblings remained, although one of his next oldest brothers was also born in America and he was an American citizen but he stayed. So in 1936, my father left from Yokohama, went to Hawaii, San Francisco, and then ended up departing the ship, disembarking the ship in San Pedro, California. And back then, they didn't know whether he was a citizen or not a citizen of the United States, so in Terminal Island he was placed in, for lack of better words, a holding area. And so for about two and a half, three weeks, he had to wait until, by postal service, they didn't fax machines or any other ways to get it, information that yes, indeed, he is an American citizen. After that he was released and returned to be living with his aunt and uncle in Gardena, California.

TI: Now, at the point he came back, how proficient was he in English?

RI: Zero.

TI: So he was coming across, pretty much like a Japanese immigrant in many ways.

RI: Yes.

TI: His language abilities, his knowledge of the country.

RI: The beautiful aspect of it is when my father was in Japan, obviously he learned Japanese language, writing, history. And it served him very, very well, because in later years he was very, he ended up being the principal of the Gardena Buddhist Church Japanese language school. And even later on when I was practicing law and I would have clients in Japan, every New Year's my father would send them boxes of mikan or oranges, and he would write a letter with a fude. And my father's writing in Japanese is actually really beautiful. You can just tell it was just very graceful. It doesn't look like anything I could do. And then my clients would all write me back and say, "Oh, Ron, we cannot write back to your father to thank him." I said, "Why?" They said, "Your father's handwriting is so beautiful, if we wrote back, he'd think that we're so stupid, we're so ignorant." And so I said, "No, no, just write back." "No, please tell him that we really appreciate his gesture." So although proficiency in English was not strong, his ability to write and understand the Japanese language was very strong.

TI: So would it be fair to say that he was fairly well-educated in Japan?

RI: Yes.

TI: And how, at what level did he go through?

RI: Well, my guess is because he was probably around seventeen or eighteen by the time he returned back from Japan, he may have finished high school in Japan, but he never went beyond high school.

TI: So what's interesting, I'm just thinking in terms of when he came to the United States, it was during a time when the 1924 Immigration Act had already passed. And so there was no inflow of new Japanese immigrants, and so for the community, he was maybe not unique, but maybe a little different in terms of someone who had recently come from Japan with all these Japanese skills. So I could see where that would be kind of a unique decision for him to do that.

RI: Well, he's fortunate that he was born in the United States, and therefore he could come back.

TI: Right, I mean, that's the only reason why he was able to do that.

RI: Otherwise, he would be excluded. Yeah, he was fortunate.

TI: Okay, so tell me, so he's now in Gardena staying with his uncle. So what does he do?

RI: Well, what they did is they had little farming ranches, they grew vegetables and a lot of flowers. And their home was located, which is the current Redondo Beach Boulevard and Broadway, which is part of the L.A. County strip. But their farming operations, joint farming operation with the Japanese Americans, was located on Hawthorne Boulevard and Carson, which is now Del Amo fashion center in Torrance. And that whole area was all Japanese, and I remember after World War II, and then when I was five or six years old, I'd be playing in these fields, and there'd just be lots of different Japanese families, Miyazakis and Horis or others that would just all be farming next to each other.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: So tell me a little bit about your mother and her story.

RI: Yes, my mother was born in Fresno, California, grew up in Fowler, Parlier, in the San Joaquin Valley. And she is the daughter of a Japanese picture bride. And she came, my mom was born in 1923, and grew up and was looking at her old high school yearbooks, she was pretty active, and she was involved in a lot of different activities. And she had two older sisters that unfortunately, at a very young age, apparently had taken some kind of wrong food, and they had passed away. So my mom ended up being the oldest child, and then they had a middle brother and a younger sister, and with Baachan Kono. And when the war broke out, they were all moved, and they went to the Canal relocation center.

TI: Okay, and how did the two meet, your mother and father?

RI: My father was, after being in Gardena when the order came out, they moved to Fresno. But then again, from Fresno, they ended up going back to Arizona. And I remember the story goes that my father kept running into my mom, my mom probably had no need to get married to some Kibei that probably didn't understand English very well. But for whatever reasons they decided to get married. And I always asked my father, said, "How can you even consider being married from behind barbed wire? You don't really have a job," although he was a cook, and so I think the cooks were paid sixteen or nineteen dollars a month, so they're probably one of the higher paid people in the camps. But I couldn't imagine what your future would be if you didn't know when you were going to get out, or if you were going to get out. And then his aunt and uncle decided that, when asked the question, they both said, "You're going to answer 'no-no,'" so that's what he answered. So as a result, my mother and father and other relatives, they ended up going to Tule Lake.

TI: And so did your parents get married in camp?

RI: Yeah, in camp, and then they moved to Tule Lake. Then because of "no-no," my father ended up going to Bismarck, North Dakota in the Justice camp.

TI: Okay, so he was... so did he have to renounce his citizenship?

RI: Yes.

TI: Okay.

RI: And then after that, he went to Santa Fe, New Mexico. And then by 1945, '46, he was in Crystal City, Texas. And then he was, actually, I think they were being prepared to ship him back to Japan. But because the war ended, they were released from Crystal City. My sister was born in 1945 in Tule Lake, and she didn't see her father until about a year or so after she was born.

TI: Okay, so after your father renounced his citizenship, he was separated from the family, he went to all these camps, but then at Crystal City, was the family reunited there?

RI: Yes. There's a variety of people that, more recently that I saw, that had the same route, that did the same thing and they were reunited with their father in Crystal City. You know, I think now, those kinds of stories can be shared, and there's a greater openness, not only the Japanese American community, but just generally as to hearing it. I think certainly after World War II, mostly everyone just wanted to get on with their life, and there was probably little tolerance or little patience or little desire to hear any other story that was not super patriotic. And this one person, and I believe it was on Remembering Manzanar, it was on NHK, George Takei is on it, one person indicated that her parents eventually ended up -- they were in Tule Lake -- and eventually they ended up somewhere in Ohio. And as a little girl, the teachers told us that, "You need to change her name from a Japanese name, so her name for now is going to be Sandy." So then she said she didn't want to change her name, because her mother said, "You have to because it will be too much trouble down the line." So she said she never changed her name, but 'til her mother died, she would always call her daughter Sandy. So it was one of things that culturally and experience-wise, you don't want to... if you go through what internment must have been -- I was born after -- it had to have a devastating impact on a lot of the things that you think about yourself. But at the same time, the Japanese American resilience comes out in what they're able to accomplish.

TI: Well, thinking about it in terms of your father, too, because coming out of the war, did he have to go through a process to get his citizenship reinstated? Do you remember anything about that?

RI: I remember, in terms of reinstatement, I think there's a lot of effect -- and this is Mike Masaoka and others when they passed different immigration bill, I want to say it was 1952, it restored many of the rights that were otherwise...

TI: Right, it allowed Japanese to become naturalized citizens.

RI: Right. And if you were already, even if you renounced your citizenship, then they declared that null and void because it happened during wartime under those conditions. So there were a lot of ways in which there was an attempt to right a wrong even right after the war.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: Okay, and so after Crystal City, where did the family go?

RI: They came back to the South Bay. They ended up being in Redondo Beach, and I remember I went to elementary school and worked on the -- I won't say worked -- I played on the Japanese farms up and down Hawthorne Boulevard, and it was just really a fun time. I mean, if you wanted to find me in the afternoon, I'm probably underneath some tree with a dog sleeping. It was just a neat time, because it was just wide open. It was like a lot of things in life, if you looked at where USC is today, it really was in the early 1900s, the high society and the best place to live. And then UCLA where I went to school, was middle of nowhere, it was just open plains and not very many trees. But give it a hundred years, it suddenly becomes a really nice place to live, and I think the South Bay of Los Angeles as the same. And the Japanese were there and Japanese farmers really were able to survive and thrive in that environment.

TI: And what was it like to be a farming family back then? I mean, was that hard work? In terms of, were you drawn in as you got older to help out and do a lot of the chores?

RI: Well, by the time... after about seven, eight years, coming out of Crystal City, my parents were able to save a thousand dollars. And they decided to buy a home in Gardena. We were living with my obaachan, my mother's mother and my uncle, so there was six of us living in this home in north Redondo Beach, and we had one bathroom. And I remember my parents came home one day and I was probably around five years old when they said, "Well, we bought a home, and you're going to really like it because it has two bathrooms." And I said, "Oh my god, we're going to be moving into the Waldorf Astoria." We thought that was a big deal. Now you tell this to kids today, they laugh at you, but there's some really simple things in life, certainly in the early '50s that kind of ring out. But what was nice about it, and I'll always remember, I was probably around six years old or so, we had moved into the house in Gardena and I was going to Denker Avenue school in Gardena. And my father had his hands on the table at dinnertime, says, "What's wrong, Daddy?" He says, "Well, house payments are seventy dollars a month, I make about two hundred and fifty dollars a month. I don't know if I can make these payments." And so although you look backwards on it, you can't buy a tank of gas for seventy dollars today. But it's just one of those things that I'm sure every family went through, and it's heartening.

TI: And how did that impact you when you saw your father kind of struggling with that?

RI: You know, it's interesting, my father, one, never yelled at me, although I probably deserved to be yelled out. Two, he never hit me. Never spanked me that I can recall. But he'd always sit down and would kind of explain things to me, which was, to me, different. Because I know some of my other friends, my hakujin friends, they'd get spanked a lot. [Laughs] But it was more of a, I think it was because my father was raised in Japan, and it was more of a stoic thought. And being, looking at my father, I remember I was probably around five or six years old, really cold winter, probably in January, and my dad came home from gardening. But earlier in the day, my mom drove me down to JC Penney in Hermosa Beach, and went in there and she bought me this, probably a rayon jacket or something with a little, kind of fur on it, to keep me warm. And my father came home, he was so happy that I was able to get this coat, this jacket, and to me, that's one of my fond memories because -- other than him buying me a baseball mitt -- is that when you're a parent, you always hear about if you're children are okay. And for my father, I just kind of received that in that way, so it always makes me happy.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: Do you think you were kind of treated like the "golden child"? I mean, I'm listening to this story...

RI: No. I'm the middle neglected child, and my sister is the older child and my brother is seven years younger. No, I don't think...

TI: But the oldest son? You weren't, like, viewed as the, within the family as sort of the future of the family and given a lot more resources?

RI: Well, let me put it this way. I don't think in terms of being... yeah, okay. My father was the chonan of the chonan, okay, great, the oldest son of the oldest son, which is fine. But I do remember growing up, and maybe in junior high school, and we have okazu. And okazu is vegetables and maybe a little bit of meat here. I would know, especially because I was, we were growing up and I was on the swim team, my dad says, "Oh, you need more protein," so that he would not eat the meat. With his chopsticks, he would move the meat to the side on his plate and he'd give it to me. [Laughs] And so that was very endearing. You know, at the time, I was just hungry, I didn't know the difference. But there's things like that, now that I think about it, I go, "Wow, these parents really gaman," they really did things for the children that, at the time you didn't really recognize or appreciate properly. And so, for me, that was a real upside.

TI: Well, would he do that for your older sister?

RI: No, I don't think so. I don't remember that.

TI: So it sounds like you were kind of treated specially.

RI: Well, I don't know about special, but I'm very thankful. It's kind of this: when you grew up and your father wears gardening clothes, right, and we have a baseball game, my father would never miss a baseball game. He worked harder cutting lawns during that day we have a game that starts at four o'clock, and he'd park his gardening truck with my other friends', father's gardening trucks, they all parked their trucks in the parking lot, come into the grandstands and sit. And in their gardening clothes, they'd be cheering us on. I think it's really wonderful to see that. Now, other families, oh gee, they'd be embarrassed because, oh, your parents are wearing work clothes. Well, you know something? It makes no difference, and that's just part of the community. I remember when I was in Washington, D.C., and I'd come to visit Gardena, and this is in the '70s and early '80s, and I'd visit my dad. And in the morning I'd take the flight back to D.C. from LAX, and so Dad goes, "Well, you know, let's leave at six o'clock and I'll drop you off at the airport." I said, "Okay." So I get my luggage and throw it on the back of the gardening truck next to the lawn mower and the edger and the rakes and everything else, and the hoses. And I've got my suit on, and he drops me off at the airport. And so this one skycap who knows me, I'm taking my baggage off, and he says, "You know something? That's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," he said.

TI: That is a beautiful thing.

RI: He says, "You know, here you're all dressed up, your dad brings you to the airport, you're picking him up, and you give him a hug," he said, "that's beautiful." And I said, "This is the only thing I know, this is how it is." This is beautiful, too, because I'm just very thankful.

TI: And so I sense this fondness between you and your father.

RI: Well, you know, when I talked to friends, just very, very fortunate, my mom and dad were just loving, caring people, and they're just great examples, I guess, is what it is. And even to this day, when I travel to different places, or if, especially when I go to Japan and I go to special inaka places, or have special Japanese food, I say, "Oh, Mom and Dad would really enjoy this." And then going backwards a little ways, I remember one time I was at the East Room at the White House. The sun was setting, I could see the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument, and I said, "You know, I really wish my mother and father could be here to enjoy this," rather than me. Because I think it would mean so much more to them than to me. And it's like everything else in life, coming from a little city like Gardena, and be able to see things and experience things, you want others, especially people you care about like your parents, to be able to enjoy that.

TI: That's a beautiful story.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: Going back, thinking about your father, who went "no-no" on that "loyalty questionnaire," went to Tule Lake, after the war, was that ever held against him? I mean, was there ever any kind of things that, whether from veteran groups or others that made it difficult for him?

RI: You know, if it did, I didn't know about it. There may have been, and I know that... my father was very active in the community, not a real loud voice, but he just worked hard. And whether it was different community events, certainly with the Gardena Valley Gardeners Association, and if you go through different projects, especially the church, I think there was a lot of mutual respect. And I don't recall, especially with Nisei post-1961, and you had a lot of great leaders, like Ken Nakaoka or George Kobayashi, and others like that, and they were all my father's friends. So I don't recall that being an issue. It's interesting, too, and I think a lot of people will tell this to you that are Sanseis, that when they were growing up, their parents would talk about camp. And I was a Boy Scout, so I figured, oh, they're talking about Boy Scout camp or Girl Scout camp, which is not true. This camp experience that the Japanese Americans endured was a little bit different from our current view of what camp is.

TI: Yeah, I was thinking, because in Seattle, as I talked to some of the families that went to Tule Lake, there was this stigma of being at Tule Lake, and oftentimes in the community, people say, "Oh, what camp did you go to?" And if Tule Lake came up...

RI: Silence. [Laughs]

TI: There was silence, yeah. And I was just wondering if that was similar in Gardena, because people wouldn't have been at Tule unless they had said "no-no."

RI: Well, that's, I think Barbara Takei does a really good job of trying to explain that at Tule Lake, there was just the regular camp, so to speak, and then there was really the segregated prison camp aspect of it. And I think when you're trying to regain your sense of stability and your sense of who you are in America, you don't want to have even the inkling of some kind of a negative stigma. And so I could see where a lot of people just try to avoid it, which is understandable. But I'm really proud to see and hear and watch people like George Takei or Barbara Takei and others. I went to my first pilgrimage two years ago to Tule Lake, I only wish my mother and father could have taken it. We climbed this one rock that they could only see from inside the barbed wire, whereas we're looking down into the camp from there.

TI: So that Castle Rock?

RI: Castle Rock. Anyway, I really thought it was funny, and you've seen this, is that if you look across the landscape, and it's called Abalone Mountain or Awabi Mountain, it really does look like an awabi. I remember climbing Castle Rock one morning, and about 25 yards below me was George Takei, and I'm up near the top already. So I yelled at George, "What's wrong with you, George? I thought you were in Star Trek and you'd just beam yourself up here." He goes, "Boy, if I could, I would," because it was a little bit of a struggle getting up to the top.

TI: [Laughs] That's a good story.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: During this, right after the war in Gardena, what was your mother doing?

RI: My mother first worked, when she started working after my younger brother started going to, he was five years old and going to school, my grandmother lived with us. My mother was able to go to work and she worked at a very famous bakery called Busy Bee Bakery. Everyone would know that, it's in the Town and Country shopping center, Western Avenue, next to Kyoto Sukiyaki, and that's where I got introduced to something called Long John's. It was opened by a couple from Hawaii, and this was just the best thing to have. It was better than Krispy Kreme or anything that you're going to get today, and my mom worked there. And then she worked for probably around thirty or so years for Ron Matsunaga, who was a dentist, but then became a physician and then a well-known plastic surgeon. And his first office was in Crenshaw Square off of Stocker, and then he moved to Wilshire and Beverly Hills. But my mom worked for him, and Dr. Matsunaga's family originally was from Fresno, so there were a lot of long term family ties.

TI: How about, for you growing up, Japanese American activities? I mean, did you do Japanese language school? What type of things did you do, other than just your normal schooling in terms of community stuff?

RI: Well, because my father was active in the Gardena Buddhist Church Japanese school, all of us were required to attend the Nihongo gakko on doyobi, on Saturday. Well, I wanted to play baseball, I wanted to do other things than go to Japanese school. I go to school Monday through Friday, why do I have to go to school on Saturday? So I ended up going, and unfortunately, after nine years, I never graduated. I think the teachers just passed me because they knew my father was the principal and it would be embarrassing for the principal's son not to be passed to the next level. But I recall... now that I think about it, how arrogant I was. But I remember one day my father sat me down and says, "You know something? You're gonna regret not studying and learning how to read and write Japanese." So I looked at him and says, "Dad, Japan lost World War II, we don't need to know Japanese." He said, "You're going to regret what you said." Well, going back twenty years later, I'm in Tokyo, and I'm with my clients. I could probably understand fifty percent of what they're saying, but I don't understand a lot of the things. Japanese is so much nuance, so you can kind of pick up the rest. But after going to, being in Asia and Japan for about thirty years, my Japanese improved dramatically, but I figured out why. Not only karaoke, but also because the language was taught with images. Learning Japanese or any language on the chalkboard is not a real good way to learn if you're visual. And even today, most people in other countries learn Japanese by manga, and so it's really a wonderful thing, but Japanese school was one of them. And the second thing that I was... Boy Scouts was important.

TI: And so was the Boy Scout troop associated with a church, or who was the Boy Scouts...

RI: No, we were not associated with any church, but there were so many of my friends who were all part of the Boy Scout troop or Explorer troop, and we'd go camping and hiking and doing those kinds of things. Today, there's probably more church groups that support Boy Scouts, in fact, I work with the Gardena Evening Optimist Club and we sponsor Boy Scout troops. And it's amazing, I think their efforts, what they do now is so different from when I was in Boy Scouts. Boy Scouts you try to become an Eagle Scout, there was no big push. You either did it because you wanted it or you didn't.

TI: This was back when you were in the Scouts?

RI: But today, I wouldn't say it's an expectation, but there's so much greater support for you to earn your merit badges, to learn new things to achieve Eagle Scout, which is still very, very difficult to do. And I think by becoming a Boy Scout and an Eagle Scout today, it's far different from before in the sense that you... because maybe technology, you know more.

TI: So back then, did you become an Eagle Scout?

RI: No, I made it to Star, and I didn't make it to Eagle Scout because I think you had to do ten pull-ups.

TI: [Laughs] But you were an athlete, you were playing baseball.

RI: Well, but the whole thing is, if you weigh more than your arms can lift, that's a problem.

TI: Well, and so, in terms of, like, your Scout troop, how many other Japanese Americans were in your troop? I'm trying to get a sense of just the composition of your friends, your acquaintances, while you were growing up in Gardena.

RI: If we had forty or fifty Boy Scouts, probably at least thirty were Japanese American, we were all Sansei, we grew up together. And even today, when I'm in Gardena, I run into some of my friends, we go, "Oh, remember that time we hiked from Pasadena all the way to Wrightwood?" which is by the 15 freeway and five or six days of hiking. I remember that, so we can't even walk to the parking lot today. But no, it's really nice to be able to have that experience. I can tell you that growing up in Gardena, I never, ever felt any form of discrimination. And I guess I think about it, certainly in junior high and high school, basically Japanese Americans ran the school. And whatever, we were active in sports and student government, or different drama or news, whatever it would be. And so you never felt like you were anything than what you could be, so there was no cap. Whereas I know growing up from others, you may have felt that, but Gardena was really a wonderful place to grow.

TI: Yeah, other than Hawaii, the interviews I've done, Gardena is pretty unique in that sense. Even in the Bay Area and things like that, I don't quite come across something where Japanese Americans were sort of the dominant culture.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

RI: What's really interesting about it, and I talked about this about two or three weeks ago when we had a program at the Japanese community center about Gardena then and now, I didn't know growing up there was five or six Japanese American factions politically in the city, whether you're Ken Nakaoka or Paul Bannai, or Mas Fukai or Tsukaharas or the Kajis or some other groups, you didn't see eye to eye. It's kind of like Japan. Everyone thinks Japanese is one country. Well, Japan is just a group of different tribes fighting each other, and finally Tokugawa Ieyasu won out, and basically that's what happened. And so, in Gardena, we all, from outwardly, we all probably looked, "Oh, these people all get along and that's why they do well." Actually, internally, like a lot of things in life, there was friction, and probably most of it is probably yakimochi, it was jealousy, for whatever reasons. But they were able to contain it, they were able to focus it and try to move forward. And I remember when I ran for city council -- and I was in Washington, D.C., for twenty something years is when I decided to come back -- and I ran for city council, so we had a fundraiser. And my friend pulled me aside and says, "You know, this fundraiser for you, all five factions of the Japanese American community have showed up." They said, "You would have never seen this before under one roof." And I said, "What are you talking about?" And that's when they sat me down and explained to me why certain things happened, why did this happen, how did Paul Bannai become, go into the assembly before Ken Nakaoka, or why this happened. And so it's a very interesting process, and so most people, it still needs to be told and revealed.

TI: So why were all five factions supporting you at that point? I mean, what was it that made you sort of unique or your family unique for that to happen?

RI: They were probably scared I was going to get elected. [Laughs]

TI: [Laughs] So it's that type of thing where once you're there, everyone kind of donates just to get a meeting with you?

RI: No, I think I was gone long enough that they had nothing necessarily against me. My father was active in the community but never drew attention to himself, he just worked hard. And from the standpoint, I think they were all... as you get older, you get less cranky and less desires of settling old differences. And so it was really quite fun to see because even at that time, Mas Fukai was having a little bit of trouble mobility, getting around, but he made a special effort that night to come. And it always amazed me that the Japanese American community, especially the Gardener Association, was able to acquire so much support from that one L.A. County supervisor named Kenny Han. Kenny Han represented the Gardena area, but he would come to -- and you're talking about '58, '59, this is not that much longer after World War II, he would come to the installation. He would install the Gardeners' officers. And I'm thinking to myself, gee, these are my father's friends and all they do is cut lawns, I mean, why is he here? But it taught you a lot about how the Japanese American community was able to gain the respect and support of the political infrastructure or just the community at large. One thing that really made me smile after I got elected in 2001, I went to the Gardena welding shop over on Normandy, and Lou Thorosso, the owner, he's an Italian American, he said, "Sit down." "Yes, Mr. Thorosso." He says, "I want to tell you something." "Yes?" He says, "I saw you at the debates on TV, I thought you were going to win. Okay, so you won, but I'm going to tell you why you really won." He says, "Because your parents and your parents' friends, the Nisei, decided to stay in Gardena. They decided to stay in Gardena and keep this community viable, to keep it clean, to keep it a place that people want to come to. Look around Gardena, it's here. You won, but they're the ones that made you win, not you." And I always take that to heart because, you know, like most communities, after a while, you move out, and very rarely do you ever return. I couldn't wait to get out of Gardena, and so when I had a chance to go to Washington, D.C., I was gone. And I said, "I'll never come back." Well, I'm going to live and die -- I live now and I'll probably die in Gardena. And I can tell you something, I couldn't know a better place to do that, it's been a real nurturing place to live.

TI: Well, and going back to that conversation with the Italian gentleman, how do you see the community in Gardena in the future? Do you see Japanese Americans staying there and were they having a big footprint, having a presence, what's your sense? Because, again, Gardena is unique. In the United States, I can't think of another community that is like that.

RI: Well, it's obviously changing, and the reason it's changing is that probably the way to reverse it is the schools. But the reason it's changing is that we have a greater influx of other Asian Americans, particularly Korean American seniors, Chinese Americans, Vietnamese Americans, and Japanese Americans may come back and raise their children through elementary school, but once it comes to junior high or high school, they would prefer that, they'll try to get transferred to Torrance or some other areas. And it's really a process of schools, and until that's able to be rectified, it will be difficult. Because when I was growing up and we were at Gardena High School, the worst thing you can obviously do in Gardena High was smoke in the boy's bathroom, that was the biggest deal, I mean, you were bad. Today, if you don't bring a gun to school, we think you're great, and there's something wrong with this process. And it's difficult to overcome that. Education and, I don't want to get into it, but I think when we were growing up in the '50s and '60s, we're thankful we had this opportunity. Today, kids say, "I deserve it." Well, I have a different view. You don't deserve it, you've got to earn it, you've got to work for it. But that will get me in a lot of trouble because it's politically incorrect. So, next question. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: Well, so you kind of grew up in Gardena, you graduated from high school, so what's next?

RI: Okay. After I got out of high school, all through growing up, I always loved taking pictures, and I wanted to become a photojournalist like Alfred Eisenstaedt. I wanted to travel, I figured this is the best ticket out of town is to become a photojournalist and take pictures. And so San Jose State had a photojournalism major. So as soon as I got out of high school in February of 1967, I transferred, or I went to San Jose State, and I stayed there for six months. My high school girlfriend was at Cal State Long Beach, so then I guess... I don't know what happened, but I ended up being transferred back to Cal State Long Beach that fall.

TI: After six months.

RI: So a year and a half at Cal State Long Beach, so we both transferred to UCLA.

TI: And the dream of photojournalism? Did that die?

RI: No, I still enjoy it, but I came to the recognition that photojournalism as a profession would be difficult and, although I did meet some people from National Geographic, and they said, well, it's a great profession, the problem is, if they did a photoshoot on, for example, Micronesia, he said, "I took ten thousand pictures, they used twelve of them." And he said, "The pictures I think are great, the editor in Washington, D.C. at National Geographic may not think so." And so even if you get an assignment, it's a tough thing. It's just like everything in life, if you do anything in the arts, the theater, music, drama, anything that's in the creative field, it doesn't pay, it's hard to make a living. And so those that do it, you really have to appreciate them for their sacrifice and the things that they're doing, because they're giving us gifts back that, in our own way, our daily lives, we're just trying to make a living, but we're trying to be a creative force. So I'm always thankful for that. Photojournalism, unfortunately with smartphones, there is no photojournalism anymore, I mean...

TI: It's kind of like being in a right place at the right time, having your phone and taking that photo.

RI: So, in a lot of ways it's good.

TI: So what did you, at UCLA, what did you major in?

RI: Well, if you transfer enough, for example, from San Jose State to Cal State Long Beach, then I was told because the transfer, I was eight units short when I was going to be drafted into the Vietnam War, said, "You need to pick up eight units," so I went to Cal State Dominguez to pick up eight units, so I was going to two colleges at one time. Got my units back up, so by the time I got to UCLA and sat down with a counselor, I said, "Okay, these are the classes I've taken, how do I graduate on time?" So she went through the entire catalog and said, "Well, I think your major needs to be poli sci, and I think you can graduate on time." So I ended up being a political science major because I wanted to get out in four years, not because of any particular desire about politics.

TI: But that was based on the courses you had already taken, and she just said, "This is the one you can get."

RI: Right. So that's how it ended up, but it was very interesting when I was at UCLA. And the theme throughout, if there was any theme in life, it's who you know. You got to know something, that we understand, but it's who you know that's going to make a difference in your life. And so, anyway, I would go into the poli sci department and take my classes, and there was a woman, secretary to the dean of the school, and her name was Gladys Fukumoto. And Gladys said, "You're the only Nihonjin, Sansei, that ever comes through this program." And so she says, "I'll tell you what. Let me see what I can do for you." So she, in my last two years, was able to have me receive stipends so that I can take additional courses in the poli sci department. And then as I was getting ready to graduate, she made recommendations to the dean, and the dean said, "Okay, as soon as you graduate, we've already accepted you into the Master's of Public Administration program at UCLA, and we'll give you a graduate advancement stipend." And so because of her, I was able to get my bachelor's and master's degree from UCLA. And then I started law school at night, and four years at night at Northrop University School of Law, very interesting. I remember doing the interview at Loyola University Law School, and Judge David Doi, he retired, but David Doi was a law student, and I knew David from growing up. David says, "Do you really want to be a lawyer, Ron, or are you just trying to be like everyone else, pretend that you want to be a lawyer?" I said, "Why?" He said, "You really want to be a lawyer, and based on your grades, you're not getting into Loyola. I don't think you can get into any law school. So you're going to have to make a decision. You will go to any law school that you can get into and study."

TI: His point was that the law degree was important, if you could just get a law school that would accept you, you could just work really hard.

RI: Exactly. He didn't want to say, just because whatever you did in the past is going to hurt you or help you, but this is totally different. Well, I didn't get into any law school, and so I decided, okay, there was a new law school started up called Northrop University School of Law, which was part of Northrop Corporation, the fence contractor. And so it was really aviation, Northrop Institute of Technology was aviation, and they taught airframe mechanics and then they started a law school. So I ended up going there four years at night. But it's very interesting, those people on the board of directors, like a who's who of Fortune 500 companies, one of 'em was a person named Chuck Manatt. Chuck Manatt is, a few years later, he ended up being the chairman of the Democratic National Committee in Washington, D.C. And then Chuck found out that I was, had gone to Northrop University, so he was always very supportive of me and helpful. And some twenty years later, there's this golf club in Virginia called the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, and at that golf club, Chuck Manatt was a member and I was a member. He goes, "You know, Ron, you've come a long way, boy." [Laughs]

TI: Because you were, like, the first class of that law school?

RI: Right, yes. Well, it's interesting because we started with sixty-something, twenty-one of us graduated, twenty of us passed the bar, and so it was a pretty good result. So we still stay in touch with the small class.

TI: Who you were your classmates? I'm curious about this.

RI: Myself, my friend Ron Anderson, who was African American, and Art Longoria, who was Mexican American, we were part of the Minority Law Students Association, all three of us, that was it. But no, different people from different walks of life, they could be in real estate, you could work for the defense contractors, and a whole variety of people that wanted to go to law school but worked, and so they went at night. I worked downtown with one of my friends, Robert Nagata, who was a lawyer, and I worked as his law clerk for four years, and he gave me a lot of opportunities to learn about law. By the time I finished law school, I knew I didn't want be a lawyer.

TI: That's what I was going to ask the question, so going back to the question your friend asked, "Ron, do you really want to be a lawyer?"

RI: Well, I think the beautiful part about being a lawyer is you kind of understand the process, but being a lawyer, you have to deal with other people's problems. I don't know about you, I've got my own problems. Why do I want to deal with yours? And really, it is tough. More recently I've been doing more litigation, I used to never go to court, and my background is really licensing technology transfer agreements, which is really part of negotiating, which was, to me, a spinoff of civil rights. How do you negotiate an agreement legislatively to get something done? And more recently, and I'm thankful that people call and I refer most of the cases out, and some that really needs my help, I'll do it. I sometimes really don't know what I'm doing, so I'll go to the courtroom and I ask the clerk off to the side, "What do we do next?" But in my heart and my gut -- and this is the problem -- is that I grew up with this whole concept of yamato damashii, you just got to put out 120 percent, you just do everything, whatever it takes. I don't like to lose, I just do not like to lose. And I know -- I don't care what kind of case it is -- I'll think about it all the time. Now, if I was a real lawyer, economically, it would not pay off, because it doesn't work that way. I need to think in a different way, like, okay, I'm going to charge this person x, y, z number of dollars for every minute I think. You can't do that, I wasn't raised that way. Now, should I have been raised that way? Maybe. Next life, maybe, I don't know, but I'm pretty happy with the way I am now, and I just can't do that other people. Sometimes people get in a situation and sometimes you can help them out, if I can, I will. But I'll tell you, it takes a toll, because I don't like to lose and this was a lot of stress. My friends that were, one of my very good friends, Harvey Horikawa who probably litigated a hundred trials to end, went to high school with, passed away last year of a heart attack. He said, yeah, Ron, he doesn't like to lose either. So then you're consumed. So a good litigator, it's a tough life. Plus, going back to the question about being a lawyer, no. If I could be doing something else, yeah, I love to travel all over the inaka Japan and take photojournalism pictures, that's probably what I would like to do, catch these vignettes of life, that's probably more fun.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: Well, during this time, you were also, you mentioned earlier, getting your master's in public administration. So was that happening in parallel with law school, were you working, or how did that all work?

RI: I finished my coursework at UCLA and you still had to do a thesis, which, I don't know what a thesis is, some big word about some kind of report. But I said, "Okay, I'll work on the thesis, but I'm going to law school because I don't want to lose time." So basically, getting out of high school until I got out of law school, I was in school for ten years, and I was just ready to go out and see the real world, and that's when this whole opportunity with the JACL came about, and I said, "I got to try it."

TI: So tell me, how did this opportunity come up? So now you graduated from law school, you have your master's degree, and what happened?

RI: Well, one day, my friend Harvey and my other friend Leanne, we had a law office in Gardena. And I read the Pacific Citizen, Pacific Citizen said, "We're looking for a person with a law degree or political science background to be the Washington representative for the JACL." And I looked at it, and boastfully, I told my friends, "I'm going to get this job." I don't know what it paid, $19,000 a year, I forgot. Whatever it was, the money wasn't the big driving force. And so what happened is I sent in my resume, I get a call from this person named Carl Nobuyuki, who was executive director of the JACL in San Francisco. So Carl says, "Okay, I'm going to come down, and I need some references, and then we'll get together." Well, one of the references that I put down was a person named Roy Kato. Roy Kato was a city planner for the City of Gardena. When I was at UCLA in 1970, I was a planning intern at the City of Gardena, because I kind of liked urban planning. And so I remember Roy had sent me a letter and said, "Okay, you're appointed to be an intern, and we're going to pay you a dollar thirty-five an hour," I don't know, it was like ten hours a week or whatever it was. So anyway, eight years later, Carl calls up Roy Kato and says, "Roy, what do you know about Ron?" And I don't know what Roy said, but Roy basically said, "Give him a chance, I think you won't regret it." And so then Carl sat me down and said, "Okay, you're gonna have this job," and then right at that time, Mike Masaoka's mother had passed away, and there was a funeral just down the street from here, I think at Union Church. And at Mike Masaoka's mother's funeral is when I first met Mike. And Mike said, "Okay, you come out to Washington, D.C., I'll meet you, and then I'll see you again at the national convention in Salt Lake City."

TI: Because your position was going to be in D.C., so you'd be reporting directly to Mike because he was there?

RI: No. Mike was out of, he was not the Washington representative, but Mike has been in Washington since the war, and well respected and knowledgeable about things in Washington, D.C., especially for the Japanese American community, and so the JACL has a group of advisors that included Mike Masaoka, Kaz Oshiki, who worked for Congressman Kastenmeier, Pat Okura and Lily Okura, and Cherry Tsutsumida. So I was assigned five people to be my advisors as the JACL...

TI: Okay, but that was sort of unofficial, though, because they weren't necessarily staff of the JACL then?

RI: Oh, no, they were advisory.

TI: Okay, so in terms of D.C., they were setting up an office for you, and it was like a one-person office?

RI: Yes. It was a one-person office. Before me was Wayne Horiuchi, and I think Wayne is now in Utah, involved in government relations work. And the difficulty is, whenever there's a transition -- and Mike had this position of Washington representative for... he created the position.

TI: Right.

RI: And so as he transitioned out, it was always difficult to pass the baton. And so whenever you try to take over a position with someone that had, in such way, like Mike Masaoka, there will always be differences of opinion and difference in approach. And obviously if you didn't grow up in Washington, D.C., and understand that process, this was a learning curve. So there was probably two or three Washington representatives before me, after Mike, then there was two or three, and then I was there. And I just learned a lot through that process.

TI: Well, so what did the national director tell you in terms of what your job was going to be?

RI: Well, he indicated there's this civil rights, maintaining the presence of Japanese Americans involved in civil rights issues, and then, as an aside, he said, "Oh yeah, by the way, at their national convention in July in Salt Lake City, there's going to be an issue that's going to be coming up and it's going to be called redress." So I looked at him and I said, "Redress? Wrong, when you redress something there's a wrong," and said, "What wrong are you talking about?" And he says, "The internment." And that was really probably the first time I thought about, this is going to be the most challenging and interesting task for the JACL. Because even then, even at the convention, there was different approaches. And whether it's the Seattle approach, or I don't know if L.A. had an approach, but different people had views on what should be done, and you had people in Chicago and New York and others. And I think the further away you lived from Washington, D.C., the feeling, belief comes about that we know it's wrong, so they should just do this. And that is where the challenge became.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: So this is what you were walking into, but before we go into the redress, you mentioned earlier, in terms of housing and who you lived with, when you first went to D.C., talk about that.

RI: Well, it's interesting, when I got to D.C., you pay courtesy visits, and I visited Senator Inouye and Senator Matsunaga, and I visited Norm Mineta, Congressman Mineta from San Jose. And Norm is just a very friendly, warm person, and so first thing Norm says, his welcome to D.C., is, "Where are you staying?" I said, "Well, I'm thinking about buying a house and probably ready sometime in September," and he said, "Okay. Why don't you live with our family, and my wife and children will go back to San Jose during the summer, and so in the summer you and I will be roommates?" And for three months I had the wonderful opportunity of being introduced to Washington, D.C, by Congressman Mineta. I learned so much more, not necessarily listening to Norm, but watching him. Probably what most people don't know, by the time Norm Mineta comes home, it's probably ten, ten-thirty, eleven o'clock at night. Norm will sit in his chair, and he will sign letters, constituent letters or letters to people. He would cross out their name at the top, insert their name by hand, and then personally sign the letter. And this would go on until he falls asleep, like this, in the chair. People don't know that Norm works probably twenty-four hours a day. And I'm thinking to myself -- and then every weekend or every other weekend, flies back to San Jose from D.C. and back, he would take the red-eye, and it's tough. And the dedication and all the things that Norm has been able to accomplish in Washington, D.C., is based on his work ethic and representation. And so I learned so much in the sense that if I can even just do ten percent of what he does, I think I'll be okay.

TI: And so why do you think Norm made that offer to you, to have you live with him?

RI: Probably because he was lonely. [Laughs] No, no. I think Norm has, over the years, has often had invited people to stay at his home, that if you're there for two or three months, or if you're there for a conference or a special assignment, and he really, in a very warm, cordial way, helps you get introduced to Washington, D.C. And then along the way, what was really nice about the JACL in Washington, D.C., it's a very close-knit community, because you live in Maryland and Virginia and some in D.C., and we would have get-togethers, and there would be impromptu potluck get-togethers on a Saturday or Sunday, and Norm would come by, or different people would just come by, and maybe you have thirty, forty people, kids outside, parents, and they're talking and having a good time. And I don't think that can be replicated in the sense that today, everyone kind of has their own things that they can do, but getting together, I have people that went, were in law school at the time that would come by, and now were litigators and lawyers in different cities in the United States, that they always talk like, "God, that was a great time." I think we all look at simpler times as being great times, and that was a pretty simple time.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: And during this time, was there cache being, kind of, the Washington, D.C., representative of the JACL? I mean, you were looking for a job and you found this, did it sort of surprise you what the position meant? I'm just getting a sense of the prominence of the JACL during this time period.

RI: I don't know how people outside of Washington, D.C., look at the JACL Washington position, but I know that when I sat down with the Japanese American delegation, when I sit down with Senator Inouye, certainly with Councilman Mineta, they said, "By default, you represent Japanese Americans," and that's all they had to say. I mean, I know what they wanted to say, there's an add-on to that, like, "Don't mess up, don't do this, don't do something hazukashii." And I think they all conducted themselves in that same way knowing that the outside world looks at you and said, "Oh, okay, you represent Japanese Americans," or, "You represent Asian Americans, you need to do this better." And that was very, very helpful for me. And you know, it's a very Japanese way, most of us would, today, just tell you straight out, "You're not going to do this," "Don't do this." It doesn't work that way. Japanese Americans are very subtle, and it kind of seeps into your mind and it becomes part of your consciousness, and it's one of those things in which you said, "Wow, these people are pretty smart." They didn't have to beat me up, but I beat myself up because I knew I needed to do this better. And along those lines, I did have the, Carl Nobuyuki said, "Okay, you're going to have these five advisors," which was Mike Masaoka, Kaz Oshiki, Pat and Lily Okura, and Cherry Tsutsumida. Then separately, I had my own set of advisors that included Raymond Murakami, a very well-known dentist in D.C., David Nikaido, a patent lawyer, Hideki Yamamoto, who worked at the various aerospace companies, and Frank Sato. And we would get together, actually, we would get together once a week for dinner, and they would make time. And I think they felt sorry for me because I was this twenty-year-old kid, doesn't know what the heck he's doing in Washington, D.C., we need to help him out. I learned so much. They had spent so many hours of time sharing experiences or thoughts, and the official JACL advisor group always told me what not to do. My, the group that I picked, were always telling me that I could do. So there was a difference in approach, both were correct, I just needed to assimilate both of those and make it work.

It was very helpful because by having that, when Japan bashing was pretty big with import cars at that time, and I'd go on NPR or go onto television, we were getting bashed left and right. They were doing things on Saturday Night Live that was about Iacocca smashing a can or something, this is a Japanese car, this is an American car. So I get a call from San Francisco head office saying, "Well, we got to do something about that." So I write a letter to NBC, Saturday Night Live, they said, "Okay, come on up, let's talk about it." And from that emanated a whole series of discussions, and at that time I was able to sit down and talk with Tom Brokaw about how he looks at redress. So through this Japan bashing and how this gets resolved, because at that same time, Vincent...

TI: Chin?

RI: Chin was killed. And the JACL was part of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. Douglas Fraser was the United Auto Workers, AFL-CIO, United Auto Workers president. So we brought that issue up to him and said, "Look, we need to tone this down. And it's understandable, and that kind of is important, how you get to be able to at least address the issue. And it's really one of those things where if you get to the right people and explain it, they can quell things down in such a way that it doesn't bubble over and become a problem nationwide or selectively. And to this day, that's one of the things that this, bothered me the most because JACL, people always think about redress, but there were so many civil rights issues that were involved. And a lot of the work that we did, Mike Masaoka and others did in '64, in the Civil Rights Act on the March on Washington, there are pictures of them. Unlike today you just show up with regular old clothes, they all showed up in suits and ties on a hot summer day, walking. And doing that was very important because when redress came up, this whole issue of the Commission on Wartime Relocation, and the JACL, because of Mike Masaoka, JACL was part of the executive committee. And that executive committee would make the decision what issues to support. And redress, there was never a question that they would support the internment of Japanese American, how to right the wrong. And there were two people that were on that, one named Ron Brown. Ron Brown eventually became the Secretary of Commerce, but Ron Brown, at the time I met him, was the Senate Judiciary Committee chief counsel, he was appointed by Ted Kennedy. The other gentleman was the Urban League, his name was Vernon Jordan. And Vernon Jordan, we got along real well, and with Ron, and so if we needed the help, something involved with the Afro American community, or an issue that had broad interest, we would do it. And it was really a time in which those things that were developed -- certainly not by me alone, there were so many people over the years developed that, that when it became the right time for redress, that they were able to come together. I don't think there was any discussion not to do it, the only discussion was how to do it, and when to do the timing.

TI: And so just to make sure I understand, so what you're saying is you walked into the situation where, in many ways, these relationships have been created, in some ways, this base of information, and a network was pretty powerful in place. Who created that? I mean, was it just organic, or was there some thinking ahead of time, whether it's like Mike Masaoka? I'm just trying to get a sense of kind of behind the scenes, because it just doesn't happen, it has to be intentional.

RI: No. If you go backwards and look at it, Mike Masaoka was real key to the JACL, Japanese Americans being involved in the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. And as you go through this process, it brought labor groups together, it brought church groups together, B'nai B'rith, David Brody. I mean, if I went through the list and saw the letterhead, even I'm kind of surprised. Recently this person, the United Negro Women's president Dorothea Height, H-E-I-G-H-T, she passed away probably about a hundred years old. And I remember every time I'd go to a meeting, she was just so kind, so pleasant to me, and she said, "You know what happened to Japanese Americans should have never happened." But without learning about other people's struggles and other people's things that they had to endure, were disheartening for you, and therefore you're able to take up their cause even stronger. And so much of that was late. I don't think people like Mike Masaoka gets enough credit for doing that. There's a lot of different views in terms of how legislation happens, but I think people have to understand there's probably two things about legislation. One, rule number one of politics is that politicians want to be elected. Rule number two is they want to get reelected. If you can figure those two things out, you can pass anything. Why was there so much resistance to Japanese Americans internment in the years before? If you voted for it, you probably would not get reelected to your office if you're a councilman or senator. Why did they decide that it's important to look at this issue from the standpoint, where is our legal foundation for it? And that's why this whole discussion later, we can talk about it, the creation of the Commission on Wartime Relocation developed.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: Yeah, so any other thoughts in terms of... I just want to get a sense of the environment you're walking into, then we'll kind of go forward. But I was just thinking of... because you walked into, I think, a pretty historic moment in many ways in terms of the Japanese American, the Nikkei congressmen that were in place, the network that you just sort of described in terms of, in some ways, there was this coalition ready to be formed to be behind the redress movement. And in some ways, this emerging activist groups in places like Seattle and the Bay Area and elsewhere, that was emerging about this time, and you were kind of being dropped right into it, is what I saw. Because looking at your background, it wasn't like you had planned this, you had said, "Here's a job, I'm going to go take this," didn't really recognize, before, what was happening, and I'm just trying to... is there anything else that kind of strikes you, whether serendipity or, this was here that was just amazing?

RI: Well, I think... well, this is my feeling. When I went to school and I decided to become a lawyer, I don't know if you remember a cartoon series called Crusader Rabbit, you're always going out there, you're trying to, it's like chasing the windmills. It always appealed to me, always appealed to me. I didn't know this JACL job was going to be one of those things in which you're "Crusader Rabbit," but I did enjoy the part about civil rights, and I will fight you, I will die on it. It's just one of those things, because I don't like to lose on those things. And I found out later on there's no level playing field, there is no level table, and a lot of times things are just stacked against you, you just have to try harder, work harder, and work smarter. But this whole aspect of it, when you think about it, and it didn't really dawn on me 'til I saw that movie by Janice Tanaka about Right of Passage, and Brooke Shields says, oh, well, there was this "very green" Washington representative, Ron Ikejiri. So I'm thinking about it, okay, I was twenty-eight years old, I think at the time I saw it, I was sixty-eight. I says, "Gosh, I wish I was green again." But the whole part --

TI: Say that again. You wish you were green again, because why?

RI: Well, because if I know now, what I know now, if I could have used it when I was twenty-eight, a lot of things would be different. You would probably approach things differently, because it's a learning process. But in terms of timing, and I think if you look at it, redress will never pass today, in today's environment, it won't happen. It barely happened during the Reagan administration. But at that time, there was a lot of things that came together of why Reagan ended up being supportive of it. But if you look at history and how all of it came about, probably in 1948 when they had the Claims Act, most people said, "That was it." And the Walter-McCarran and the 1950 Immigration, well, that's probably it. But there was always this festering thing, how do we right this wrong? And I think -- and let me digress a little bit -- in 1980, I was on this Asian Pacific American advisory committee for the Department of Commerce for the 1980 census. So after they did the count, they had a meeting and they explained two things that just struck me. One, Japanese Americans, I believe at that time had a seventy-nine percent male outmarriage outside the Japanese American community. So that told me that the Japanese community would change dramatically because we're not going to marry other Japanese Americans. Maybe in Hawaii there's probably a better chance, maybe, but not certainly on, outside of Hawaii.

Number two -- and this part I cried -- I'm sitting in the audience, and it's probably a couple hundred people. And the director says, "The highest educational attainment of all males in the United States is Japanese Americans." I cried because Issei, Nisei, kodomo no tame ni, "for the good of the children." They sacrificed their lives, maybe a better life for themselves, by putting their resources into the education of their children. As it took one or two generations, but it paid off. So if you look at Yonsei and Gosei, other than them not knowing that there really is a glass ceiling, they can do anything, they just have to fight harder and break through it. So those things struck me as just being real positive parts, and a lot of that has to do with the Issei and Nisei, and it really goes back to redress. And because Japanese Americans became more educated, so to speak, we figured out what happened with EO 9066 was just plain wrong. There's no way to justify it. And when this issue was first brought up, I don't think Senator Inouye, Senator Matsunaga, Congressman Mineta, had run for office, okay, we're going to deal with redress, I don't think that was an issue at that time. Something maybe in the mind of how does this get resolved, but it was not forefront. In our early meetings -- this is before Congressman Bob Matsui was elected -- we had meetings. And the discussion went on, well, we have to figure out how to approach this. And then what happened, I'm not sure exactly what year Senator Hayakawa was elected senator.

TI: About...

RI: I think it's about that time, because I remember after I became Washington representative, I needed to go make a courtesy visit, and he represents California. So I went to Senator Hayakawa's office and met with him, said, "Okay, Ron, we're going to take a picture together." So we took a picture, shoots the picture, and then all of a sudden the staffperson says, "I'm sorry, we've got to take another picture." I said, "Why?" He says, "The Senator's zipper was down." And I said, "No, I want that first picture." [Laughs] Needless to say, that picture was deleted. But the Senator, he was very cordial. Unfortunately, as a senator, he's probably rated, out of one hundred senators, one hundredth most powerful senator. But nonetheless, later on, after Matsui, Congressman Matsui is elected, and there was that meeting for Nikkei congressional members, there was a discussion, and the discussion was that...

TI: I'm sorry, and did this include Hayakawa?

RI: No. The discussion was that Senator Inouye says, "Senator Matsunaga and I are not going to argue with Senator Hayakawa on the redress issue on the full U.S. Senate. This issue would be dead. Because if other senators look at it and say, 'You three that happen to be of Japanese American origin, or Japanese Canadian origin, represent Japanese Americans, cannot agree, why do we need to stick our necks out to support legislation like this?' So you folks figure it out." So at that time, there was a discussion that said, okay, all four, Senator Inouye, Senator Matsunaga, Congressmen Mineta and Matsui, will pay a courtesy visit to Senator Hayakawa and ask him to support redress.


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

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: Let's pick it back up. We were talking about a meeting of the four congressmen, the two senators and two congressmen, and they were talking about the next step. And one of the issues is Senator S.I. Hayakawa, who has come out publicly against redress. I think at one point -- and I think this was even before you started your job in D.C. -- he said this is this crazy idea by these Sanseis and it's not a good idea, so he's already come out and said this. And so the four others, you were just getting to it, were going to approach him to see if he could support redress.

RI: It's an interesting dynamic. Well, you have Senator Inouye, Senator Matsunaga are sitting on one side, you have Congressman Mineta and Congressman Matsui. Inouye and Matsunaga are from Hawaii, Mineta and Matsui are from California. Senator Inouye said, "We need to have Senator Hayakawa on our side," and because Senator Hayakawa represented California, by definition, we need the inclusion of Congressmen Mineta and Matsui to approach the senator. So what happened was that they asked me to set up a meeting. I set up a meeting with Senator Hayakawa, and I indicated to him that, "Senator Matsunaga, Senator Inouye, Congressmen Mineta and Matsui would like to come by and discuss the redress, prospective redress legislation and your sponsorship." So the date and time was set, it's probably like one o'clock in the afternoon, and this is, in Washington, everything is protocol, it's based on seniority. And the most senior person obviously would be Senator Inouye and Senator Matsunaga, Congressmen Mineta and Matsui. But they said, "We will visit Senator Hayakawa in his office," which, in a lot of ways is somewhat unprecedented. Well, prior to the meeting, I knew Congressman Mineta and Congressman Matsui would not be at the meeting, but I decided that I understand.

TI: Because they refused to go to his office?

RI: Well, no, I don't think they refused to go to the office, because Senator Hayakawa was a very polarizing personality statements, probably much like President Trump today. And there was probably no net benefit in the sense of making a positive inroad, but nonetheless, we decided we'll go forward with the meeting. And we held the meeting and the meeting started.

TI: And this is the three senators and you?

RI: Yes, three senators and myself and one of Senator's Inouye's staffperson and the chief of staff, whose name I know, but I won't pronounce, at Senator Hayakawa's office. So we're in Senator Hayakawa's private office in his room, Senate office, and discussion goes on. Senator Inouye looks at his watch, "Well, I'm sure they'll be coming soon," so we just talked generally about different things. And if you're from California, you receive a lot of fruits and vegetables and nuts and things like that from the agricultural community and they send it to Washington, D.C., and then they passed it out to staff. So Senator Hayakawa had a whole three or four bags of prunes. And he looks at Senator Inouye and says, "Hey, Danny, you want some prunes?" So Senator Inouye looked at it and says, "Sam, I don't need prunes right now. I'm not that old." [Laughs] Everyone started laughing. So, you know, we kind of talked a little bit, another ten minutes goes by, and Senator Inouye's staffperson gets up, she walks out, comes back five minutes later, and she says, "There's a vote on the House floor right now, and I do not believe that Congressmen Mineta and Matsui are going to be able to come in time for this meeting. Perhaps we should proceed."

TI: So this was just a little white lie just to...

RI: I don't know if it was a white lie, it's just the way things evolved. And as a result, Senator Inouye starts talking, "And we'd like to have your support, Sam, on redress." Then Senator Hayakawa's chief of staff, I believe his name was Pratt, he came from the Hoover Institute, starts talking. I don't know about you, but I would never interrupt Senator Inouye under any condition. Senator Inouye looked at him, looked toward Senator Hayakawa and continued talking. And Senator Matsunaga smiled at him and says, "Sam, we need your help on this one. It's good for the community, and it's good for your people in California. Right away, Senator Hayakawa says, "Okay, I'll support it." And to be able to defuse the situation where redress would have gotten nowhere if Hayakawa would have opposed it on the floor of the Senate. It would be mission impossible.

TI: And just because you were there, the sense I got when you told this story, so it was Matsunaga stepping in at that moment was really key.

RI: Well, I don't know, I think because when legislators work together and they understand how human interaction is effective. And I think Senator Hayakawa, other than the things that he wanted to say and believe in, like most people that are elected, they want to do what's right. And I believe at that time, Senator Hayakawa looked at the whole viewpoint, not about being elected or reelected, but doing what's right. And he made that decision through the assistance and help, thoughts of Senator Inouye and Senator Matsunaga. You know, one of the greatest quotes of Senator Hayakawa was when this whole issue about returning the Panama Canal, it was in the Carter administration, backed the Panamanians. And the Senate has to vote on it because it's a treaty. Senator Hayakawa states out and says, "You know, I don't know why we have to return the Panama Canal back to the Panamanian people, we stole it fair and square." [Laughs] I love that quote because it is so, historically it's true, but it's said in such a way that it captures that whole idea of American foreign policy. And so at that time, I said, okay, we need Senator Hayakawa, through staff or others, to get him in a position that, at the right time... because so many of these statements, like many times you make a statement, it's just off the cuff. If we can have his staffpeople and the senators think in this direction in support of redress, you'll have an easier road to go, especially in the Senate. And so we were very, very fortunate. One of the things, too, people miss, is that Senator Inouye at that time was Secretary of the Senate, a very high position. And Sparky Matsunaga was one of the majority whips, in other words, the majority leader telling people that we needed to support the legislation. So where else in American history would you have those top three to five positions in the U.S. Senate held by...

TI: By Nikkei.

RI: ...Japanese Americans? And so it's a real honor. That's why... digressing for a moment, when you think about it, probably one of the highest moments for Senator Inouye was when General Eric Shinseki became the Chief of Staff, right? And this is the same army that Senator Inouye served in. And to see someone like General Shinseki to rise to that position during this timeframe was really something. Digressing backwards a little bit to that meeting with Senator Hayakawa, bottom line point that I think as everyone was leaving is that Senator Hayakawa, I don't think was looking for a legacy, but I think he was looking at, what is the right thing to do. I'm very happy to see that he was making that transition, forget the political aspects of the issue, but what's the right thing to do? And as we were walking out the door, down the corridors of the Senate with Senator Inouye and Senator Matsunaga and staffpeople, Senator Inouye said, "One of the strengths of our country is maybe, just maybe, fifty years after the fact, this country's strong enough to right a wrong." And that's huge. I mean, I don't think there's any country in the world today that can go back, has the courage, the confidence in its future, that can say, "We did something wrong, we're going to right it the best way we can, and we're going to move forward." To this day -- and I'm not going to get involved with foreign policy -- but Japan has a very, very difficult time of convincing other people of the things that they're, apologized for during World War II, and that's why you continue to have this friction. If you think about it, too, the greatness of the United States, if you want your country to grow in a war, be beaten by the United States. Germany loses World War II, what happens? The United States rebuilds Germany, a major competitor of the United States. The U.S. beats Japan, makes Japan our strongest ally, probably in the world, and rebuilds the country. Now, what other countries are going to do that? And this is a very true story. Part of the role of the Japanese American Citizens League was to interface often with the embassy of Japan on cultural issues and other kinds of issues. And what happened, they would ask questions about import bashing and the rest. And so one of the good questions that came up is that can Japan do a better job at improving relations with their neighbors, other countries, says, very, very difficult. Japanese, to get to that point, you have to have a consensus, and says, "We don't have that strong consensus yet." And this is forty years ago, hopefully they're making progress.

TI: Yeah. So, Ron, I want to go back to that meeting, because this is a pretty important meeting. Going into the meeting, what did you think the outcome was going to be? Did you guys have a sense that he would...

RI: No. The sense that I had is that Senator Inouye and Senator Matsunaga wanted to turn over every stone. They don't want to assume... I'm sure, if they had to, they would have spoken on the floor of the Senate, and they would probably have enough votes to push it through. But at that time, it was a more collegial atmosphere and they didn't want to do that. So maybe it was "go for broke."

TI: So was this a... so as you're walking down that hallway after the meeting, were they surprised? Did they talk about, oh my gosh... and it's not clear whether or not, because I never think of him coming, in terms of supporting redress, but more kind of standing down in his opposition. He didn't bash it. But one, going back to, as you're walking down the hallway, what was the sense, and how was this communicated to Matsui and Mineta? Because I'm sure they were shocked or surprised.

RI: Well, one, there was no elation. And walking down the hallway, probably, there was more thankfulness, for lack of better words, "Honto ni arigatai," very, very thankful of the result. I don't think they expected Senator Hayakawa to be as supportive or have more of a stringent no. And to their credit, I really believe it has a long, long way to go, is that they were willing to visit him at his office. It's something else if they said, "Sam, come on to our office, we want to talk to you," like, "You come here." These two were giants of the Senate, they already had the respect of their colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and they were willing to go to the junior senator from California and sit down and ask him, "for your support." And so much of that is interpersonal relationships. I know that, I remember one time sitting in the gallery in the Senate, and I was watching Senator Inouye, and he defeated a Republican bill against his very, very good friend Senator Ted Stevens from Alaska. Right after the vote, the vote was done, Senator Stevens lost. He goes up to Senator Stevens, and I could tell, says, "I'm sorry, Ted, we couldn't support you on this one, we'll try to support you on the next one." Well, Senator Ted Stevens and Senator Inouye were brothers. I mean, what Republican senator would go to Hawaii and campaign for a Democratic senator? And what Democratic senator would go to Alaska and campaign for a Republican for Senate? Those two probably had so much power, they represented the least amount of people in the whole United States, but probably represented over five or sixty percent of the entire power in terms of budget and appropriations ability. And that's relationship.

TI: Yeah. No, and that story you told, I think, demonstrated that in terms of how they operated. And what we're doing here is we're actually doing some of the behind the scenes stuff that most people don't know about. Because I wasn't aware of this meeting, and I know even after this meeting later, the community kept bashing Hayakawa, right? They viewed him as the enemy, as an obstacle to this. Was there any efforts by you or the JACL to try to neutralize some of the negative outcries against Hayakawa, given his willingness to kind of go along with redress?

RI: Well, I believe that we did share as much information as we could with staff, and saying, "These are policy position papers. We feel certain ways, we're not going to tell against you." One of the things you have to learn, and Senator Inouye always reminded me of this, never burn a bridge. You burn a bridge, one day you're going to have to go over that bridge and you're not going to make it because you burned it. So it was very, very important to maintain that relationship. And so ever since that time, certainly with their staff, even if they wanted to be caustic against this -- because so much in politics is really jealousy. If you get off the jealousy and go into the real basis of why you want to have a certain policy and you agree with it, then you can go with it. But so much of the, particularly his staff, because Senator Hayakawa was not... to me, a U.S. Senator is a tremendous achievement. To be an effective Senator is difficult because it's all staffing. And a lot of the staff was young, and a lot of his staff had their own thoughts and ways that were different from the Senator's, but they figured they could control them or use them. And so that's typical of a lot of the congressmen's offices. But at that time, right place, right time. I don't think... I don't think, but for Senator Inouye and Matsunaga, and also including Congressmen Mineta and Matsui... of course, who weren't able to be there at that time. Because of maybe cultural, they said, "We're going to go and pay our respects to Senator Hayakawa and see if we can get his support." And to his credit, he gave it. The difficulty, there are certain things that you just.. it's not like it's not transparent, but certain things you just... because really this is probably the only time recorded that I ever had a discussion regarding this. And it's a key point. It was like a lot of things in life, the last man standing is going to be able to write history the way they write it, that's what it comes down to.

TI: Well, and there's very few people who were in your position.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

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.

<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.

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: So let's talk about the Larry King deal, and how that came about, and what the purpose was and the aftermath of that.

RI: Well, it's interesting. We got a call from Mutual Broadcasting, who I didn't know who Mutual Broadcasting was, but then I found out it was Larry King. This was before Larry King Live on television. And he had a nationally syndicated radio program, on the radio, on the air, and it usually started at, like, eleven or twelve o'clock at night at ran 'til three or four in the morning, maybe five in the morning.

TI: And how popular was this show then?

RI: Very popular. If you go online and look, I can't tell you how many millions of people listened to it across the United States. And so the good thing about it is that you're not live. So Dan Lungren and I showed up in golf shirts, and Larry King was in a t-shirt, and we're sitting around, you've got your headphones on, you're talking. And people would call in and ask questions. And so then if I thought it was a better answer for me to answer, I would point to me and I'll answer it. And if I thought it was a better answer for Congressman Lungren to answer it, then he would answer it. And if it was a touch question, I said, "Okay, who wants to take it?" and we'd look and we'd do it. I don't think it was a love fest, but I think it was mutually beneficial in the sense that we respected each other's position, even though we disagreed. But it was very, very clear to me, Larry King was like 200 percent behind the Japanese American redress effort, and I think that's why this issue came up. And in a lot of ways, I didn't know the broad reach of this program, but the next day, a Nisei farmer from the San Joaquin Valley called me in the JACL office in Washington, D.C., says, "You know, I was driving around, and I get home, and I'm listening to you, I stayed up all night listening to you." I said, "Good, I'm really glad we're getting this issue out to the American people."

And if you look at it, and I don't think things have changed that much in America, but if you fly from coast to coast, you'll never see what really makes America, and that's the Midwest. It's the farms, there's little communities, it's these little villages and all these other things, this is what makes up America. And certainly that is the group that group that came out and voted for Trump, so you cannot discount their importance. And because that is part of what makes this so diverse of a country, but also probably our core values. And that was just very, very helpful. And ever since then... it was helpful in a couple ways. One, I think it diffused a lot of the anti, the animosity or the disagreement that we had with Congressman Lungren, that we supported after the commission was created that he be appointed to the commission? Probably not. Because we knew where he was going to come from, but then we knew that if we get enough people that would be even handed or a little more toward us, it would be fine. And as a result, it worked out. The most important part, I don't think anyone has come out and attacked the commission findings in and of itself, I mean, that part is very, very clear. So that was very helpful to creating this foundation for the creation of that commission.

TI: So Larry King, that must have been pretty heady stuff for you, because you're still in your late twenties, you're on...

RI: Yeah, I was probably around thirty years old.

TI: Thirty years old, you're on with Larry King and debating a Congressman, U.S. Congressman.

RI: One, I didn't know who Larry King was, so I wasn't... after I found out, I said, "Oh, I better sharpen up here." But the other part about it is that I knew Congressman Lungren, and I told him before we went in -- and I do this all the time, even now when I'm with people and we're doing the interview, and we're going to be on television or otherwise have a debate -- I say, "This is where we are. I will respect your position. I may not agree with every part, but I want you to serve me with the same." He said, "That's fine." I think if you go forward with that, it's good, because it helps. The more times you have this ability to share an idea, after a while the seeds of it start to grow, perhaps, and in a very positive way. And I believe that it was probably one of those things that help start at least to calm down the extremism to say that we're not going to even have a commission. So that's a plus. You know, just like going on National Public Radio or other things like that, community event, you know, with the JACL, I think at that time we had maybe, I want to say thirty-five chapters throughout the United States, and it sounds great because we have a national organization. In fact, it's the only national organization for Japanese Americans, and that's why the Nikkei members of Congress said, "Well, we're going to have to utilize network, and that network is going to be pursued with the JACL. And then all other groups would branch into it, and we would create this movement to go forward.

And you have to understand, if you go across from the White House, it's called Lafayette Park. Lafayette Park was the statue of a man on a horse, and he's the one that designed Washington, D.C., the layout for Washington, D.C. In Lafayette Park, you don't see a statue of a committee, you see one person. The difficulty is this. Is that in legislation, you cannot have a committee. You really have to have one person that's pushing forward with an issue. You have a committee to give you ideas and input, but you got to have one person, one group to push it forward. And so if you... you have to have people, and maybe in the end on the Senate side, maybe it was Senator Matsunaga that said, "Okay, this is what we're going to do, this is how we're going to do it." And, you know, with the support, with the other Senators, certainly Senator Inouye, Senator Ted Stevens, Alan Simpson, and that whole dialogue, that whole story between Congressman Mineta and Senator Simpson, is that luck? Is that fate? That is something beyond...

TI: Did Norm talk about that in those early days? His relationship with Senator Simpson.

RI: He talked about it, but he talked not in the way that you see it today, and not in the way that you saw it on CBS morning program. I mean, how wonderful is that to have that experience? So in so many ways, the Japanese American community, even though the hardships of internment, there were a lot of blessings, that came out from that. And it's really up to not only Sansei, we're kind of, about done, but the Yonsei, Gosei, and Rokusei and how they carry it forward with that? That's huge. And I think that's what this is all about. I never thought about it. And when I went to Washington, D.C., in 1978, that I'd even be talking about the importance of redress forty years later. Not until President Trump started talking about imprisoning Muslims and all these other kind of factors involved, that I said, gee, the ugly head of racism, the ugly head of this kind of thinking just pops right up.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: So you hear a lot of the... or when you see things happening today, it's almost like what I�m hearing is that a lot of things you were saying forty years ago are kind of coming back up in terms of the racism, these vulnerable communities that are somehow targeted and persecuted.

RI: I think in a lot of ways, the Japanese American community, when redress came about, when redress legislation was signed into law, it became a marker for people saying, "Okay, this is what happened, let's make sure it doesn't happen again." And then, you look at it fortuitously, Secretary Norman Mineta, Secretary of the Department of Transportation, 9/11, how all of those things came about, and how President Bush said, "We're not going to allow it to happen to others that happen to others, what happened to Norm Mineta." And to have the President of the United States know that? Now, if this President that we have now could recite that, I think all of us would sleep a little better at night, but we don't have that. See, one of the aspects that we're very, very fortunate, I go back, Norm would not be Secretary of Transportation, or Secretary of Commerce, but for those late nights that he would be writing to his constituents at his home, the thank you letters, and then falling asleep in the chair. I'm thankful to be able to be there to watch him, to learn from him, and not only the United States, but certainly the community is so blessed to have that.

TI: Going back to your role, so I'm thinking, so you were a spokesperson, you were on the Larry King show. So during this time, were you doing more and more of that? Were you kind of the face of the JACL, of the Japanese American community, vis-a-vis redress?

RI: No. I think, maybe in Washington, D.C., with civil rights groups or the New York Times or different media outlets, we didn't have online or internet at that time. But I left most of the public relations work to people like John Tateishi, I'd leave it to Min Yasui, others that were probably in a better position, much better commanding and speaking on the issue. I spent a lot of time at the local communities, whether it's in California or Seabrook, New Jersey, or different places in the United States. I remember going up to Burlington, Vermont, or to Middleton or different places in the Northeast, to talk about redress to college students. It's interesting because when I was at UCLA, it was in the late '60s, and I kind of discounted it at that time, but college students really have a voice. It's a time when you could think about things you want, life to be better, better country, better place to live. And so going there and listening to these young people -- I guess they're all now fifty or sixty years old -- but I think that's a very critical part because if JACL is in twenty-five states, and we're talking about little chapters, we're not talking about, probably most of our chapters are in California, well, you have a whole United States to vote for. You have four hundred thirty-five people on the House side. One thing about, as we go along, there was no question in my mind that Senator Inouye was going to easily go ahead and introduce this bill. And when he had the Pribilof Islands, the Aleutian Islands, people included, and so you had Senator Stevens in there and then you had people, you had Alan Simpson on there, I'm thinking, that's my first inkling when I found out about Norm and Alan Simpson, Senator Simpson, is that what does Wyoming have, other than Heart Mountain, with the redress. And so without knowing these things, in the House and Senate side, these things come about. Now, I remember when Norm Mineta decided to go get some co-sponsors for the commission, and I believe, if I remember correctly, Norm was able to have 235 co-sponsors. Well, you need half of 435, so 217, 218, 218 votes to pass any legislation in the House. And he had 235 co-sponsors, people that said they would vote for this. And the person that introduced the bill was Majority Leader Jim Wright. And that was really key. This was just for the commission, we're not talking about the redress bill later on, this is the commission. And then when the co-sponsor list came out and I got a copy of the bill, ran it over to Senator Inouye's office, and he says one thing to me, he says, "Formidable." And then I know he sent a letter to Norm with the same words, and I think in a lot ways, and it's kind of comical, I wish I could have videotaped it, is that when the four Nikkei members of Congress were all sitting together at the table, it wasn't poker, but you're sitting there and you're listening and go, well, Senator Inouye says, "Well, Sparky and I could get this through this commission, we can get it through the Senate. We'll have to do something with Senator Hayakawa, but I think we can get it through the Senate." Then he kind of turns his head and looks at Norm and says, "How about you?" [Laughs] And then I felt for Norm, I felt for Norm. And didn't want to look at Congressman Matsui because Bob was just elected, okay, Bob needs to get reelected. He's thinking, oh, my gosh. And so then Norm looks down and says, "Okay, gambarimasu," we'll do our best. And so then when Norm was able to get over 235 co-sponsors, I think it was his way of telling Senator Inouye, "Okay."

TI: "I called your..."

RI: "I call you and I raise you one," or something. No, but to have that interplay, to have that camaraderie, collegial atmosphere on an important legislation like this, it's personal relationships.

TI: And especially when you said earlier, politicians, they're... get elected or get reelected, they were doing something for the overall Japanese American community nationally, it wasn't for San Jose or Honolulu, this was something that they were going beyond what they had to do in terms of getting reelected, that was special.

RI: That's why, at a tense moment, when you see things like that happen, that's why I'll tell everyone, personal relationships were everything.

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

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: I want to get to the White House and doing this, but before doing that, anything else in terms of the media that you want to talk about or Congress?

RI: Well, in terms of media, back in that time in the late '70s, media was not like the media that you have today. Media was more of a situation where they spent time learning more about the historical background, and reciting it in such a way that it is politically, historically correct. Today, people take a lot of liberty and just slapping something out there. It's like al dente, you slap it against the wall and it sticks, it sticks, and we're going to roll with it, and it's really sloppy. And, to me, it's not journalism and it's not correct, and maybe it's the way of the times right now, but it's not a way to run a democracy, it's not a way to educate public people on opinions. And so, too often, now versus then and what I liked and enjoyed about the media then, we spent hours talking about it. You wouldn't just have lunch, you'd have a lunch and have a cup of coffee afterwards, said, "What do you think about this?" "How about that?" "How would this play out?" and the rest. And so there was a lot of thought into, not devious thought, but thought about how would this play? And they're always looking for balance. You didn't need CNN, MSNBC on one side, and Fox News on the other, the one reporter would report on both sides, and that, to me, was honest, fair journalism. And that, at that time, was what we received. So if you get a hard question from the Washington Post or the New York Times or something from the San Jose Mercury, the San Jose Mercury, "What can we say about Norm Mineta that will not make him look good?" I said, "Well, you called the wrong person, you got to call the San Francisco office or something." The things that... it's just one of those things where they want to find out where you can make someone look bad.

TI: So why would San Jose do that? I mean, Norm was there.

RI: Doesn't matter, why does the L.A. Times go after... it's just, that is just the way journalism is.

TI: Sells newspapers.

RI: Sure. And it's critical. But you know, it's just like this, the Sacramento Bee wants to know how Congressman Matsui's doing on certain things, I said, "Oh, good question," she calls chief of staff, because I don't know. So much of politics really, when I would go to a congressional office, and they would say, "Oh, Bob talked to me on the floor the other day that you might be coming by, so please talk to the staffperson," they'll brief me on it, that's fine. All you want to do is people have open doors. And I'll tell you, Congressman Mineta, of all of the members of Congress that I know, is the only one that opens doors and holds the door open for you. Many people in politics open the door, they go through it, and they make sure it's shut and no one else is getting through. Congressman Mineta never had a problem in making as many people, and I'm not talking about the Nikkei community, I'm talking about just people, go through the door. He has opened doors and careers and opportunities for people that we will never know. And that, to me, is why there's just an abiding support for Norm, and there always was for Sparky and Dan. They just did things, not because of themselves -- there's not one thing, I don't think Norm, if Norm sat down, sitting in a tent with Senator Alan Simpson at the time at Heart Mountain. Said, "Well, somebody I'm going to be a Congressman, and someday I'm going to become Secretary of Commerce and Secretary of Transportation," I don't think he'd ever... you don't dream those things. And so we're just fortunate.

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

<Begin Segment 20>

TI: Before we to go the White House, there's something that I also read, and I forget about this in terms of national politics in the White House. They're thinking of Japan, also, the Japanese government, and perhaps perceptions they may have in terms of this issue with the Japanese American community. Did JACL, did you and others in JACL, or people you talked with, whether in Congress, ever discuss what viewpoints Japan might have on redress or how that might play out in terms of any politics? I was just curious because I was reading Jack Svahn's book, and how he said, internally, they were kind of, people against redress were spinning it that, "Well, if we do redress, it might piss off the Japanese government." Did that ever come up?

RI: From my standpoint, from my interaction with the Japanese press, because with the National Press Office, Asahi Shimbun, Yomiuri Shimbun, Mainichi, whatever, they would come in and we would talk. And they were just amazed that Japanese Americans can raise an issue like this and bring it to the forefront of the American politics and have coverage. And so, I think NHK and other programs, we had a series of discussions and interviews and walkthroughs. I remember one time they were following us through the Congress as we went from office to office and tried to get support. And I think, at that time, for Japanese to see the Americans of Japanese ancestry were doing this, and they're doing this all because they were bombed by Japan during World War II.

TI: Right. So that gets a little complicated, right? That's a little complex.

RI: Well, what I like about it is this. Whenever I had visitors from Japan, whether Japanese businesspeople or Japanese politicians or otherwise, at the Smithsonian Institution at the time, they had the...

TI: More Perfect Union?

RI: Yes, and then they had the internment, the barracks. Of course, they were much nicer than anything that would have been in Heart Mountain or Manzanar or anywhere else. And I would show them this, I wouldn't say too much, they understood. And themselves, they're not there to defend Pearl Harbor, they're not defending the judgment of the Japanese Imperial Army or anyone else, but they had to understand that the welcomeness that they enjoy today in America, or they enjoy, after World War II, I can get into it later, but why did Honda, Nissan and Toyota all end up really in the South Bay and Gardena in those areas, is because they found a community that has already been accepted by the American people, Japanese Americans. They worked hard, they keep their nose clean, they raised their children here, and they have all this infrastructure so they were able to come in and they would be successful. Otherwise there would have been Japan-bashing from the get-go, from the very beginning. And so that was alleviated, mitigated in large form. But from a Japanese government, very interesting perspective on Japanese government. The JACL had a number of meetings maybe one every three months with the embassy of Japan, different ministries, whether it's the Educational Ministry, Finance Ministry, Cultural, whatever it may be, to see how we could do more cultural exchanges. I'm sure Japan looked at Japanese Americans as a way in which they can have a greater acceptance.

And so we would have these meetings, and I remember one year we were up in New York City, and we were at the Ambassador Asao, I think he was Ambassador to the United Nations for Japan. And we're there after dinner at his residence, and Frank Sato was there. A couple other Nisei were there, I was the only Sansei. And so at that time they were talking about the U.S.-Japan security agreement where in the event Japan's attacked, America will defend Japan, same thing that we have in effect today. So they'd go around the room, they asked every one of the Nisei what they think about that agreement. And so, you know, typical Nisei, "Oh, good idea, very important." They get to me, well, I was twenty-eight, twenty-nine years old, so then I said, "Well, from my perspective, every country should be able to defend itself." And I said, my example is this, and I said it in partly Japanese, like, "Moshi, in the event that there is a ballistic missile attack from Russia to Tokyo, you have thirty seconds to a minute to decide whether or not you're going to defend yourself." �At that time, Russia was going to attack Washington, D.C, probably we got twenty minutes to decide what we're going to do. I'm the President of United States. By the time I get the message that you've been attacked, Japan is gone. That decision is over. And if I'm President of the United States, I'm going to worry about the United States first, not Japan first. So I said, "I believe every country, every kuni has a responsibility to protect itself." And so I remember the other Nisei looking at me and going... it was just a statement, it's not a big deal. Well, two days later, the counselor for foreign affairs from the embassy of Japan said, "Oh, Ron, let's go to lunch." We go to lunch, he said, "Guess what?" I said, "What?" "Yesterday your name came up at the meeting in Tokyo," I said, "Why?" He says, "You said something in New York City, didn't you?" "I don't know, we all said something." He says, "No, you said that Japan should protect itself, should have primary responsibility to protect itself," and I go, "Oh, yeah, yeah, I said that." He said, "You know something? We all agreed with you, but we can't say that publicly," because have to have this U.S.-Japan security group. But I think that still holds true today, every country needs to be able to defend itself.

TI: Now if you had this discussion with Senator Inouye, he would disagree with you, though, right? I'm mean, I've had this conversation with him and he is a very strong proponent of the agreement.

RI: Well, without a doubt, but did you know the strongest supporter the Jewish state of Israel? Senator Inouye. I asked him why, "Why are you so adamantly in support of Israel?" He said, "Because if we don't protect them, no one else will." He said, "It's that simple, they have to be protected." And so I think in many ways, similarly with Japan, he says, feels the same way.

TI: But for him, too, I think it's more this idea of partnerships, too, right? To not be so... by having these alliances, I think he would say you also have to think about your partner, you have to kind of work things out, and that, he says that process is a good thing, too.

RI: Well, I think in a more peaceful time, when you'd have a reflective time, it's good. When you have times like we have now where there's a lot of, great deal of uncertainty, it's not predictable. I see our, along that line, the national international alliance is realigning, and either going more on their own and making other kinds of alliances. But hopefully this situation that we are currently facing in the United States resolves itself in the next couple of years and we're able to move forward on a different path. But, to me, it's, people like Senator Inouye, it's invaluable. If he were here today in the Senate, things would, I think he would be a strong voice.

TI: Yeah, I agree.

RI: Because at a certain point in time, it's not that you could say what you want to say, but you have the respect to say what you want to say, and that's what's critical.

TI: I agree.

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

<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.

<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.

<Begin Segment 23>

TI: Well, and so from a community standpoint, when I think about, as you're talking and you know what happened to the community, you worked on redress, so we have this knowledge of history, of this injustice, going forward... this might be a tough one, what's our responsibility as a community? Knowing what happened to our community, knowing that it could have happened and it did happen, do we have a responsibility going forward?

RI: Yes. And it's probably, it's one of those things you don't define, but you kind of do. I remember when Right of Passage was first shown in Washington, D.C., in September two three, years ago, and I brought a guest, and the guest happened to be Korean American. And she sat through and watched the entire program. And when it was over she came to me and she said, "You know something? The Japanese American community has a common bond. Rightfully or wrongfully, that common bond happened to be the internment. Korean Americans do not have that common bond. We're out here trying to make a living and trying to do this American dream, but we don't have this bond. You will not see this in the Korean American community." You know, if there's a common bond in the Korean American community, it's probably anti-Japanese, if that's the case. But it's interesting because in America, especially with second and third generation Korean Americans, they don't share that same feeling that you would feel between Japan and Korea, Japan and Korea. And I think that's the beauty and strength of it, and then I think our responsibility in terms of redress is that it's hard for people to understand and recognize that this happened to Japanese Americans. When I go to the African American community in Gardena and other places, and we have talks, we often talk about -- and I never bring the whole issue of Japanese American internment. In other words, I'm not in a position to say, "This is what happened to us," and just throwing it out there. Instead, what I do is I always kind of share a story with them, and that story is that, "Do you know that racism is a learned trait?" You're not born racist, it's something that you learn over time.

And I say, the best example of that is that one of my friends, Victor Oh, had come from Japan, and this is in the mid, early '60s, and he comes to L.A., gets married to a Korean person, her name is Kim. So he wants to bring everything together, and so he changes the last name to Oh-Kim. So they get married, and about a year or two later, he gets a job in Washington, D.C. So he says, "Okay, I'm going to move to Washington, D.C., and take this job," and I said, "Oh, great." I said, "Okay, you're going to take the northern route through Chicago, or are you going to take the southern route through the South?" He goes, "Well, it's summertime, I think I'll go south. So after four days of driving, in that hot weather, he finally gets into Alabama at night. And once he's in Alabama, he goes, "I'm going to go wash my clothes." Goes into a Laundromat, walks in the Laundromat, no one's in there, sign that says, "Whites only." So Victor didn't know what to do, so you know what he did? He only washed his white clothes. He didn't wash his colored clothes. And I said this in front of a group for Martin Luther King in Gardena, and there's probably two hundred African Americans, my friends. And as soon as I said, "Whites only," I mean, you could hear a pin drop. I mean, it was, everyone goes, "What's Ron going to say next?" I mean, "whites only." You could feel the tension. And I said, "Yeah, he only washed his white clothes," Everyone's just rolling in the aisles, it was funny. And although it was funny, I think what is an example, is that with redress, you have to do, is that sometimes racism, in whatever form, overtakes common sense, our commonality.

I know there's certain people in the United States, do not like diversity, and earlier in January, my son was married, and he got married to a young Italian American, second generation from New Jersey, we got married in New York. And so I told, after my son proposed marriage, I had prepared a letter for Catherine, and I said, "Dear Catherine, if you are reading this letter, that means that you accepted my son's proposal to you." So I said, "Welcome to the family," and I said, "I never had a daughter, and, if it's okay, I'm going to treat you like my daughter, and don't call me Mr. Ikejiri, just call me Ron." And I said, "Now, number one, our family did not come over on the Mayflower. Our family came over on a boat from Japan, steerage class. And the story is not so romantic as in Titanic, but what it is a story of an immigrant group. So I want you to know, this is the family you're marrying into." And little did I know, in 1980, when I heard that 79 percent of the Japanese American Sansei married outside of the Japanese American community, in fact, I didn't have a son at that time, and probably now it's closer to 99 percent. And I think that's the strength and the beauty of this whole story.

And I believe with redress, it's not full circle, it's a continuing story, and I know certain people don't want to hear about redress anymore, and I think it's one of those issues that you don't have to thrust it in front of everybody, but just as though it was in the last two years with the recent President's statements about different groups and the rest, I think it's important to have that available, so people understand it and can move forward. I know that my African American friends, when they sit down and they talk about redress, they go, "I don't know how your parents endured it." And I said, "I don't know either, but it's something that they were able to overcome and go forward," so I think we all have to try our best." Look, I know how you look at it. If I were to pass away today, I'm very thankful, I had a very blessed life, very fortunate. At the same time, I just wish I could do more, and hopefully I can. If I could live a life... and if you take a look at the life of someone like Frank Sato, he's probably, my guess is ninety-nine percent of Americans do not know who Frank Sato is, who if they knew what Frank Sato has done, quietly, professionally, effectively, with the kindest heart, you're very thankful for this kid from the state of Washington. So that's a real plus.

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<Begin Segment 24>

TI: So, Ron, we're three hours in, so we're at the end, but I just want to give you an opportunity, is there anything else you want to talk about? I mean, there were other things on my list in terms of your post-JACL career, and elected office, is that, can you talk a little bit? So I guess the question is, what made you think of going into elected office?

RI: It's an interesting question, because when I moved to Washington, D.C., my decision to move to Washington was going to stay in Washington for two years, come back to California, run for local elected office, maybe do something in the assembly or state, and somehow get back to Washington, D.C. Well, two years ended up being over twenty-something years in Washington, D.C., a little bit longer than I thought. And during that time, what I ended up doing after JACL was I had developed a licensing technology practice, and I spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley before it was called Silicon Valley.

TI: Oh, interesting. So what made you switch, leave JACL and go to this, was it something that pulled you there?

RI: I had friends and clients that said, "Well, you know a little bit of Japanese, know a little bit about law." The clients were Mitsubishi and Sony and Omron and Fujitsu, and they wanted licensing agreements on software. They could make the hardware, but the software is the brains of anything, and how that works was America. And so then I'd go to Silicon Valley with them and negotiate an agreement, and as that developed, my practice... I was a single person.

TI: Yeah, this is kind of overlapping my career because I was at Microsoft during that time in the CDROM industry and Sony was kind of the key player, so we did a lot with them on that.

RI: Oh, yeah. I remember one day I was in New York City, and the representative of Toshiba was there. And they were selling the, was it three-and-a-half inch discs? It's not the five-and-a-quarters, the three-and-a-half inch discs, and the drives.

TI: That's right, Toshiba was, I mean, back then there was, like, the format wars, right?

RI: Right. And so we're having... at a very fancy restaurant in New York City, and the American buyer was on this side, and I'm in the middle, and the Japanese client is here from Toshiba. And so I said, "Well, since we ordered lunch, why don't we talk about where we want to go with this?" And the buyer happened to be a Chinese manufacturer in the United States. And they said, "Okay, what is your...:" really it's about price, you already want the product, what is the price? And he goes, "Well, I want to pay nothing." And I said, "You're so Chinese." He goes, "I am Chinese and I want to pay nothing." And so then I'm looking at him, and I looked at my Toshiba client and said, "It's going to be a long lunch." [Laughs] But it was cultural, so I understood that. When I told him, "You're so Chinese," he started laughing because he knows this is the way things are done.

But anyway, it developed, and then one of my friends said, "You know, McGuire, Woods, Battle & Boothe, which is the oldest law firm in America, started in Williamsburg, Virginia, like in 1630 or something. They wanted to develop an Asian market and said, "You should consider joining them." And so I went to interviews, and after I went to the interviews, what happened was that I had to go down for three last interviews in the Richmond office. Richmond is ninety minutes from Washington, D.C., Richmond is the capital of the confederacy, okay? And so we get down there and I go into this first office, and the man says -- his name is Billy King -- and he's on the phone and says, "Sit down, sit down." So I'm sitting down. And so he's on the phone for twenty minutes, but I see this book, this magazine on his desk, it's from Dartmouth College. So he gets off the phone, I said, "You know, Mr. King, before we start our conversation, can I ask you, did you go to Dartmouth?" He goes, "Yeah, I went to Dartmouth." "By chance, do you know a friend of mine?" He said, "Who's that?" He said, "Henry Ota." He looks at me... do you know Henry Ota?

TI: Yeah, I know Henry.

RI: So he goes, " Henry Ota, you mean Hank?" I go, "Yeah, how do you know Hank?" I said, "Hank went to my high school." He said, "Well, that's nothing. Hank was a varsity pitcher at Dartmouth, and I was the catcher." And so we talked about Hank for twenty minutes, he said, "Don't worry about it, Ron, you're in the law firm." And so because of Henry Ota, my interviews went really well.

TI: Oh, that was a good story.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

RI: But then in the other part, after that, I was with them, and then eventually what I decided to do is that... you know, I have a son, and my father, my mother died in 1976, and my father was alone. I figured, geez, I've probably seen my father one year out of twenty-five years, like two days here, three days there, so I said, "I better try to see my dad more. So I came back to Gardena, and there was an ad in the paper, said, oh, the last day to file for city council is such and such. And so, since I met the residency requirements, I'm going to run. I didn't tell anybody.

TI: You just filed?

RI: I just filed. What's there to lose, right? So I ran, and there were like seventy people running, and no one knew who I was, but they knew who my father was. And so I ran and there were two slots open, and I got the second slot. And I concluded that I didn't win the election, I concluded that my father won the election. And so that made a huge difference. And it's probably, if I was going to do it again, I would recommend people run for office when they're, like, thirty. I ran when I was fifty-four. I'm thankful that I did run, it takes a lot of time, and you just have, like, the whole world on you, even though it's a little city like Gardena, you just learn so much. And the friendships that you make, it's unbelievable and lifelong.

TI: Well, and you had all these role models, like I still think about your story about Norm, so hopefully you wrote a lot of thank-you notes.

RI: Oh, yeah. Yeah, it's just amazing, politics is an interesting process. Today it could be extremely brutal and non-forgiving, which is unfortunate, because I think people really want to go out and make a difference in life. I ran three times, got reelected, and then was out for four years, I was termed out. And then there was seven, eight people running for mayor, I said, "Oh, what the heck, I'll run." So I ran in 2016. And there were seven of us running, I beat the hell out of the person that came in seventh, I came in sixth. But Terry Terauchi came in, like, fourth, third or fourth. If I didn't run, Terry would have won, because he would have had enough votes.

TI: Oh, so you split the...

RI: But, see, the three top vote getters were African American, and they each got a thousand something votes. And you know what that told me? And I knew we were all in trouble about one month before the election, because I was up looking at the registration for Japanese Americans, less than five hundred households. So let's say two people voted, that's a thousand votes. You're not going to win. African American community went out and registered new voters. There was no new voters ethnically for Japanese Americans to pull from. So that period was probably past, but what's interesting, every time I run into Terry Terauchi in Gardena, he goes, "Darn it, if you didn't run, I'd be mayor." And I said, "What are you talking about? If you didn't run, I'd be mayor." [Laughs] So we laugh about it. But you know what was fun about it is that when I was out in the community in front of Giuliano's, this delicatessen in Gardena, in downtown Gardena, people would come up to me that knew my mother, that knew my father, knew when I was a bad kids. And what's really fun about it was that teachers that knew my sister from high school said, "Oh, I was your gym teacher." It was just very fun to see and hear a lot of your old friends.

TI: To reconnect to all these people.

RI: To kind of wrap it up, one of the things about Gardena, especially being back in Gardena, I now live in the home that I grew up in, 1953. And on our block, other than one house with a family, the Nisei family passed away, all the same families since 1953. And the other side of the street, there's almost the same. And so our street, other than my house, they all look like nice bonsai trees and everything's really pretty. But what happens is that every Wednesday is trash day. And I don't know if you know the Nisei, the biggest day of the week for Nisei is trash day, because they don't want to miss the day to take out the trash. So they take the trash cans out on Monday. Well, Monday is two days before Wednesday, but it's illegal to take your trash can out early, you know, because the city, you don't want to do that. But, for me, it's like a beacon. If those trash cans aren't out by Tuesday...

TI: Then something is wrong.

RI: Then something is wrong. Oh, so I'll go up to, like Mrs. Ikegami, she passed away recently but she was one hundred years old. "Ikegami-san, genki desu ka? Are you okay? Let me take your trash can out." And, you know, these are the same people, in the 1950s, that would call my mother and father when I did something bad on the way home from school. And so sixty years later, I'm taking care of them. But sixty years before, they were taking care of me. Where else could you want to live?

TI: That's a good story.

RI: That, to me, is "Honto ni arigatai," that's what I'm thankful for. But I want to thank you for your time.

TI: No, thank you, Ron, this was wonderful. This was fun.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.