Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: John Tateishi Interview
Narrator: John Tateishi
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Emeryville, California
Date: March 12, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-469-12

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

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: But you talked about, I didn't know about this. So there was this internal struggle going on at national JACL between, you said, the LEC and National?

JT: Yeah. You didn't know that?

TI: No, I didn't know that, tell me a little bit more about this.

JT: We had reached a certain point, we had the commission hearings, the response on that was just incredible. I mean, it was better than Inouye even imagined. It was overwhelming. That was the single most important part of the redress campaign, it changed the way Americans viewed Japanese Americans. And we put all our cards into the basket of the commission, saying, "All right, we're not going to lobby the commission for their findings." I had to make a promise that I would not talk to anyone on the research staff. Angus Macbeth, yeah, because he was the director, I needed to talk to him, but I said, "No, I will not agree to stay away from the commissioners. That's my right, to lobby them," which I did. Every single one except Bill Marutani, who told me, when he got appointed, "From this day on, you and I don't talk. I will not take any phone calls from you, I won't have any meetings with you," because he didn't want his views to be tainted by accusations that the JACL was controlling this. So I talked to every commissioner except Bill Marutani, but I knew where Bill stood on this, because he was part of the group, when we made that decision about the guidelines, $25,000 and a trust fund, Bill and I were the only ones in that meeting who said, "Screw twenty-five, we think it should be fifty." We pushed and pushed to get fifty thousand, but the numbers didn't go very well in that and we were outvoted, so it went to twenty-five thousand. That was reality. So I knew where Bill stood on this thing, because his point was, "Don't insult me with pennies. If we're going to do this, let's do it right, fifty thousand minimum, that's our starting point." So I lobbied all the other commissioners for the amount that they would come out with, but I never talked to anyone on the staff other than Angus, because he was going to be writing the report. And so we said, okay, whatever the commission findings are, we will live with it. If they say it was justified, so be it. And whatever they recommend, we will accept that, or maybe not if it's too low. And they came out with $20,000, which wasn't what I wanted, but it was close enough that we could accept that, because the people who made that decision on the commission said to me, "You'll never get twenty-five, you'll never be able to get that passed." So there's a six-month separation between the report, and all the publicity about this, the leading story on every network news, and then the same thing six months later with the recommendations. So then I started lobbying the Congress to get this compensation bill through. But to me, it wouldn't move unless we kept pushing education, so I was doing a lot of talk shows and everything else. By then, I was a full-time staffperson running the redress program.

TI: Still as the chair of the national --

JT: No, now as the redress director. Min Yasui gets appointed as sort of a figurehead chair, because there's no committee to speak of. There is, but it's sort of neutralized because all the work was Washington now. But I was doing all this public stuff, and so we decided, let's have Min chair this, he's a great figurehead for this. He loves to be out in public, and he's really good at it, better than I am. So he started becoming the face of redress, and I loved not having to do that, and being able to just focus on lobbying Congress. So over the course of a few years of this, my profile disappears, and Min's the one who was seen as the redress person. So then there's a rumor that starts in Washington, and I know exactly who started it, that I'm not really doing my work, that I've disappeared. And then the other side of that is, well, Tateishi is just about education. So we're going to activate this C-4 corporation that we started as sort of a safety net because the IRS came at us and said, "You're spending too much of your money on lobbying." So we created this C-4 called the Legislative Education Committee. So this other group that's against the push on education, and want to push more on lobbying, are working on the premise that I'm not really doing what I should be doing. Because by then -- I'd been living in Washington -- I'd moved back to the Bay Area and was doing it as I had before, which is to go to Washington, stay there, and as congressional recesses took place, I would return and be with my family, because my kids were very young, and I hardly ever saw my kids when they were young because I was gone so much at the time. So then there was, there became this fight for control of the redress program.

TI: Go ahead and take a drink and I'll recap what I've heard. So after the LEC formed, their focus, their belief was that they needed to focus more on the legislative lobbying effort, education should be downplayed. You're now spending more time in San Francisco, and so it sounds like it was this political tug of war going on during this time period. And this is about what year?

JT: Started in about 1984, '5. We had already had a compensation bill introduced the first iteration, and we knew that this was going to be reintroduced maybe three, maybe four times, but it would have to go through at least two sessions.

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