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-1000-469-14

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

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TI: But part of the communication was he did tell the Masuda story to Reagan, so the research you did was valuable, because he said that Reagan really couldn't remember. I mean, he had this vague sense, but then when it was brought to him, it reminded him of something that, I think just knowing Reagan, he's such a storyteller, right? I mean, that was such a powerful, he loved stories, he thinks kind of in film scenes, I think, and that was just such a powerful thing. So Jack, I think that was kind of a key moment for him to share that story.

JT: But he said, when he writes in his memoir, that this is the kind of man who really wants to right a wrong. To me, that was so key, like this is something that's in Reagan's head, and he's going to only do one thing with it. And there's this whole controversy about all of this. I don't know enough of what went on, and what went on at what levels in the White House, and who had what influence with whom, but we do know that Svahn had direct contact with the President and twice brought this up with him. There were rumors about Reagan's not going to sign the bill, and there was this flurry of activity of getting people to call. There were plenty of people in California, Japanese Americans, Harry Kubo down in the Central Valley who was the head of the Nisei Farmers League, who went to war with Cesar Chavez. And so he frequented the governor's office during that period, he knew Reagan. And there's Togo Tanaka, who was appointed by Reagan to the federal reserve, so there were people who had direct contact with them.

TI: And was the JACL coordinating a lot of that, trying to...

JT: You know, I wasn't part of the JACL at the time, but I know there were calls being made. I know Wakabayashi was calling the key people. I made one call -- or I didn't make a call -- my daughter had, her best friend's father was a personal friend of Ronald Reagan's. He worked with Reagan on his first campaign, and he told me that he and his wife, we were having coffee in their kitchen once, and they said, "Well, when Ronnie comes through, as governor, comes through the Bay Area, he sometimes stays here." And so I knew -- and this was early, before they knew I was even involved with this other stuff, and it was some time later that the wife, Sybil, said to me, "We just saw you on television. What is this thing you're working on?" And another time when I was there, we talked at length about what was happening. So the husband would ask me -- I'd see him around the county, and he would always ask me how is it going, what's happening with it. And at one point I contacted him and said, "The word's going around that Reagan's not going to sign the bill. Can you find out?" This is at the very early part of when I found out that there was some question about it. So I asked him if he could call the President. He's one of the only people I knew who had access to the Oval Office. Access in the sense that he would leave a message and Reagan might call him, return the call. About two months later, we ran into each other at the market and he said, "I don't know what you're talking about, because the President's going to sign the bill," and he suspected it was the staff that was objecting. And we find out from Jack Svahn's book, memoir, that it was OMB for financial reasons, and for some reason, the foreign relations people in the White House. And you know, the same thing about, we're connected to Japan, and Japan's doing all this crazy stuff.

TI: Well, another little piece, so Frank talked to Jack Svahn, and Jack said he had just happened to be talking to, and he called John Bolton, the current national security, so he was in DOJ at the same time, and they actually talked about this. And yeah, DOJ was against it, too, according to Bolton. So again, yeah, there was a lot of internal White House discussion about this, but I guess Jack Svahn was a strong champion for it.

JT: Yeah, and his voice was important on this one, because after all, he was the Director of Domestic Policy, as the advisor to the President.

TI: And had known Reagan for, like, twenty years, I mean, he was very close to him, and had a pretty good sense that, as you said, he would do the right thing.

JT: To me that was stunning when I read it in the memoir.

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