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Title: John Tateishi Interview
Narrator: John Tateishi
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Emeryville, California
Date: March 12, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-469-19

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

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: One last question, we're less than five minutes away. So this year is the ninetieth anniversary of the JACL, and I was doing the math when we were talking, you got involved in 1975, so you've been involved in the JACL for about half its life, almost forty-five years.

JT: Oh, my god. [Laughs]

TI: And I guess the question -- and we didn't even go into depth, but during these forty-five years, you were, part of that time, the national director on the redress campaign, so you were, especially in the last forty-five years, involved in the most important work of JACL. Going forward for the JACL, what role should the JACL -- what do you see the future of JACL from your perspective?

JT: You know, there's always been this argument about, will the JACL still be around forty-five, fifty years from now. One of the concerns is, as there's so much outmarriage, or what we now call mixed marriage, when I became the director in 2000 or 1999, a lot of people who were leaders of organizations wanted to meet with me, and their concern was, oh, my god, in a generation, there won't be a "pure blood Japanese American." My response was, "Well, just deal with it." Actually, that's kind of a cool idea, that they're going to have to identify, redefine what it means to be Japanese in America. But they'll figure it out. They're the ones, I think, who will take over the JACL and give it its new direction. I don't know what that direction will be, but I do know identity is a major issue among these young kids, because if they're, quote, "full blooded Japanese" growing up in communities outside of where the pockets are on the West Coast, they have identity issues, I've seen it with them. And those who are, have mixed parents, they're going through, at times, it's almost a crisis. They want to know who they are, and the JACL is really well-positioned to address that issue because of the structure, it combines so many parts of the country, and it can bring people in to distill the arguments or the issues and find ways to maybe not resolve them, but to understand them. And my experience is, with issues, you need to understand them before you can do anything about them.

TI: And is there something in particular about the Japanese American community, given the history of what happened to our community, that in particular, going forward in the future, that there's a particular role or responsibility you think the community has? Other than just saying the younger people are going to figure it out, do you think there is a specific role or responsibility for us?

JT: I'm enough of a cynic to think that as long as there is an America, there always will be racism. And we're never going to be free of it whether we look... I mean, you know, it's like this young woman in Minneapolis who's a JACL member, blond, blue-eyed, I used to wonder, why is she always at these JACL young people's gatherings? She's Japanese. She happens to have a mother who was blond, blue-eyed, but her last name is Japanese, and she identifies as Japanese. She won't face that kind of discrimination, but I guarantee you everyone else in the room will. I mean, there's a point where we assimilate enough that people can't look at us like in our generation, look at you and say, "Oh, you're Japanese," they'll mistake you as Chinese or whatever, but they're going to see you as "other," that amorphous Asian. And I think that's always going to be around. I think that JACL needs to pick up that mantle and carry it on. Because when you look at everything the organization has done, it's done a lot. It's amazing, I put together a list of all the legislative battles going back to 1929 and on, it filled up four pages, and that's a lot. And I was just listing, I wasn't describing. And this is in 2000 when I was the director. That's an enormous legacy, and I think the JACL has, now has a really proud legacy to carry forward. And I hope it's around for a long time to come, because I do think there's always going to be discrimination. And the thing is, if we don't deal with Japanese American issues, the problem, there are other communities that really need the help the JACL can give them. We have a long history of dealing with that kind of stuff. So we need to stop being selfish and say "only Japanese American stuff," that's not where we are anymore. We are an Asian American organization now. Then you get to that question of, "Well, what about the name then?" You know, NAACP decided to keep their name after this long legacy they have, maybe that's what the JACL needs to consider.

TI: It's just going to their initials, kind of, as JACL?

JT: Yeah. And I know when that switch took over at NAA, and they said, "Okay, that's what we'll call it, NAA, and everyone will know, assume the CP." Maybe that's what the JACL needs to do. I mean, it's got a really proud legacy now. My god, how can you top redress?

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