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Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Karen Yoshitomi Interview
Narrator: Karen Yoshitomi
Interviewer: Barbara Yasui
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: January 23, 2023
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-527-9

<Begin Segment 9>

BY: So what kinds of things, what was going on with JACL during the time that you were regional director?

KY: Well, when I first stepped on board, because redress had already passed, they were onto the identification of redress recipients. And so there was an application, so-called application that needed to be completed to verify eligibility to receive payment. So I spent a lot of my time during the first year or so assisting people with collecting information to submit to the Office of Redress Administration for their eligibility.

BY: And so those are mostly Issei and Nisei, right? Or probably mostly Nisei.

KY: Yes. Well, some Issei, I mean, my grandparents, Baachan was still alive at the time.

BY: So did that give you some insight to the Japanese American community in Seattle at that time, going through that with all of them?

KY: I think so. I think the insight came, though, when I was at the University of Washington. I'll tell you about that. One of the classes that I took through the Asian American Studies program was one that was taught by Dr. Tetsuden Kashima. And that was where I first really learned about the history of the Japanese in the United States. Our family talked about camp but it was mostly recollections of fun times, or they didn't talk about the hardships. And if camp was mentioned, it was usually upon meeting other Nikkei for the first time and trying to make that connection to see if they were also in camp, and then you move on from it. But at the University of Washington, in this class, taking a closer look at the experience of Japanese, and lights started coming on for me in terms of the, I guess, the lingering discrimination and stereotypes, the Japan-bashing, English-only kinds of movements.

BY: So you mentioned Tetsuden Kashima and Alan Sugiyama and was it Paul Shigaki?

KY: Jerry Shigaki.

BY: Jerry Shigaki, excuse me. So it sounds like they were mentors to you or role models for you? Can you tell me a little bit about what you feel you got from each of them?

KY: This sense of civic engagement, personal responsibility, that we are the recipients of the sacrifices and the efforts of a lot of other people, and that we have an obligation to do what we can to help others along the way.

BY: And so from JACL, what happened next?

KY: Well, what I would like to say is, before JACL, I mean, before happening next, I think important piece in my experience at JACL was one of the positions that I inherited from Tim Otani, was as a member of the board for a five-state coalition that was called the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment. And it was a group that was formed by Bill Wassmuth, who was a former Catholic priest who turned community activist, so to speak. And it was through that five-state coalition where it had representatives from the Department of Justice Community Relations Service from the City Attorney's office or State Attorney's office, law enforcement as well as civic organizations like JACL. And we worked on passage of hate crime legislation or bias crime legislation. And I think that, combined with the knowledge of the history of Japanese sort of sparked this desire to look more at the civil rights aspect with, sort of, contemporary issues that are going on. So it's the historical perspective, but then it's also coupling with addressing the issues of today.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2023 Densho. All Rights Reserved.