Densho Digital Repository
Emi Kuboyama, Office of Redress Administration (ORA) Oral History Project Collection
Title: William "Bill" Kaneko Interview
Narrator: William "Bill" Kaneko
Interviewer: Emi Kuboyama
Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
Date: December 30, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1020-11

<Begin Segment 1>

EK: Today is December 30, 2019. This is Emi Kuboyama with Stanford University. I'm here with Bill Kaneko in Honolulu, Hawaii. Bill, good morning.

BK: Good morning, aloha.

EK: Why don't we start with you stating your name and your organization's name and your title or role with that organization.

BK: My name is William Kaneko. I am a former past chapter President of the Honolulu JACL, but also served as national Vice President for the national JACL board.

EK: And where were you born and raised?

BK: I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, born and raised here.

EK: And could you talk about your educational background?

BK: Born and raised here, went to high school at a school called Punahou school. Got my undergraduate degree at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, worked for a few years in Los Angeles, then went up to law school in Washington, D.C., and got my JD at the Catholic University of America.

EK: Could you tell us a little bit about your professional background apart from your community work?

BK: Well, after I graduated from undergraduate, I went down to Los Angeles. Believe it or not, I was an accountant for four years before doing a postgraduate fellowship in public affairs with the Coro Foundation. After that, I moved back to Hawaii and worked for Governor John Waihe'e, Hawaii's first native Hawaiian governor. Then wanted to pursue my advanced degree in law and public policy, and that's where I moved to Washington to get my law degree. And after that, worked briefly for the Democratic National Committee and moved back to Hawaii and started practicing law here at Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing, now known as Dentons, for the past twenty-three, twenty-four years.

EK: Great.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

EK: Let's talk a bit more about your community work. So how did you and your organization become involved with the redress efforts?

BK: Well, after... when I started working in Los Angeles, I was actually active with the L.A., various L.A. chapters of the JACL, which is the Japanese American Citizens League. So between 1983 and 1988, I was involved in the Southern California area. And, as you know, the Japanese American Citizens League was one of the prime advocates for redress legislation going back early on in terms of passage of the, not only the Commission on Wartime Relocation enactment, but also the redress bill itself. So as a young, back then, young professional, I began to really familiarize myself with JACL's efforts. Then when I moved back to Hawaii in 1988, right after when the Civil Liberties Act was passed, I then became active in the local chapter here in Honolulu.

EK: Could you tell us a little more about your organization's strategy to pursue redress?

BK: Is it prior to the act?

EK: Right. Talk a little bit about the JACL's role in the whole redress effort.

BK: Okay. Yeah, my understanding is that it really, kind of a lot of the impetus came out of a lot of the Seattle chapter's original discussions about pursuing redress for Japanese Americans. Then it became a national issue, and the organization for literally a couple decades really advocated for redress. My understanding is that in the early years of pursuing redress, a big issue was how do you go about it? And in talking to a lot of the early leaders in JACL, a focal point was do we go for the whole ball of wax or does the organization advocate for a fact-finding effort? And so the latter was the strategy, is to create a Commission on Wartime Relocation for the Internment of Civilians, which would gather facts, data and information about exactly what happened. And so with that factual foundation, then a push was to actually then go for redress. And as it turned out, that was probably a more prudent strategy, because Congress, through the enactment of that commission, really had all the background information and the facts to then provide a recommendation to Congress which ultimately resulted in the redress bill itself, and the compensation, $20,000 monetary compensation. But were it not for that initial efforts, I'm not sure if would have been passed or not. But JACL, through and throughout, along with other organizations like NCJAR, National Coalition for Japanese American Redress and others, collectively, through very grassroots efforts, national effort, ultimately addressed this, one of the gravest wrongs in our nation's history.

EK: Could you talk about your personal memories about this time when the commissions were having these hearings as well as any sort of personal involvement or recollections about that whole process of pursuing redress?

BK: Yeah. It was interesting because, as someone who was born and raised in Hawaii, and my experiences of being discriminated or some of the issues that mainland AJAs (Americans of Japanese Ancestry) and mainland minorities have, I never really grew up with that. But it wasn't really until, before getting my degree at the University of Puget Sound, I spent a couple years at the University of Hawaii, and studied under Dr. Franklin Odo, who was, at that time, the director of Ethnic Studies. And he taught a course called 'The Japanese in Hawaii,' Ethnic Studies 200, which accounted for the history of Japanese Americans in Hawaii, but also it was really the first time that I really studied and understood what happened, not only in Hawaii to Japanese Americans during the war, but the entire West Coast AJA population. I subsequently became a lab leader for Ethnic Studies 200, and then that's when I really began to understand and appreciate the gravity of what happened. And so after moving to Los Angeles, again, as a young professional and getting involved with the JACL and then not being in Hawaii and then having to live with, as a minority, everything kind of came together and I really more fully appreciated, not only the work that JACL did, but really the importance of the redress movement.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

EK: So I'd like to transition to the early days of the Office of Redress Administration. Once the bill was passed, how did you or JACL expect the redress process to play out?

BK: Yeah. So when the act was passed in, I believe, August 1988, the question was how does the government go about identifying, verifying and compensating potentially eighty to ninety thousand living AJAs? And so in Hawaii, the Japanese American Citizens League, the Honolulu chapter, was relatively new. It was founded in September of 1980, it participated in the commission hearings in Seattle. But fast forward to 1988, we were still a relatively young chapter. And the question was, how do we as an organization assist the Office of Redress to be able to identify, locate and basically ultimately work with the government to compensate Hawaii internees? And so I remember, I think I became chapter president in 1990, and previous to that was Nobu Yonamine, who was chapter president. At that time, immediately after, we were contacted by ORA. I believe our first contact was the first administrator, Bob Bratt. And then Bob called and said that he wanted to meet with us, and I believe he came down to Hawaii as an initial meeting. And we got to know him, also better understand what his role was at ORA, and then try to chart a course forward in terms of working together. And the ORA actually utilized a lot of the AJA community organizations as their link to the communities. And the Japanese American Citizens League with, at that time, I think 126 chapters, they were all over the United States and was active in the redress movement, was a natural community liaison for ORA to work alongside with, as well as other Japanese American organizations. But in Hawaii, because JACL chapter was a chapter of the national organization, we were the natural liaison to work with the ORA. And so Bob then contacted us, we met with him, I think, at the Church of the Crossroads, I believe, or someplace. And he began to explain some of his plans, and I think in... I forget what date, but he then returned in a ceremony to be able to hand out the first, ultimately the first checks to the oldest Japanese American internees in Hawaii, which was followed up with, I think in his words, checks were in the mail, about 274 other internees were processed and ultimately compensated.

EK: And how would you characterize your working relationship with Bob as well as other folks in the Office of Redress Administration?

BK: Oh, I think it was very collaborative. They were partners with a common mission of accurately identifying, verifying and ultimately compensating Japanese Americans. And they clearly had a mission to be able to identify those who were wronged because of the World War II acts, but they had, of course, a duty to uphold the law, but do it in a way that was accurate. So they had their own verification process that they had to adhere to, which was to make sure, at least for the internees, that persons identified were verified and part of a list. In Hawaii there are two major camps, Sand Island detention camp and Honouliuli. And so in Hawaii there are about two thousand Hawaii internees who were basically interned there before being shipped out to other detention camps on the mainland. So Bob and ORA had to make sure that the records were accurate and reflected, and that would be a verification of those interned.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

EK: So, Bill, by virtue of Hawaii being the location of Pearl Harbor and the Japanese attack, and given that a significant portion of Hawaii residents were of Japanese ancestry, what happened here during the war was pretty different from what happened on the mainland? Can you talk a little bit about the environment in Hawaii for Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and why there was not this mass evacuation like there was on the mainland?

BK: Hawaii was uniquely different from the mainland. In Hawaii at the time of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, I believe, about thirty-seven percent of the population itself was Japanese Americans. So that posed a unique, I think, question for the government, because, from a practical standpoint, to intern or displace over a third of the population would result in literally the entire collapse of an entire economy, the consumer population base. Was impractical, really, for the government to intern Japanese from Hawaii. So as a result, there are two camps that were created, one in Sand Island, the other in Honouliuli, and the government chose to intern about two thousand Japanese Americans who were perceived to have ties to Japan. “Perceived” meaning they were Japanese language teachers, martial arts instructors, folks who worked for Japanese-related newspapers, Japanese community organizational leaders who the government perceived as being, having links to the Japanese government. And so the two thousand AJAs who were interned were then put into two camps here in Hawaii, and I believe there were other temporary places where folks were also detained, like various jails and other places before moving over to Sand Island and Honouliuli. And subsequent to that, many of those Japanese American AJAs were then displaced throughout the country along with the other 110,000 West Coast Japanese. But the environment in Hawaii was very, very different just because of the significant population base that was here.

EK: So given Hawaii's unique circumstances, can you recall examples of some of the unique cases that therefore developed as a result of the differences between what was going on in Hawaii versus the mainland? Were there particular groups of people that you can recall who sought redress?

BK: Well, what was real interesting about the Hawaii cases which kind of developed as a result of the redress compensation activities, was that there were about two thousand Hawaii internees that were in Sand Island and Honouliuli. Those are the easy cases because if your name was on the list, you could verify that you're that person, then the government would issue an apology and compensate you. Because of the high profile press coverage about the redress cases being ultimately settled and people were getting apologies, there was a lot of press activity. And so along with that press activity, the JACL got a lot of questions about other Japanese Americans who were not interned, but were evacuated from their homes. And it kind of started with, in 1991 when the JACL got a call from the, actually an LA dentist, Donald Kanemaru, who called the JACL office and said, asked the question, "You know, my family was living in Lualualei, Oahu," which is next to a military naval artillery base in Lualualei. And he said, "My family got kicked out. I'm not interned, but I was evacuated. Am I eligible?" And that was a really interesting question because the standard was persons who were interned would be eligible under the Act. So we took that, the initial question from Dr. Kanemaru, and we had our legal counsel review the redress legislation, Honolulu JACL legal counsel with Clayton Ikei at that time. And he looked at the act, and he had opined, his opinion was yes, you could be potentially eligible if you were evacuated, because the law stated that if you were deprived of your civil liberties, then that would be merits for being compensated. So it was interesting because... because of this question and Clayton's initial legal opinion, that we started to be able to look into other questions of persons who were evacuated but not interned. And as it turned out, as the Office of Redress Administration came to Hawaii and started holding these redress workshops, and as the question of eligibility arose, we started to get literally hundreds of inquiries of whether folks were eligible. And so as it turned out, Lualualei was one of the first, what they call, the government referred to as "Hawaii unique cases," and I believe ultimately some twenty-three sites were determined to be these unique evacuation cases. So because of Lualualei, there were many, many other inquiries as related to the evacuation. There was Pauoa Valley, Iwilei, Waiale, Pu'uloa, Kahuku, Pu'unene, and they just kind of start to unfold, and that was really kind of a second series of redress cases that both the JACL and ORA had to deal with.

EK: Can you share more about how you worked with ORA to resolve these cases? Like what did that back and forth look like?

BK: Yeah. I think to Bob's credit, and because of his leadership and wanting to address these issues quickly, I remember when the question of Lualualei came up, and after we had rendered our legal opinion, I immediately called Bob and notified him about these potential evacuation cases.

[Interruption]

EK: So, Bill, could you continue talking about how you worked with ORA to resolve these unique Hawaii cases?

BK: So once we got wind of these potential unique cases relating to the evacuees, we did our legal analysis and I contacted Bob at ORA, and he was kind of also perplexed about the potential application of the law and how that related to these cases. And I think within a matter of four to five weeks, he sent on a team of staff people to do redress workshops on just the evacuation cases. And so literally, I think two or three hundred evacuees attended those workshops, and that's where we really found out about the potential broad impact of these evacuation cases. Frankly, they were very difficult because for literally all these evacuees, the military, immediately after Pearl Harbor, came in at gunpoint and ordered Japanese Americans out from their homes. So there were no internment logs, there was no checklist or rosters to verify whether or not you actually lived there.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

EK: So, Bill, could you continue talking about the challenges that were faced given the lack of documentation for Hawaii claimants?

BK: I think one of the major challenges for the Office of Redress as well as the JACL is that, how do you verify those who were evacuated? So unlike the internment cases where there were camp rosters and you could basically cross check the camp roster with a person's identity, there was nothing like that for the evacuees. Because the evacuees basically, immediately after Pearl Harbor, the military at gunpoint literally came to their homes and kicked them out of their homes. And so there was no roster, there was no way to verify whether or not they lived there, or that they got displaced. So that was a big issue in addressing these unique cases. ORA really had to look at how they were going to handle these unique cases to ultimately address the issue of eligibility.

EK: Right. I recall that ORA was looking at whether someone was evacuated, relocated or interned based on federal government actions, so the two prongs that had to be satisfied: were they evacuated, which we often did not have documentation in Hawaii, and was it by government action as opposed to just general wartime hysteria or whatnot. Are there particular cases that you recall that were really challenging or that you recall that you were involved with that took a while given these challenges?

BK: Well, actually, the first cases that were passed, which was kind of reflective of the additional complexity of it was the Lualualei cases. Because these were Japanese American farmers who were displaced, but they were, basically at night they were kicked out of their homes, but during the day they were let in. And it was suspected that the reason why they were able to come in during the day was because they were farmers, and they were important for the food production of Hawaii's economy. So although they were evacuated, which is, basically they were deprived of their civil liberties, they were able to come in during the day. But the government also had determined that because they weren't able to stay during that night, that they would be eligible under the act. So it was these really neat cases that kind of unfolded and really every single location, and there were twenty-three of them, had a twist to it. And my recollection was that, I think in the earlier cases like Lualualei, there were a listing of families who were actually displaced. So there were some checks and balances. As these cases unfold and these other locations became, we had to deal with, there are really no records whatsoever. And that was very, very challenging for both ORA and the JACL.

EK: Could you talk a little bit about the standard of review being the benefit of the doubt and how some of these areas were established as eligible despite the lack of documentation?

BK: Yeah. So I think in the law itself, the Office of Redress Administration had to be accurate in who they were compensating that was paramount. So because there were no internment logs, they had to really be careful about how do you make sure that they were actually evacuated. So the government did a couple things. They required an affidavit or documentation that you actually lived there. So they had required for any potential evacuee that they had to sign a sworn statement that they actually lived there, that the government actually did come in and force the evacuation. And that had to be verified by a couple witnesses to be able to say and verify that they were, actually lived there and were displaced. Now, because there was no documentation, there was a provision in the act that the claimant had really the benefit of the doubt. So the standard wasn't as high as the criminal standards which is beyond reasonable doubt, the benefit of the doubt. So if there was any kind of question, it was really the claimant that had, was given the benefit of the doubt if there was a question as to whether they would be eligible or not. And that was very important for JACL and the claimants because to be able to have a written affidavit, a sworn statement and verified by two witnesses, that was sufficient and for the government to actually provide redress to them.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

EK: I'd like to move on to some of your personal recollections of your time working with ORA. The redress program spanned ten years. So over that period of time, who did you work most closely with from the office?

BK: Actually, in its original inceptions I worked very, very closely with Bob Bratt. He was the first Administrator of redress, and it was really Bob's fast-paced leadership style. It was extremely decisive and really sought to implement the spirit of the law in really providing appropriate compensation and an apology. And I think, because Bob recognized that he was under a timeline, that he had to work fast. And that for the government to be able to compensate people, he had to implement the law quickly but thoroughly and accurately. And so all of that stuff he had to, with his leadership style, really mobilize a very, very cohesive working team at ORA. They worked well together, they understood what the mission was, and sought to get out into communities, identify, verify, and compensate them. And did, I thought, an incredible job in kind of the first phase under Bratt's leadership. I also had the opportunity to work with the second Administrator, Paul Suddes, who was Bratt's deputy at the time. And then a little later with DeDe Greene, who was the third Administrator of redress, all had very different leadership styles. But everybody loved Bob because Bob had a very charismatic personality. He worked fast. But having said that, Bob's cases dealt with, like, the easy ones. It was not easy per se, he had to put the program together, that was very tedious and time consuming, did a great job. But as the program had evolved, it was really Paul Suddes and DeDe Greene that had to deal with all these unique cases, cases that had twists and turns, folks who were not in camps, whether they were in Hawaii. I know there were issues of whether Latin Americans would be eligible and Peruvians and all these cases towards the tail end that Suddes and Greene had to deal with. So in many respects, they had to finish up the program, which was very, very tedious as well as complex. And I thought all three of the Administrators did an incredible job, and I think was one of the most successful government programs that I've seen in my professional career.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

EK: In your mind, what would you say were some of the program's highlights or even particular challenges that they faced?

BK: I think the highlights was really the speed and efficiency of which the government was able to implement the act. When you think about it, the Act was passed in August of 1988, and between '88 and I think when the first checks were issued in 1991 or thereabouts, within a year after that, they probably had compensated something like sixty thousand internees. And to go from literally an Act being adopted to actually putting an office together, to hiring staff, to coming up with a verification program, to going out all over the United States and working with community organizations to be able to identify and verify Japanese Americans and to compensate them literally in a matter of a couple of years is incredible. And for a federal agency to do that and to witness that, was really not only amazing, but a true lesson in leadership. To see someone like Bob to be able to put together, conceptualize and implement a program with such great speed and accuracy was amazing. And to me, that was really one of the highlights because it also showed me the importance of the leadership within government and what can be done within the federal government.

EK: Do you have any personal takeaways from your experience working with redress?

BK: I guess one of the, yeah, the personal takeaways is the importance of leadership. But also the importance of being mission-focused. I think what ORA did under all three Administrators was to be able to develop a team and a culture of unity and focus. Because in our interactions with ORA over the years, the staff was incredibly responsive. They were supportive, they went out of their way to work with communities, and it was just incredible to see everyone from the Administrator on down to legal counsel, to the outreach workers, to folks who staffed the helpline, they were all there working in unison. And I think one of the takeaways is that when you do, as a leader of an organization, whether it be the government or the private sector, develop a team, great things can be accomplished and that was some of the great things that ORA did.

EK: Do you think a program like this could happen today?

BK: Yeah, I think so, but it really comes down to people. Because you could have great intentions, great laws passed, but it really depends on who's in the room.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

EK: So speaking of people, are there any others whose contribution you'd like to mention or topics we haven't touched upon already?

BK: Yeah, I think, clearly, the government played, federal government played a key role. I mean, credit is due to, I think, the three Administrators, Bob Bratt, Paul Suddes and DeDe Greene. They played a very, very important role. Early on, Assistant Attorney General Dunne, I forgot his first name, he was there. Jim Turner worked with Bob in the early years, and when there was a change in the administration, Deval Patrick was the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights which oversaw the ORA program, who also played a key role in ultimately addressing the evacuation cases. But I think, on the community side, credit is really due to a lot of the JACL volunteers. There were literally ultimately a couple thousand or several thousand cases that a lot of the pro bono attorneys assisted with. And folks like Mary Wong and Owen Matsunaga and Lauren Hirano who handled the initial cases, Clayton Ikei, who reviewed some of the initial legislation to determine, and whose opinion was that evacuees were eligible, they handled these cases all on a pro bono basis. And I think Ashford and Wriston, where Owen and Mary folks worked with, I think they devoted over two thousand pro bono hours just to handle the initial cases. And then there was a second team of pro bono lawyers that came under the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA), folks like Harry Yee, Roy Catalani, Karl Sakamoto, Susan Kitsu, who were part of the NAPABA team that handled other evacuation cases as well. And so these lawyers really stepped to the plate and handled very tedious and complex evacuation cases that ultimately were successful.

But also, too, to the JACL volunteers. Because it was JACL board, in addition to the lawyers, there were public relations specialists, folks like Allison Tasaka, Sharon Tomomitsu, Steve Okino, who helped publicize the cases because if we didn't get this out to the newsmedia, then probably word about these unique cases would never come to bear. So a public relations and community outreach program was essential. So working together with the lawyers and volunteers, those two were the unsung heroes. And really, lastly, to the evacuees. The evacuees and their families because for them to come out after all these years and to recount all the stories and really to their children, assisting the Issei filling out the forms and coming to all the meetings, and for them to be able to continue to drive these cases fifty years later, and have the patience and the perseverance and the tenacity really is a credit to them as well. So collectively, as a community, as advocates, and as government agencies, I think that's what made the Hawaii cases successful.

EK: Great. Are there any other final thoughts or stories you'd like to share at this time?

BK: I think just kind of in reflection, this was literally thirty years ago, and it was really a community effort. Really, again, working with the government, working with community leaders, working with evacuees themselves. And it is a great story injustice to know that it can be done. But you have to work hard, you have to be determined and you have to persevere. But credit is due to really all these various stakeholders which came to the table to address this.

EK: Thank you, Bill.

BK: Thank you.

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