Densho Digital Archive
Frank Abe Collection
Title: Randy Senzaki Interview
Narrator: Randy Senzaki
Interviewer: Frank Abe
Location: San Francisco, California
Date: May 5, 1996
Densho ID: denshovh-srandy-01

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

<Begin Segment 1>

RS: [Reading a letter] "To Richard Tsunaga, Editor, Pacific Citizen, and Harry Honda, Editor Emeritus, Japanese American Citizens League. From Randy Senzaki. February 10, '95. Dear Richard and Harry: Today is my last day as national director for JACL. It has been a painful, yet at times, rewarding experience trying to serve this organization. I felt truly that with patience, respect, cooperation, a long-range vision and collective responsibility, we could begin the necessary transitions for the next generation. I guess I was wrong." [Interruption] "Although deeply hurt by the recent board decisions and worried about my children's immediate future, I'm not bitter. I want to leave the membership with some positive views and values based upon my life experience and my parents' values. I truly appreciate it if you would allow me to have my article from the accompanying journal published in the next Pacific Citizen.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1996, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

FA: At Salt Lake City two years ago we talked to you, you said to Frank and Mits Koshiyama that we're going through a very, very transitional and critical period in the history of JACL. Did JACL successfully make that transition?

RS: Well, in my opinion, unfortunately, I don't think they made that transition. I think what we did was we tried to build, or at least personally I tried to build some bridges between the Nisei generation and the older Sanseis. Trying to get people collectively through the organization to realize that there is a shared vision that we need to be able to talk about and work together for, and it was beyond redress. And it had to do with some fundamental issues of human and civil rights, about healing within our communities, it had to do with the same-sex marriage issue, and it had to do with recognition of mixed-race marriage children, formally, and, and also forgiving those who during the war were... I guess, criticized for their stand, constitutional stand and their own rights as Americans to not have to go through the incarceration experience. And those are the people that I truly respected and also understood that without the organization formally apologizing, putting that behind us, there is no way we could move on with all that baggage.

FA: You seemed optimistic in Salt Lake City, you said that the organization was going to make a transition, you're at a crucial juncture right now, and the next step... what happened?

RS: Well, I think, I think my vision was strong and it's still real. I think what it was was that the rest of the people in the organization weren't honest or courageous enough to really follow that vision. Because in their hearts, I think they really know it's gonna be right down the road, but it's hard for people to let go, sometimes, unfortunately, of things that have... that they embrace for whatever reasons, and I think those who, in JACL, who want to stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the contributions or the courageous stand that the dissenters took during the war, it's a measure of their own inability to understand largely what the experience is as a minority in this country, what it is to be a person of color, to remember why we were put in the camps and fundamentally why we fought for redress and reparations. And it all, it's on a continuum with the same stand the dissenters took. And I think that unfortunately, we're in denial as an organization. JACL has been in denial, and that denial is driving out leadership for the future. In a way, it's mortgaging their own, the future for themselves as well as their children and their children's children.


FA: If the organization is in denial, what is the one thing that it's holding onto?

RS: I think the problem is they're holding onto this, this idea that there is a model minority, that if you make enough money and you can move to the suburbs and buy your Lexus with the twenty grand you got from reparations and redress or whatever -- I'm being a little bit sarcastic -- but that somehow you've bought your rights to being an American in this society and you don't have to deal with it anymore. We should have learned that lesson, that racism is something we deal with every day, without getting overly bitter about the fact that we, that it's out there, is that our children now and children of those who have been affluent enough to move out into the suburbs, into the nice areas, are finding eventually that they're gonna, their children are gonna go through the same experience that they went through. And I think the denial is this idea that, that we bought our, our right to be a citizen during the internment experience and that's behind us. It's not behind us. There's a legacy, and the pain of that experience that's still being played out through the Sansei and the Yonsei generation, and it's still there. And that's why I told the board, I guess, on the last day, I guess it was my only chance to give a little talk about how I really felt, a little lecture. But I did say I hope someday we'll wake up and realize we've been here for four or five generations now, we don't have to be hyper-Americans, we don't have to be anymore. We have the right to be here, but we also have the right of citizenship which is to defend the Constitution, and the rights of all people, not just Japanese Americans. We can't go back to thinking, let's go deal with Japanese issues, which a lot of people were saying, that they were saying the leadership is leading JACL on a treacherous path in the civil rights arena. Well, the reality is that there are, there's, it's a, there's no such word, it's an oxymoron to say "Japanese American issues" in 1996 going into the 21st century. It's Asian Pacific American issues, it's human issues.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1996, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

FA: The Japanese American Citizens League says it's a civil rights organization, stands for justice and civil rights. Is it?

RS: It was, I think at one time, at least for the brief moment I was there, the fifteen months I was national director. Although the staff was really besieged and had been criticized severely through the newspaper, maligned actually, by the newspaper. The efforts and the things they were doing were for civil rights. I mean, we were there. I mean, I was there when they bombed Sacramento, I was able to... I feel support there, that community and finding the perpetrator that bombed the JACL office and all the other organizations up there, civil rights organizations. We fought for Bruce Yamashita.


FA: After all that, Randy, JACL says it's a civil rights organization. After your experience with them, do you really think it is? And use the word, start your answer with the JACL is or is not,

RS: The JACL is not currently a civil rights organization. It's getting to look more and more like a senior citizens' social club. I hate to say that but that's the truth. And it's not dealing with the issues that are impacting on Asian Pacific Americans and all people of color, actually, right now. It's a very difficult, dangerous time in our society when leadership is needed by the Japanese American Citizens League. It needs to, to lend a voice and to, let's say, quote/unquote "walk point" for all of our brothers and sisters of, who are recently arrived immigrants of all Asian nationalities who need our leadership. We've struggled with this, with the institutions here for how many years, JACL, since at least since 1929, so I think we're in a position where we need to pass that on and share that in a larger Asian Pacific American community context.

FA: Do you think that what you did at the Salt Lake City convention to bring the resisters there had anything to do with your firing?

RS: I think, I think what it did was set a stage and stirred the waters up so that people would become more concerned, and that became an issue. It wasn't, I don't think that if it was properly dealt with through the paper, and with the board going back and educating their communities and their districts they came from, that we could have made that transition. But it was waved like a red flag in front of the membership and that's what happened, and I think they wanted to find issues to polarize and divide the JACL against the progressive memberships who were thinking about civil rights and the future for all of us.

FA: Let me just ask that again, and maybe shorten that a bit, Randy. Tell me again what you did in Salt Lake City, tell me that you brought the resisters to Salt Lake City and what happened to you.

RS: I think that the two things were that we brought the resisters to Salt Lake City, they had a chance to very personally and emotionally and in a very human context talk about what the experience meant to them. And that moved me as well as many people there. I wish they would have taken the next step and formally apologized and admitted that there were some wrongs that we want to right. [Interruption] Secondly, I think when we brought to the convention floor the issue of the same-sex marriage -- and remember, one chapter wanted to revoke that stand that was taken by a prior, the prior board -- but we were able to bring members of the gay community to the convention floor to testify along with Congressman Norm Mineta, who made a very eloquent statement about JACL not being afraid and, and having the strength to take a risk for civil rights. And the issue of the same sex-marriage I think really kinda, like, stirred up a lot of denial in the Asian, Japanese American community. Because if we're talking about our children and our children's children, our grandchildren, irregardless of their sexuality, they're human beings, and I think as a civil rights organization, we needed to take that stand also. Those two issues, I think, contributed to the membership feeling that we're going too far out on civil rights for this organization, and it ultimately led to, I think, a separation of the staff from the rest of the organization.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1996, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

FA: You know the, okay, old senior citizens' organization. I'm going to throw a phrase out to you and I'd like you to repeat it and tell me if you agree or disagree. The ghost of Mike Masaoka still haunts the JACL.

RS: The ghost of Mike Masaoka still haunts the JACL. You know what? I understand what you're saying, and only because those who want to resurrect a ghost can do so. And that's where I said, shared collective responsibility was going to be the determinate factor in terms of our future. And when people refuse to do that -- it's too easy to point at Mike Masaoka who has been long gone and say he's the reason to blame, it's shared with all of those who perhaps may have felt similar towards the dissenters and who have not been able to forgive and forget and move on. And it's too easy. No, I don't blame Mike Masaoka, I blame the collective mentality of those who will follow rather than to think for themselves and, and who would rather be silent than to stand up and speak out for what is right. That's the problem.


FC: Is it fair to say that you and the young staff, you and the Sansei staff, were let go because you were leading the JACL toward becoming a civil rights organization?

RS: Well, let me tell you what I heard from somebody who told me, one of the leaders on the board, let's put it this way, said, "Randy, I'm really concerned because people are telling me that we are leading -- i.e. you, staff -- are leading JACL on a treacherous path, vis-a-vis these issues of civil and human rights." That, that phrase haunts me more than, that goes to Mike Masaoka, because that's a living, that's a living word that I just heard not long ago from a breathing person. So, yeah, there are people who definitely, I think, wanted the national staff gone because all they were doing as stewards of the organization, carrying out what the board had decided upon as policy. And so it's easy to say maybe there were some sacrificial lambs put out there. The unfortunate part is when you cut off, cut off the commitment of those who were willing to step forward and implement those policies and take the criticism, you lose those people, then you've lost the thrust and the effectiveness of an organization on a national level.

FC: Try to shorten it up again. So the board had approved the civil rights, support for the civil rights issues. Could you start with that? The JACL board approved support for civil rights issues. And then I heard that this was said, treacherous path.


RS: As soon as I was hired, the first board meeting I attended, I realized that there was a big controversy. The board had decided to implement and to support the same-sex marriage issue. And at the same time, discussions were going on about the dissenters and the role they played, that was an ongoing discussion that was an undercurrent unresolved. The board made these decisions on the civil rights issues for us to go out and articulate it and represent it. What I heard was someone saying, "You are leading the organization on a treacherous path," and we were just following the board's direction. I think that we were compromised because of our role in implementing the policies of the board.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1996, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

FA: It was fifty years ago that all this happened, when the JACL cooperated with the government, the resistance, the JACL opposing resistance. Why has it been so hard for the leadership of JACL -- and I want you to mention them in your answer -- so hard for JACL now to still apologize to the resisters?

RS: I think the problem is that they personalize this whole experience.

FA: Why don't you say "the JACL"?

RS: I think the JACL personalized this experience, those who did challenge the resisters, who are still alive, carried bitterness in their hearts and they were unable on a human level to forgive. That's what I'm sensing. I'm sensing a dysfunctional part of the personality of those who were not in a healthy way willing to let go of something that happened fifty years ago, and that's the problem. They were not been willing to let it go, and the personal undercurrents overrode their ability to be wise and intelligent and make the right choice. So I was appealing to intelligence, reason, and reason and principle. I was talking to people who were responding totally in a closed, emotional, one-dimensional, short-sided way, and wouldn't let go of past animosities.

FC: If the JACL does not face civil rights issues confronting Japanese America, what are the consequences for the community at large?

RS: Consequences for the community are the escalating racism, violence, belittlement, animosity, the very things that we fought as Asian Americans to overcome in this society, and we need to be still fighting today. Those elements out there are going to overwhelm this community eventually. Because if the community does not stand up for itself and what it believes in, then it's fair game, fair game.

FC: Once again, just start it with, "Without leadership..."

RS: Without, without leadership, the Asian Pacific American community is going really suffer. In this time right now, where racism, anti-immigration policies, all of the legacy of what we faced as Asians coming to this country, each Asian American group, is going to be thrown right back in our faces. We need leadership to keep the agenda of civil and human rights moving forward for everybody.

FA: I mentioned to you on the phone that we had uncovered the Articles of Incorporation and 1957 doesn't mention a single word about civil rights organization, just talks about promoting Americanism. Does that surprise you?

RS: No, it doesn't because, well, as an Asian American Studies professor now, I realize that JACL's history really has been stated by Ronald Takaki for one, accomodationist and conservative in its strategies. And I do agree that that's, that was what it was. So I don't, I'm not surprised that that wasn't in there, with this effort to prove how patriotic we were and how loyal we were to this country, which every Asian American group tried, took some degree with limited success to do so. So that's how I feel about it. I don't think it matters whether it's in the writings now. I think there is a mention in the beginning of the JACL handout about what we stand for, it does say human and civil rights, I believe, now. The point is, why does it need to be legislated? It should, that's an issue, a principle and character that we all know doesn't have to be put in words and passed by a board resolution to, to defend and to live off those principles. So civil rights, human rights are a part of what this whole organization is all about, and we cannot ignore that. It's like an ostrich putting his head in the sand, you know, you're very vulnerable, part of you is very vulnerable when you do that. [Laughs]

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1996, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

FA: Did you ask your parents that? Did you ask them?

RS:Well, actually I never had to ask them that because I understood fundamentally a little bit more than some people, maybe because of the fact that I was born in the camps, spent an year and a half as a child growing up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the postwar late '40s early '50s, racism was very real to me. I had people, kids run up and yell, "Dirty Jap," "Pearl Harbor sneak attack," hit me in the stomach, all that. I grew up with that directly because I was, you know, in a white society in Minnesota, the only, a handful of Asians there, a few Japanese. So I have had tremendous, the minority experience more than people who grew up in a Japanese or Asian community out here. I didn't have that privilege, I guess, of having my own community behind me, so I learned racism very directly. I understood what that was all about. It didn't have to be taught to me in Asian American studies courses, I lived it.

FA: Did you ever ask your parents why didn't they resist?

RS: I did, and I understood because my father volunteered for the service right after Pearl Harbor, and he was classified as an "enemy alien." They wouldn't take him, like a lot of Filipinos and others did. And so then when he was put in the camps, they came around and tried to draft him. And I was already born, and he was very bitter. He said, "When I volunteered, you didn't want me, now I have a family behind barbed wire and you are asking me to go now?" So I respect my father for the stand he took. I have uncles who were in the 442nd. My brother resisted the Vietnam War and went to Canada for many years because of what he believed in. The reason he did that was because of what happened to my parents, he told me. That's the reason he did not go fight in Vietnam against other Asians. So, my family, we lived it, the legacy was a living thing in our hearts. I didn't need to be told or questioned why they went to camp, because I knew they really didn't have much of a choice. There was not a cadre of Asian American lawyers running around at that time. [Laughs] Or enough people to articulate and defend the principles of the Constitution. Except that's why I really feel a lot of respect and courage for the resisters because of that. It took a helluva lot of courage to do this and take that stand in your own community.

FA: You said your father resisted the draft?

RS: No, he didn't resist the draft. Well, let me put it this way. He sent him a letter, and he said he was unable to go, and then he got out on a medical discharge because he had an ear infection and almost died on the operating table in camp, and came out with loss in one ear. But yes, he did volunteer, they turned him down, and then went after him when he was in camp. And I'll always remember some of the things, you know, 'cause my uncles, who fought, and valiantly, and also the older guys in the Military Intelligence Service whom I tremendously respect and spent time supporting their concerns when I was director, what I realized on the other side of the coin was there were a handful of other people who paid a price to the, 'til the day they went to their grave, and never got the recognition they deserved for the courageous stance they took defending the same constitutional principles that they, others went to war for.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1996, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

FC: Resisters as... speak to the question of resisters as examples to the young, or what they mean to your history.


RS: I believe the analogy I have about the stand the resisters took and what it meant to my generation, let's say the Sanseis and some of the Yonseis, is that they took an unpopular stand on moral and civil rights, constitutional principles, took it in their own community, which is the hardest thing for, sometimes, for minorities and people of color to do, is to take a stand in your own community, especially Japanese Americans. And they had the courage to do that in that time, just as a lot of young people in the '70s resisted the Vietnam War. I have a brother who went to Canada and cut himself off from our family rather than go kill another Asian. And that was a direct result of what happened to my parents, that he made his decision. So that's where I say it's a badge of honor and courage, that they did not follow all the people unnecessarily like sheep, they chose a path that was less popular, much more difficult, and much more lonely to travel, but they did it with courage and with conviction. And to this day, they deserve an apology, as well as recognition for their stand.

FC: What, what happened to them in the community when they did resist? What was the consequences for them?

RS: Well, the first thing was they had to deal with their parents. And like even my father did not quite understand why my brother left to go to Canada and not fight. And he said, you know, "Randy, we never had any black sheep in our family, and I know Alan isn't one. Why did he go?" He was drunk, he was having a drink with me at my sister's wedding. I said, "Dad," -- 'cause Niseis often didn't talk to their sons, right? We know about Japanese American Nisei men and Sansei men and all this, but anyway, we had a conversation. And I said, "Dad, I want you to understand something. What Alan did was the most courageous thing. It was the hardest thing for him to do, it took more guts to do what he did, to go there and not kill another Asian person behind a war that he felt was wrong." And it took so much courage to walk that path alone, without a bunch of people around him. And that's what happened. They were disaffected, they had to deal with their parents first, who had felt ashamed of their son's decision, and then you had others who were very, I call them very patriotic Americans, that I know that were in the airborne, paratroopers, who were on the other side, you see. And somewhere in the middle, what they forgot was that there is this thing called character, principle, and courage. And to stand up and to live that is a measure of any man or woman, that's the measure of their strength, their dignity and their intelligence as far as I'm concerned. It often isn't necessarily even the issue. It may be the stand you take, you know what I'm saying? And the integrity with which you take that stand. And that's what I was looking at. On that, in that sense, there was a continuum that the Military Intelligence Service, 442nd vets were standing on, as well as on the other side here, along this continuum, the dissenters, the war resisters, people equally as courageous, standing up for human values. And it made sense to me; I guess it didn't to the organization.


FC: The, how did the JACL react to the resisters during the war and after?

RS: I think the saddest, the saddest thing that I can think of is the fact that they went after, purposefully, not only just, not only ostracizing the resisters, but going out of their way to make life miserable, and to paint this distorted picture of them as traitors. Character assassination is another way to put it. But I think what they did worse than that was they destroyed the spirits of some very, very proud people, righteously so. And I think when you go after somebody and you haunt them and harangue them like a pack of wolves, you take away something from your own humanity in the process. And perhaps that's the worst side of JACL that I've seen, is this inability to have that extra step to be compassionate at times. And they become so severe in their overreaction, it kind of reminds me partly of some cultural traits of Japanese from Japan, as well as the psychology of the oppressed, and those people who understand psychology of minorities, sometimes we, we go after people that are more courageous and are willing to say things we're not, because it disturbs us. And so we're gonna, we're gonna put 'em up and sacrifice them. There was this strange thing that goes on in JACL, that somehow this organization that should be the most compassionate organization for people who are dealing with civil and human struggles, trying to stand up for what they believe in, that this organization could turn around and be so vicious against those who don't agree, lock, stock and barrel, with this, this overall philosophy or program or whatever it is they happen to be running down at the time, that if you don't agree, somehow you're an outsider. And I do think that that's a problem in the psyche of Japanese Americans. I do believe that it's there.

FC: Does the size of the minority have anything to do with the JACL's ability to be the leader, have been the leader for so long?

RS: Yeah, I think so. I think 'cause we were always known as the largest, if not the second-oldest Asian American civil rights organization, that did carry clout. But at the same time, often it's not, the size doesn't matter, but if you can bang the pots loudly, sometimes you don't need as many people to make it sound like you've got a lot with you. So in that sense, I think we could be doing a much better job in terms of advocacy, because it does have, it has established some clout in circles in Washington, D.C., etcetera. And the declining membership controversy, which people argue about, that's only a function of JACL's inability to reach out to the next generation. So...

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1996, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

FC: At the convention, what was the atmosphere like just before the resisters' panel?

RS: I think there was a lot of tension in the air because of the resisters' panel, because we knew that they had thought they addressed this issue in San Diego at a prior convention, and didn't really face it and come to grips with it. And so here we come again in Salt Lake, and this time they're gonna, you're gonna speak individually about their experience.

FC: Had the, had resisters ever spoken to a JACL convention before?

RS: Now, I don't know the complete history of the, the prior conventions, so I don't know if they spoke at a national convention. I know that districts hosted these kinds of forums, but I don't know if at the national level, if that had ever had happened.

FC: Why don't you just say it? [Laughs] That at the district levels, these meetings had been going on, but this was the first time at a national level.

RS: Yeah, okay. At the district level, JACL did address this issue with the resisters. They have had forums and panels and workshops, but at the national level, we've never had that debate, or that issue discussed on the national floor of a convention.

FC: Say again that the resisters had never appeared, had never spoken to a national convention.

RS: Yeah, the resisters actually had never appeared in person and spoke on the floor of a national convention to all the delegates, that was the first time. And also we had the same-sex marriage issue coming up. I tell you, it was a very, we all were holding our breaths, because this was a big one. We're in Salt Lake City, which is known to be a relatively conservative area, we knew that the resisters were going to be there putting on a panel, we knew that there was going to be a panel on gay and lesbian issues, and we knew that these were sore spots within the organization. But are things that we strongly felt the organization has to address in order to move on in a healthy way and deal with, with the future.

Male voice: If both of them had made great speeches, would it have made any difference?

RS: Both men? Oh, made great speeches? I thought they made, I thought they made very eloquent speeches. I guess somebody on the side of JACL was treating it more as a debate, or tried to. However, I felt that here was a chance for us to hear a human being talking about their very deepest most personal experiences behind this whole legacy of, for me, shame, that we had to go through as an organization, of not acknowledging them. So I don't know if the speeches would have made any difference. To me it did, because I got to hear how their lives were affected by their noble decision for what they believed in. I don't know if the rest of the membership allowed their hearts to be open enough to understand what it really meant, 'cause I do believe if they did listen with an open heart, they would have moved and made the right decisions.

FC: Did anything result from that panel? Was there any legislation, any votes, any action taken by the JACL convention in response to the, the speech?

RS: You know, I wish I could tell you with clarity whether I could answer that fully. I'm not sure. We were all pretty much in shock because we knew that there were some rumors about whether or not the, what the future for the national staff was going to be. There was already stuff going on in the organization, the "smoking gun" memo, which if you've heard about that, it's, the Pacific Citizen newspaper and its agenda to control, to control the articles in the paper prior to the convention, where a group did meet to discuss that privately, and did control the way the rest of the organization viewed the direction of the organization, 'cause the paper was the only vehicle to express it.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1996, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

FC: -- about the JACL.

RS: Yes, I did, my friends warned me.

FA: What did they warn you?

RS: "Be careful, Randy, watch your back." "Why do you want to join JACL?" These are all my progressive friends at the PSW reception. They all came up to me, all my friends. [Laughs] They know me, all of 'em, and they all warned me, and they said, "Randy, are you crazy?" I said, "Look, maybe." [Laughs]

FA: So why... I guess I'm thinking more in terms of the JACL's record of cooperating with the government, suppressing resistance, opposing test cases, you knew all that.

RS: But I did know some other things, that there was change, that there was a possibility and hope for change right eminently, preeminently waiting for it to happen. We had a progressive board that voted for the same-sex marriage, that was defending Bruce Yamashita, you know, against the military, that the issue of the war resisters, there were a lot of people like me who knew that an apology was overdue. I mean, there were enough of us, there were enough of us in the organization at that time to give me hope. I mean, I am an optimist; I'm an idealist. That keeps my engine roaring, but I'm not a fool, either. Sometimes I look like a fool when I step out from a decision I made, but I'll always give it my best shot, and I did truly believe there was hope for the future. I did this largely because of my children, because I have kids, and I know that we needed a national organization, a civil rights organization for Asian Americans on a national level. I know this much, that it was important that we have that advocacy and that defense and that educational front. We need JACL for that, those reasons, and I wasn't willing to give up as much of what I had in my life at that time to this organization, to move it forward, because I have children, and I don't want to see the past history of racism and oppression repeated for my kids. [Interruption] We've all paid too dear a price for all of this, and we don't, and the only way we're gonna make sure we have that freedom is that we're always on the forefront defending it. And that's why I joined the organization. I believed that we could move it to the next level. I did truly believe that, that's why perhaps it hurt me the most of any experience in my life, was one of the most painful, for that very reason.

FA: So do we have that now?

RS: I don't want to talk about the board I don't even know, or the new director, whom I've heard he's a very nice person who has commitment, and I wish him well as long as, and the rest of the staff. Because they're still dealing with an entrenched group of old-timers who do not want to step aside from committee chairs, from, really, controlling the organization as well as the newspaper, and they don't want to move it past 1950. And we're living in 1996, going into the year 2000. I don't think we can live in 1950 any longer.

FC: The young, potential leaders like yourself, who left the JACL or were forced to leave, do you have some names?

RS: Oh, of people who were forced to leave in the past?

FC: Or feel, or feel, or have given up.

RS: I, you know what, I'd hate to speak for friends because of the way the community is, and they'll jump on them, and if they, I feel people should speak for themselves. But let me tell you that there are people who resigned from the board, the prior board that I served under, who were very progressive. Two women that I respect tremendously who have left the organization, well, their first names, well, Ruth is one of them, and Tricia is the other. Without speaking for them, they left along with some other people because they, they just gave up. They tried everything they could to save this organization, and the organization refused to allow itself to be saved, basically.


FC: What qualities did these people bring, and what has the JACL lost?

RS: First of all, they lost not only a level of organizational, professional skills that these people had, 'cause they're, these people were, like, administrators in private life. So they had all the professional skills they needed. Secondly, they also had a vision. They had a large understanding of the struggle, the human rights, civil rights struggle in this country. Not just the Japanese American story, they had a wider understanding of how that links together with civil rights in general. Also, they were involved, very actively, in community boards and in other types of organizations in the community. Broadly networked and coalition builders, so that they could reach out to other segments in the community around issues that unite us all. And that's what this organization needs, and they were a link to the community and to other organizations, and also to the future, because they had a vision. They had great ideas, they had creative people, they were good planners, and they had this commitment that you rarely find in young people today, often, and they had this commitment. So we lost some of the best and the brightest, I think. In fact, one of my friends, who's a professor at Berkeley in Asian American Studies said, "Randy," the other night, said, "I think maybe you represent the last hurrah for JACL." And I said, "Well, I thought maybe that happened in the '70s when some of my friends tried to enter the organization and they were totally kicked out, and those friends now are leaders, I mean, these are people that are well-respected now. But I didn't realize that I would find a second opportunity in my life to try to take this organization across that threshold, that self-imposed barrier. And I guess maybe I, maybe I was the last hurrah, maybe we were. I would hope not; I hope there's another generation of people crazy enough as I was, with enough passion and commitment and willingness to try it again. You know, I'm a believer. But if it never happens again, at least I made the effort, and I know friends who made the effort, and I know people in the community who appreciated that effort, and those things don't go unforgotten. We're still active; I'm doing things now that I wouldn't have done if I was in JACL, so it was a mixed blessing, and I look to the future for the organization. I hope it finds its way.

FC: Will the community last that long?

RS: The community... yeah, it'll last that long. It'll last longer than JACL. I hope JACL stays around long enough to serve the community.

FA: JACL says it's a civil rights organization. Is it?

RS: Currently, no. Currently, no. If it gets back on track, it could be. It's not speaking out on major issues right now.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1996, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

FA: Could you explain to the person on the street, fifty years later, why can't Japanese Americans resolve a fifty-year-old dispute over those who resisted and those who cooperated?

RS: Because they're unwilling to find the forgiveness in their hearts. Their pride and their ego and their sense of who they think they are in the community, their status. It's almost like, analogy, a small community sometimes -- and an ethnic community can become a very small community, irregardless of numbers -- it's like an inbred little community. It's like a small town where people know, know everybody else's business. And unfortunately, when people are unwilling to stand up and speak out for what they believe in, or if when they do, other people feel nervous because they're speaking out on how they feel instead of following the collective sheep, then we have problems with that, Japanese Americans. I do think it's an issue of psychology, I do think it has something to do with the internment, with a sense of guilt that Japanese Americans still carry to this day, this hyper-Americanism, this need that I think borders on dysfunctional at times, that's a part of why they won't forgive. Because if they stood back and understood, and they knew in their hearts that it's time to forgive, they could let it go. But people get frozen in time, they want to be king of the small time, big fish in a little pond, I could go on and on. You know what I'm saying? And a lot of people in JACL, that's how they view themselves and their role in the Asian American or Japanese American community. And so it's hard for them to say they made a mistake. Their pride won't allow them, their ego, their basic fundamental insecurity, lack, what they lack is magnanimity, and it's a function of their insecurity. And so yes, it's hard for them, their ego won't allow them to say, "I did make a mistake, I'm sorry." They're too stubborn to do that. Ignorant, too.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1996, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.