Densho Digital Archive
Frank Abe Collection
Title: Kenji Taguma Interview
Narrator: Kenji Taguma
Interviewer: Frank Abe
Location: Merced, California
Date: August 29, 1999
Densho ID: denshovh-tkenji-01

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

<Begin Segment 1>

FA: For the benefit of our editor, would you tell us your name and why you're here today?

KT: Kenji Taguma. I'm here today to cover this as a news event for the Nichi Bei Times, the oldest Japanese American bilingual daily in northern California.

FA: So what is happening today?

KT: What is happening today? This is part of a process that has been going on, of course, following a resolution presented by the Florin chapter of the JACL and some other sponsoring organizations trying to bring some closure to a deeply divisive issue that has been festering for fifty-five-some-odd years. It was a courageous move by some Sansei within the organization who wanted to bring the Nikkei legacy, the Nisei legacy to some point of closure, discussing this issue of Nisei draft resistance, which has long divided the community.

FA: Are you surprised by the way that this thing has kind of touched a nerve in the community, this resolution that was sponsored by Andy Noguchi?

KT: I'm not surprised; I think it was expected. Actually, in some arenas, I was surprised that it didn't touch an even deeper nerve. I think with the Northern California/Western Nevada Pacific District, I expected more debate, more hostility, but, of course, it was passed with an 18-2 vote. Today's, today's vote, it was expected because I knew from speaking to people from this area that those were the sentiments.

FA: What happened today?

KT: Today the Central California District Council of the JACL had rejected the resolution calling for recognition and apology to the Nisei draft resisters.

FA: And what is that going to mean for this whole movement?

KT: I'm not sure -- I believe the other sponsoring organizations are going to have to reconsider what other strategy they're going to take to bring this issue up again, whether it's at a national convention or whatever other forum. One thing that this resolution did do, for the first time, all chapters throughout the nation are deeply and seriously discussing this issue. Before, there had been talk, there had been assumptions about the resisters issue, which really wasn't brought up until, within this last decade to a large extent. But for the first time, every single chapter in this, in this organization, 112-odd chapters, are seriously considering this issue.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1999, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

FA: We heard a lot of talk today about, "These Sansei who weren't there, they don't know." "They weren't there, so what do they..." you must have thought a lot about that question, being a Sansei yourself.

KT: Sure, sure, definitely.

FA: And your response to that is...

KT: Definitely. It is, it is good to look at things in hindsight as well. We have some objectivity, I think, more the personal emotions aren't there, so we do have some more objectivity, which works to our advantage. We don't have the, the emotional contact with the issue. When I first, my first source of Japanese American pride came from reading about the veterans and doing a term paper in high school in two days. I was forced to do that or not graduate. So I can see that perspective. I think learning more about their experience, particularly recently seeing Saving Private Ryan brought in a renewed perspective to that, as to what the veterans went through. On the other hand, I am the son of a resister. In high school, my father introduced me to that to a certain extent, but I wasn't sophisticated enough to really decipher the true meaning of that. It wasn't until college when I was asked to help put together an exhibit on the Sacramento Japanese American community's history that I was really open to the full extent of what happened during the resistance, my father being a resister from Amache. And that has become also a tremendous source of my ethnic identity, my pride, ethnic pride. Got me to change my major to ethnic studies, and really spearheaded my evolution and consciousness to become a community and human rights activist.

FA: So what effect do you think -- from your observation as a journalist and the son of a resister -- does this whole, this whole movement for a JACL apology, what do you make of it all?

KT: Well, it's, it is an attempt, it is an honest attempt by some within the organization. I'm sure with this vote, it has been frustrating to a certain degree. The resisters never asked for an apology, never asked for a resolution, and that should be made very clear. The resisters were not anti-veteran, that should be made clear, too. I think this has been misconstrued as a resister versus veteran issue, where resisters themselves went to serve in Korea. My father was drafted for Korea, he ended up being too old and being turned down for that, but he was willing to go. He was a free man in Yolo County, and that's the difference. The Amache resisters, they all resisted individually. They didn't have a large support group, so it, it took a different kind of courage there to make an individual decision, and they, they had a statement that based on the segregated units, based on the constitutional principle, based on their families being in camp, they weren't going to fight. They were civil rights when Japanese American leadership failed the community.

FA: Whether this resolution passes or doesn't pass, is it, do you think it's going to make a difference? What difference will it make if it passes or doesn't pass?

KT: Well, I'm not sure. I don't think, with the resolution passing, I don't think it's going to erase fifty-five years of history, fifty-five years of hostility, fifty-five years of bitterness. There's a lot of talk about reconciliation, there's even some talk about a dual apology. I don't think the resisters have anything to apologize for, necessarily. They made a stand, they made a principled stand, and instead of being ostracized for it, they should be heralded for it.

FA: What about reconciliation as is, [inaudible] reconciliation?

KT: Reconciliation, it has happened to a certain degree. There are public forums, the Florin JACL honored local resisters in 1994, some veterans were there, they made amends. Some veterans have been, have changed their minds. A lot of that has happened on the grassroots level. Some just are never going to change their minds, and are going to go to their grave. And resisters on the other hand, too, they won't forget what has happened to them, the ostracism that they face. But in the light of history, the stand that they took is being recognized. It's, it's in ethnic studies, it's in history, it has become a large part of our community consciousness.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1999, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.