Densho Digital Repository
Seattle JACL Oral History Collection
Title: Sharon Sobie Seymour Interview
Narrator: Sharon Sobie Seymour
Interviewers: Kristen M. Eng, Bill Tashima
Date: December 15, 2020
Densho ID: ddr-sjacl-2-27-3

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SS: The CLPEF grant was also a really big accomplishment. I know Bill knows a lot about that. Because I believe you were on the committee that helped with that. You and Arlene, Arlene Oki?

BT: Yeah. We worked with Kip with that, Kip Tokuda.

SS: Oh, Kip. Kip is the one who re-introduced it, I believe.

BT: And just, CLPEF stands for... it's the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund grants.

SS: And so it... correct me if I'm wrong. It's funding that was, kind of, I don't want to say leftover, but when it kind of came, it springboard from redress, and the money is from redress, but...

BT: It was based on, it was based on the idea that came from the Civil Liberties 1988 Act. But California led the way and they had their own programming, providing their own funding for similar programs and Kip Tokuda introduced the same idea. So, it's to promote the legacy of what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II. But the funding is all from the state of Washington. And it's administered by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

SS: So, it has funded many, many organizations. I think it originally funded Densho. I think... I remember when that was first brought in, and a lot of other projects and organizations. And from that, I was able to do a project called the Shorai project. My monies came from the CLPEF Fund. And so that was something that I was very proud of. My background in JACL, before I was president, I was vice president, and my concentration was always education. And I just, it's all from our own personal experiences. I never learned about it in school. I learned about it from my mom when I was in sixth grade. And I was... I don't think I was... I was so angry, I don't think I've ever really been that angry before in my life, and at the country that I love the most. And I remember raising my hand in Washington state history, and my teacher, who was our government, teacher, too, and very cool -- I thought he was really old. He was probably twenty-six years old. [Laughs] I said, "Well, what about..." -- then we used the term "internment camps" -- "during World War II of the Japanese, Japanese Americans?" And he said, "Yeah, that was a bummer." And then we moved on. And I thought, "Huh." I was speechless. And then I talked to him afterwards, and he said, "Sharon, I just don't know. I know of it. I don't know enough to teach it, to speak on it. I didn't learn that much. I didn't learn it, really anything about that. There's no curriculum on it." So that was when I was a senior in high school. And that actually also fueled me. And I wanted... that was my goal from since I was eighteen years old.

So, when I got a chance to do some of this in JACL, I started working, actually, originally with Ray Ishii, Tim Otani. I sat on a committee with them, and YK Kuniyuki -- I can't believe I remember all this. And it was an incredible committee to sit on as a newcomer. But anyways, we started talking about that, and curriculum and workshops and teacher workshops. And then later on, I worked with Elaine Akagi. So, which was great. And we did a lot of workshops. So after doing all the workshops, by the time I was president, I just felt like we've done so many things in Seattle, which is wonderful. But to me, that wasn't where a lot of times the information isn't getting to. It's to the more remote areas of our state. I don't want to... anyways, Peninsula, the Eastern Washington, even southern part of Washington. And so the Shorai project was a traveling workshop project. So Mako Nakagawa, I took her -- that poor woman -- I did everything. Everything I did, I included her because she was the best to me. She went on the road, and I kind of organized different workshops for her in different areas. And she... and then I think she went with Karen Yoshitomi. Karen, also at the time was a JACL district president. How do we call her?

BT: Representative, regional representative.

SS: Yeah. And so she had a lot of resources, and she also knew where to get them. So, I thought that would be a great person to add on. And, basically, I mean, to wrap it up, that's kind of what the Shorai project was, is to make sure that we don't just concentrate in Seattle, we need to get this information to as many teachers as possible. So that was something that... there was another project that we did that kind of was along the same line in 2000. And it was a 2000 Day of Remembrance school program. And I connected with the Highline School District because they had teachers that were interested and tried to do a four school project. That was overwhelming. [Laughs] But I think in the end, it was worth it. We had 400 Students participate. And it was... there's a lot of politics involved. Honestly, we never got the 100% approval or support from the district. They were wonky on it. They said, they gave us permission, but they did not formally support it. The thing is, the individual schools, though, wanted it so badly, and the teachers that I was working with from those four schools, so interested, really wanting to do it. It was difficult, though, because as we've learned, as I've learned, is that when you go into schools, the teachers are kind of bombarded with so much curriculum and supplemental curriculum. So they sometimes have to pick and choose and I just felt fortunate that they chose this topic. And so we had a two-week program, we gave them curriculum, we gave them activities, trying to get these kids to maybe not just read about it, but maybe to understand. Teachers would separate the room just on eye color or hair color or whatever, just trying to trying to encourage some kind of empathy, maybe. It's really hard when -- even at that age -- to understand what happens in these camps and how it feels. So anyways... and then at the end, we had a huge assembly, so to speak. And we had speakers, and I had Ben Kodama and Miyo... I wrote her name down. And then we had Mako again. Oh, Miyo Uchiyama, that's right, and she had written a book, actually. So, I was very proud of that. That was a big accomplishment. We kind of moved forward even though the district didn't want us to. We did what the school, what the kids wanted to do. So anyways, those are a couple things. Let me think... we supported the Wen Ho Lee situation. I thought that was really important.

BT: What were you saying? I missed that.

SS: Wen Ho Lee, he was a scientist.

BT: Oh, yeah, yeah, I remember that.

SS: He was arrested, and so much of his civil liberties were taken away. He was a Taiwanese scientist, and I got an opportunity, I think Larry Gossett had created a protest at the courthouse. And I spoke, he spoke, Max Chin, who was the president of OCA at the time, she spoke. And I think the thing that I tried to do was connect it back to the incarceration. I mean, basically, the same thing that was happening to him had happened to over 120,000 people back in the '40s, during World War II. So, it didn't get a lot of support all the way throughout the whole thing. But I was very proud that we had supported that and spoke out against it. I'm trying to think...

BT: That's a fine point. I think that's one of the strengths of JACL, is that we use, we leverage our legacy, and in current day affairs. And the issue with Lee, I remember one of them is that we don't know if he's innocent or not, but he's not being afforded his rights.

SS: Right. So he had, he was put in solitary confinement. This was before he was, this is before he was even convicted.

BT: Yeah, charged.

SS: Charged. Yeah, he was given... he wasn't given any bail, opportunity for bail, just a lot of things. Because they thought he was a spy. And where he was working was an area that had, it was on nuclear testing and things like that, and they thought he was giving away all the secrets to the Republic of China.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2020 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.