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-2-27-5

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SS: We went to convention trying to get a resolution passed to... it was an apology. So, we as an organization, JACL organization, to apologize and to heal, bring back together all that happened during World War II with the "no-no boys" and the resisters. Because that also was going on in our community at the time, big, big, big things. [Rabbit in the Moon]. I mean, there was just a lot of suppressed anger from the community, that kind of came out. And then, it was -- I gotta say -- it was ugly. It was an ugly time, but it was necessary. And again, big change is necessary, but it is so, so uncomfortable. And in this situation it was quite painful. But after all that was said and done, at the end of the convention... and definitely there were alliances. I don't think I slept more than two hours during the whole week of the convention. [Laughs] Because one of the things that you do before you have resolutions that are voted on, you go and of course you campaign and you try to talk to people. And the people who had the hardest time, of course, were Nisei vets, and people, pretty much anyone who kind of felt that the "no-no boys" and the resisters didn't stand up, didn't represent the community the way they wanted. So, it took a lot of -- I just, I know, it's hard to say -- I just keep saying painful. But after all of that, it got, the resolution passed. And...

BT: Sharon, what convention was that at?

SS: 2000.

BT: No, where was it at?

SS: That was in Monterey.

BT: Okay. Now, did Vicki Toyohara do a lot of the work on that resolution? For some reason, I thought she was involved with that.

SS: She may have been back when she was president? I don't know. Because there was other things done prior. But, no, this was -- this came out of, even Frank Abe's movie, what is it? Conscience and the ...

BT: Conscience and the Constitution.

SS: And then we got, again, the [Rabbit In the Moon]. There was a lot of other things.

BT: Yeah, Chizu Omori.

SS: It just seemed like, even on our board, there were divisions.

BT: And Kristen, this is one of those things that... I think it's generational to see, to understand the visceral nature of this type of issue, because a lot of the people that opposed it, of course, were in the camps, and they were JACL members for a long time. And the people that were issuing an apology for, were people that diametrically opposed JACL at the time. And it goes further than that, because a lot of the people, of course, who've brought the JACL, they joined the 442, and they lost friends and relatives. And then they have the issue of apologizing to folks. Some people felt as if that was a slap to the sacrifice that they had made, and it ran really deep. And I know that after we passed the resolution and had the apology, we lost a lot of vets as members. But of course, in retrospect, and then I think -- I know Sharon thinks this, too -- that we just... it's something that needed to be done to heal our community. And a lot of us, myself as a younger person... as a Sansei not in the camp, that's what I mean by younger person.

SS: We were younger then. [Laughs]

BT: We were young. Kristen, I was your age at one time. [Laughs] As a younger person, it's hard to fathom when you don't, when you see people every day. And it's hard to imagine that animosity between groups in your own community, but it was there. And it was kind of hidden. We kind of unpacked all that. And it was necessary. And my belief, of course, is that anybody who did anything needs to be recognized. They endured. And for us to remember who the enemy was, and it's not our fellow Japanese American, tt was the government and the racists who put us there.

SS: And that was the, that was the biggest thing trying... I mean, so even though it was kind of a generational thing, you have to understand we were still having to talk to and try to show a different perspective, not just to some of the older folks -- that too really, that was really difficult -- but to their grandchildren, who supported them. So, it wasn't... there were just as many people who were in their twenties who didn't agree with this as there were, at the time, people in their seventies, probably. Yeah, seventies maybe.

And, I don't know if this is off the record or not, I got called... so as a, before you go to convention as a... all the resolutions that myself or whoever's representing the chapter at the time, anything that's brought to the convention has to be voted on by the chapter, by the board. So the board, our board, it was a little difficult, but we had we had 100% participation. And we had 100% participation in the other chapters that were around at the time, from the Pacific Northwest. But the night before we left, I mean, I was packing my bags, and I got a phone call -- because we didn't get texts back then -- and so did Arlene, and so did Elaine. And the three of us got called to meet a few people at the Nisei Vets Hall. And it was incredible. I felt like I was being investigated by the FBI. It was down in the basement, and they just wanted to, they just wanted to know why. Why would we, why are we being so disrespectful? Why? All of this. And they wanted us to change our minds. And I just said that, even if it wasn't something I want, even if it was something I wanted to change, I couldn't change it at this point. Because I have to represent what the chapter wants. Yes, I'm president, but I can't just say, "Oh yeah, I'm just gonna go rogue and just let this all go." I don't believe in that. And then, Elaine said the same thing for the district. And I don't know, I think Arlene didn't say anything, she was so scared. [Laughs] We were all just a little intimidated, because these are people that we respect so much.

And I gotta tell you, I think what helped, I hope, and it's a... it's some of the verbiage that we used even at the convention, is to try to explain that, first of all, we don't... if someone said, "Well, I'm a Nisei vet, why do I need to apologize for anything?" And we told them, "You don't have to apologize for one thing." It's not the Nisei vets, and it's not individual people that we are looking to have this apology from, it's from the organization of JACL, not Nisei vets, not any other organization. And it's so hard because so many of our members and our board members, our community is just so intertwined. And said the same thing that Bill just said, we can't, we have to heal, we just have to heal, because this is still affecting families at that point, that day. That day, it still affected families and their descendants and all of that. So, and I told them that, "You guys will always be our heroes. That never goes away. This apology doesn't take away how we feel about you and how much you're our heroes." And I was fortunate enough to be able to speak as a military kid whose dad was in the Korean War, who's -- I mean, he wasn't a Nisei vet, but there's that feeling of pride, there's that feeling of fear. There's... and acknowledging what is really put on the line and what is given up. I don't know if they bought all of it, but they seemed okay when we left. And I think those were the type of sentiments that we were able to get across at the convention.

It's the first time... so maybe Vicki did try to bring it a couple years prior. Trying to remember... I know it was, and it didn't pass. So it was the first time this has passed, anything like that. And it was so... I don't know how to say it. It was so emotional when it passed. Because it didn't pass just by one vote. It really passed by a lot. I mean 100%? No. But more than we thought. Actually, we didn't think it was going to pass, to be really honest. All that we heard and all the comments, even at the convention. So, for that to happen I think we felt just so emotional and overwhelmed and proud of our own community. And because it's not easy, it's just not easy. I think that if I have to say anything from that time, is I think one of the things we did at, in 2000 is that we had to, as a board, as an organization, and as a community, we had to look at ourselves and introspective and that was hard. It was hard. It's hard for me to do that, to say, "Okay, how do I contribute to the problem? How do I... what can I do to make it change? What are the actions that I take that I need to take on my own personal self and my thoughts and the way I look at life?" And I would have to say that was the major struggle for the year 2000.

BT: That was so important. I know that I talked to, subsequently, I talked to a national executive, and it was on a similar issue. It was on gay marriage. And during the discussion they were saying, "Why does Seattle do this? Why are they bringing up issues? It's like, it's better just to... leave this lie, let's not stir up emotions. Last time you guys did this, we lost a lot of members." And it was like, "What are we if we can't stand for civil liberties? Then what kind of organization are we?" So I think, Sharon, thank you, because it's so important that we took a stand. And the funny thing about it is some of those emotions still exist.

SS: Oh, yeah.

BT: At last convention, when Seattle introduced the resolution to issue an apology and publicize more of what happened at Tule Lake, and there were so many people who spoke against that and brought up memories of how some people, not everybody, but some people at Tule Late, were just hooligans and just terrorists against JACL members, blah, blah, blah. But the bottom line is, as we made a stand and others made the point, it ended up passing by a significant...

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