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

<Begin Segment 1>

KE: Awesome. Okay, hi. It's great to meet you. I'm Kristin, like Bill said. I'm going into my -- I'm in my second year at the University of Washington. I'm studying engineering and informatics. I was interested in being a part of this project because JACL has had such a big impact on my life. My grandpa was the president for... was the president of the JACL for the Puyallup Valley. And just growing up in the Seattle Japanese American community, it just had such a big impact on my life. So, when I was messaged by one of my old teachers to be a part of this project, I jumped at the chance. I was so excited, and it's been so much fun. And Bill has been great to work with. So, let's jump in. Why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your upbringing, school activities, just a little bio about yourself?

SS: Well, I've got about fifty-nine years. So, are you just talking about originally where I'm from?

KE: Yeah, let's start with that.

SS: Okay, I'm a military, a child of a military family. So, I was born in Texas, on a military base. And traveled a little bit, lived in a few different areas, came here to live when my dad was stationed in Vietnam. And so he wanted his family to be here. He had been stationed in Fort Lewis in the '50s, which is when he met my mother. And so my mom is from Washington State. She grew up all her siblings, Kapowsin, I don't know if anybody knows where that is. It's kind of out by Mount Rainier. And so we've -- I've lived in this state since about 1972, 1973. So to me, I'm a Washingtonian, I basically grew up here. Went to the University of Washington. Yay, go Dogs. I grad... I started out in poli sci. I wanted to be in international affairs. Actually, I went my first year to PLU. And was looking to study international politics and government. A couple things happened in the world, and I thought, "Huh, wow, well, maybe that's not the place for me." I thought I wanted to be governor. [Laughs] I was so young. Governor, or in some kind of politics, transferred to the UW. And after I got a little taste of the poli sci major, and the people in it, and the professors, I thought another, huh, this is not... I don't think this is my cup of tea, and decided to go into more public relations, type of thing. So that's what I ended up studying: communication and public relations.

So, some of the, I think I skipped over a lot. I have to say, going back to... those are the things that kind of happened, the things that kind of affected, at least what brought me to maybe JACL, is when I was growing up in the, being around military, other military kids, at least during that time in the '60s, it just seemed like everyone looked like me, or I looked like everyone else in the environment that I was living in. And it wasn't until I kind of moved here and then started going to school out in the Franklin Pierce School District, that I realized that I look really different than everybody. And I kind of wasn't -- I was considered a minority, which I never considered myself that growing up in, on military bases, and I lived in Thailand. So really, everyone really, I did look like everyone. And I didn't really realize all that stuff. Sometimes kids just don't. And so it wasn't until I kind of moved to Washington state that I thought, oh, and then I started finding out that the different places that I went to, I don't know, people are always trying to figure out what I am.

I think I've been asked that over a million times in my life, "What are you?" Not, "What ethnicity are you?" or background, just, "What are you?" And I think I take that with me a lot, being a biracial person, and especially a biracial person of my age. Not quite as many of us during the '50s, '60s, '70s, as there are now. So and then wiggling my way through the University of Washington, I felt a little more at ease. Majority of people look a lot of different ways. And, but there was something that freaked me out when I was at the U Dub back in the '80s, the Ku Klux Klan came into town, and had a big convention or something like that. I don't know what they're called, rallies, conventions, I don't know. And I think David Duke was there and all of this. And, all of a sudden, some of my friends were getting beaten up in elevators, just getting on to go up to their dorm with people who they just thought lived in the same dorm were getting beat up. And I became scared. I was kind of afraid, just for a moment. And I knew then that... I always think of those kinds of organizations when I was that age, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, as in the past. Yeah, they're kind of around, but they're only in certain areas. And so for me, that kind of was a little bit of a [turns pretend switch]. Now, it's right where you live, it's right where you live. So there might be people who belong to it, might be people that you know. So anyways, that just that's kind of led me here... and I'm married. And I have a daughter, who is a senior in her college over in Boston at Berklee School of Music. And so she's living in Boston right now. And then, I have an almost ninety-three-year-old mom. And then I have a brother who tootles around here, too. So that's, I guess that's me in a nutshell.

KE: That's really interesting about the story you were telling about the -- when the Ku Klux Klan came to University Washington. Because I have never heard that story before. Or heard about that. So that's really interesting.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2020 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

KE: When did you join the JACL?

SS: Trying to remember, I think it was 1994. I looked it up. I think Ray Ishii was president, I believe. And I think... I thought it was a year before because Kip was on the board. But I think he was doing his last year, you know that? He left there or the year after. So, I think 1994.

KE: Okay, so you were president of Seattle JACL. How would you describe Seattle JACL when you were president?

SS: Ah, the year 2000. It was definitely just... the year 2000, out in the world, out in our community, was just all about change, and technology and everything like that. And I think how I felt was that the... I don't know if this is proper to say, old guard. Bill is that proper to say, "old guard"?

BT: You can say that.

SS: [Laughs] Because we're now the old guard. But then I think it was just a transformation of leadership, kind of from the old guard to the next generation. And so big changes. And as we all know, change is needed, change is necessary, change is good. But change is also very difficult and very hard. You can say you want change, but then when it starts to happen, it usually feels really uncomfortable. And I would say in the, in the chapter and definitely on the boards, that was very true. It was just really an odd time. Exciting, but odd. So that's how I would kind of describe it. We were fortunate we had Niseis, we had Sanseis, and then we had a sprinkle of Yonseis there. So I actually thought that was a big plus. I was very excited for that when I first came on. I just thought, "How do you go wrong with the past, the present and the future all kind of under one roof, and having conversations and hopefully making some decisions?" So...

KE: Yeah, definitely. So what do you consider to be your, your major accomplishments, when, either when you were a part of Seattle JACL or when you were president?

SS: One, that I survived. That you still want to come and talk to me, that is an accomplishment. Because I did not think that would be -- gotta be honest -- by the beginning of 2001. What's our biggest accomplishment? So, at that time... I just want to be kind of clear. So, through JACL, or through myself, or if I can just...

KE: Through JACL Seattle. Yeah.

SS: I had... I'm sorry, I am going to cheat a tiny bit. I started writing things down because I had to kind of go back and look. I can tell you some of the... I don't want to go and do a biography, you guys can do that. Maybe you already have. But some of the things, just to give you an idea of what was going on, too, is a year and a half prior to that we lost, affirmative action was kind of taken away. So that was Initiative 200. And many of us, especially the executive team at Seattle JACL, really fought to fund that and to keep it going. But anyways, we lost. And so, it seemed like I think there was this urgency, this feeling of we don't want all the work that's been done all these years to go away. So one of the things I thought was really cool, was the Aki Kurose school. So it was Sharples. And it got... many people worked on that. But definitely, there was a team from JACL that worked on that. Yeah. And, and so I thought that was wonderful. We also worked on the logo for King County. We helped with... that was something that I thought was great that we got involved with. Changing it... so it's still King County, but changing the logo to represent Martin Luther King instead of, I wrote his name down, trying to remember the gentleman who it was named after originally. He was a slave owner.

BT: Rufus King, I think.

SS: Yes, yes. So, I think those were really important things. Not... I think, for us because they're visual -- I mean, hey, we're not going away. I think the Aki Kurose school being named was one of the first times anything like that has ever happened, so it was very historical.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2020 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

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.

<Begin Segment 4>

SS: So anyways... I'm trying to think. If I can, I'd like to look at a few notes. Ah, yes, yes, yes, I remember this. There's two things and... well, three, really. Do you remember Bill, McDonald's?

BT: Oh, in the ID?

SS: Tried to come into the ID.

BT: Yeah, I remember that.

SS: And, a lot of people, you know, people from the outside go, "Well, so what? They're everywhere. Why wouldn't you want to get..." And it was a big fight to get, to keep them out. And we wanted to keep... we just wrote down... I mean, I think everyone, so many organizations in the ID fought tooth and nail, and we won. So, I thought that was really important. I thought that was a turning because that gentrifying idea. We were going "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, no. That's not what this is about, we don't want that." And I was pretty proud that we did that. There was also... I don't know, Bill, if you remember this, this is more internal. There was a struggle of changing the name from the International District back to...

BT: Chinatown, yeah.

SS: That was...

BT: That still continues. We probably shouldn't record this part.

SS: Okay. Well, no, I'm just saying that that was the first time I had ever had... I was so thrilled with it being called the International District. But of course, I knew it was Chinatown. So it was a sticky wicket, definitely. And it's always weird when you are kind of having conflict from within your larger community. It's always a little complicated. I thought everyone did pretty well. I mean, there were some things said, but we all have to live together down there. So...

BT: No, I agree. And I was just going to add, though, what was interesting about that is it kind of overlooked the fact first that that was originally Japantown, right? Little Tokyo.

SS: That was brought up.

BT: And then it was also the fact that the majority of -- when they did a population study -- that the big group down there was actually the Filipinos. And that was a start of the peripheral Vietnamese population, being a Little Saigon. And so I think, you know...

SS: Yeah, the Korean grocer...

BT: That was our purpose with "International District."

SS: Yeah.

BT: But I know the issue for trying to retain an identity is a challenge.

SS: I mean, there was definitely pros and cons on both sides, like there usually is, but I think definitely, it was... and I'm not going to say any more, just saying that that was during the year 2000. The next thing I would have to say is the biennium, the convention. And at that time, the convention was only being held every two years. So, we didn't have a convention every year. And so, it was a big year. It was another one of those painful... looking introspective, looking inside our organization, looking inside our community, looking inside ourselves, and having to maybe look at things a little differently than what we've always had or what we feel comfortable with. And so, one of the main issues that the -- we kind of did it in a PAC, it was more the Pacific Northwest. Yeah, PNW.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2020 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

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...

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2020 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

SS: Yeah, and I think we, Bill and I, talked about this in the last interview we did with Tomio. I feel like that issue, that was so deep down, was important to talk about. Personally, I identify as a Yonsei and a Gosei. Gosei on my grandma's side but Yonsei on my grandpa's side. I guess these issues weren't really talked about with me until my mom brought it up and talked about kind of the pain, too, of someone that was at Tule Lake. I mean, my grandpa was at Tule Lake for a little bit. And I had... I guess my grandpa's cousin was a "no-no boy." And just the way he was looked at and stuff like that, he had to leave the United States because of all the hate he received. And people, she talked about people that used to go to our church, still go to our church, if their son was a "no-no boy," or they were at Tule Lake, they were kind of shunned. So, yeah.

SS: There was suicides, there were a lot of things that... it was, again, it was just a painful subject, but maybe I'm the person that can pull off the bandage, I don't know. I don't know, I don't like it, but somehow, I'm always that person, or put in that, during that timeframe. And it was a very... I mean, I think every little poll we did, we knew that it's only going to get more and more. But once you start, you kind of might as well just do it and start the conversation. That doesn't mean, just because you pull off the bandage, it doesn't mean that even if you start the conversation, it doesn't mean that it's going to go boom, everyone's running around and holding hands and all that. Not at all. I mean, it still takes many, many years, some may never heal from that. My mom was also at Tule.

And so it's, it's just interesting... it's just interesting to hear things. I mean, but it's part of our history now, and we have to know. We have to know the good and the bad. We have to know it. Even whether you agree, whether you take side, whatever side you're on, or if you don't want to take sides, it's still important to know all that went on. And we just have to. We always say "never again," but how can "never again" if we don't even know all that went on? So, we don't know "never again," unless we know kind of as much of our own history as possible. And it is hard. One of the things to kind of step back for a second at the convention -- and that we talked to a lot of the organizations about, is that it's really hard. We have to look at the future. We have to look at now and the future. And calling ourselves a civil rights organization, how can we say that and move forward and have any impact if in the past we made some decisions, maybe that wasn't, that didn't align with that? Now, granted back in the '40s, there was no such word as "civil rights." That really wasn't a term. But still, still, we have to... I think in all of us, we all have blood on our hands, we all do. Whether it's our ancestors, or the country we're from, or the ethnicity we represent, everyone. No one's perfect. We've all made mistakes. And so, but I just believe that you have to own them, and then that's the only way you really can move forward and have the impact that we needed to have. So anyways, that was the convention.

We did win the Inagaki Award. I was really thrilled. I worked really hard on putting all of it together. I worked three days to get everyone's stuff and put it all together because I knew our chapter had done wonderful work, wonderful work. So we were looking at it, it wasn't just what happened in 2000. It was stuff that was the end of 1998 until the beginning of 2000. And when I started going through and looking at everything, it was pretty amazing, I gotta say. I know... I'm kind of, I'm very proud. I was very proud of all that the Seattle chapter had accomplished, not just in my year, but the prior years for sure. And so, I was hoping that by highlighting and at least telling people what we did, it would be okay. And so, I was kind of surprised we won. I was happy. But we did win. And we had Gordon Hirabayashi at that. He was our guest speaker. Wasn't he? Yes. And I think he was, I think he was. So it was the first time I met him and I got to sit on the plane ride home, he was in the seat next to me. So got to talk to him at great length. And I was able to keep in contact with him and was able to have him, and all his brothers that were alive, and sister, and had them speak at one of my Day of Remembrance school programs. So that was really thrilling. That was years later. But anyways, so I think... let me just take a quick look.

BT: There were two other things. Oh, by the way, Inagaki Award is given every two years, for the Seattle, for the Chapter of the Biennium. And it's presented at National Convention, and Seattle's won that award more than any other chapter. And for the last three bienniums, we have won that award: 2014, 2016, '14, '16, '18, '20. We've, we got it this year also. So, from 2014 to now. We, it's been a straight string. Yay!

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2020 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

BT: I also wanted to add, Sharon, you had two events that you didn't mention. One I know, I know this for a fact that you did the first past presidents' luncheon, and it was that Nikkei Manor. And I think you might have done it when Akemi was president, but you said it was a lot... you wanted to finish unfinished business because you had planned to do it. And you didn't, but you wanted to see it through. And so, I remember the luncheon there. And the second thing is I am pretty sure you first got us involved with the Hiroshima to Hope lantern float at Green Lake. Because I... that was my first year on the board.

SS: Yeah, yeah.

BT: And you said you got a request from this group, and you think� it's something that we should be involved with. And so, we've been involved with Hiroshima to Hope lantern float ever since. So those are...

SS: I did forget about that. Actually another one is, so this is probably out of my guilt, but I wanted to do something for the Nisei vets and work with them. So, after the convention, I had joined along with, again, Arlene and Elaine. They represented different entities, but I wanted to represent our chapter in the Medal of Honor ceremony that we had.

BT: Oh, I remember that.

SS: And I purposely joined that. It was one of the best committees I've ever worked on. You gotta remember, too, Kristen, I had during all of this in 2000, I had a one-year-old and a two-year-old. I mean, she was one and then became two. She went everywhere after I was president. She went to all the Medal of Honor meetings and all that. But anyways, we worked with them and then that transitioned, because that went past 2000. And that transitioned also into the Nakamura and Okubo -- those are the two gentlemen who were being honored for the Medal of Honor. And there was... I don't know if you know that the federal courthouse...

BT: Yeah, the courthouse, I was at that ceremony.

SS: Yeah, yeah.

BT: The renaming of the courthouse to the Nakamura Courthouse. And also, I went down to Fort Lewis when they renamed the medical center down there.

SS: Renamed Okubo, yeah.

BT: Okubo, right.

SS: So I wanted to make sure that Seattle JACL was still connected to that. I did not want any of the vets to ever think that they are not important to us, to our chapter, to our community, to me personally. I think I worked the hardest on that committee. And it was the most amazing thing. Again, military kid, so Medal of Honor -- I'd never been at a ceremony -- I know what it, the gravity of it, how huge that is. So to be a part of that was, it was so phenomenal. One of the things I treasure definitely is that. And the people I got to work with, all the Niseis, they really were quite wonderful. They were just absolutely wonderful. That's where I learned from George Yamane, he used to say, "God, family, country." That's how he put it. That's how he raised his family and that impacted me. So, you serve God, you serve your family, you serve your country.

BT: When you mentioned that, I thought, I was thinking of George, and I was thinking what a nice person he was.

SS: I got to work with him and got to know him so well. Same with Tosh.

BT: Tosh Okamoto.

SS: He was one of my mentors. He... I just adored him and his wife, I love Toshi, too. And yeah, anyway...

BT: Toshi's more outspoken. She's not afraid to give her opinion.

SS: I know, I know and to him too, dang it. I love that. [Laughs] But some of the people that I got to work with, and I got to meet and know, and know their stories, that were Niseis, and even older Sanseis, those are embedded in my thoughts, in my heart. And I feel so honored and privileged that I got to know those people, and they shared a little teeny bit of their life, and their experiences, and their advice. So, I didn't say any of the really super bad stuff, Bill. [Laughs] Should I keep, should we keep going?

BT: I think we should go on to the next question. Not because... because the other part I should have mentioned is, we're going to send you an email and there's going to be some follow up questions.

SS: Okay.

BT: So yeah, feel free to add anything you want. But I am writing some questions down as you're going that I don't, that I want to follow up on what you're saying.

SS: I mean, there's a lot we're skipping over.

BT: Yeah.

SS: But that would take... poor Kristen would probably go and hang herself after because like, "Oh my god, lady, shut up." But 2000 was a really, it was just, it was just a year of change, and so much. 2000 was a pretty explosive, in good and challenges. So, a lot to say, really. Okay, next question.

KE: It's been awesome to hear all these, all these accomplishments and things because I haven't heard of them, and it's just really cool.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2020 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

KE: Yeah. Okay, so next question. What was it like to be the first hapa president? Did you face any challenges?

SS: Oh, okay, can I write this? So, I think it's going back to, I think it goes back to that same thing of change. The word "hapa issues" came out a couple years prior. "hapa issues," and we had started doing panels. I sat on a panel a couple times. And I know that -- and I'm not trying to be flippant at all -- that there were people who were sincerely concerned about their grandchildren. "How are they going to live in this world as a person who's biracial?" which blew me away that it was an issue. I mean, I know I have my own issues, but it was really something that kind of opened my eyes a little bit more. I think... I made a comment -- I don't know if you remember this, Bill, I probably shouldn't have made this comment. I tend to be a smart aleck. And I tried really hard to hide some of that while I was president, but I'm sure it snuck out. I did say that... we were talking about intergenerational things. And I was trying to talk about multiethnic people and all this sort of stuff. And one time I said, "In twenty years, this community and this board will look more like me than like you." And I thought it would get a laugh. It got no laugh. I was kind of, I was being a little flippant. I was just like... and it sunk, man. That sucker just hit and sunk. And, thought, "Okay, all righty. It's not funny to anybody." And so...

BT: Oh, I thought you meant the color of our hair. Shoot.

SS: [Laughs] So I just thought... and the thing is, it does. So, I kind of was right. I think the board looks more like me than anything else, as far as just all the different mixtures and all of that. It was, there were challenges. There were absolutely challenges. I think the hardest thing is validity of where you belong. It's kind of like... so when I'm in mainstream America, surrounded by mostly Caucasian, I am considered half Japanese. When I'm in the Japanese community, I'm considered half white. And so, it always made me feel like no one wanted to own me. "Why can't I be in the Japanese community? Half Japanese, dang it." Because that's the thing that makes you different, so that's what people notice. But you always feel like you're not enough, or I did. I don't want to say always because everyone's not like me. I always felt when I was in -- and it's still like that -- in mainstream I represent the Asian community. It's like, "Wow, that's amazing." And then when I'm in the Japanese communities, a lot of people don't even know I'm Japanese. They think I'm some nice Italian girl helping them out. And so I don't see myself that way when I'm doing stuff, but every once in a while, it kind of comes and hits me. And I think that year it hit me. That I really didn't know, I really wasn't kind of Japanese enough to know. And so that was challenging.

I also was raised a very different way. I wasn't raised in the Asian community. My dad was a major influence, he influenced me a lot. His personality shot straight from the hip, master sergeant, told you what was what, why, and you never had to guess what he thought. He was always honest. Extremely loyal, and protective, but he shot straight from the hip, and I'm a little bit his... I'm my father's daughter. And I had to learn that that is not, I thought I was being respectful so many times by being honest, by doing what was expected of me, not what I necessarily wanted to do. And I tried to lead in a way that was more collective as much as I could. Just because I didn't like something or I didn't, wasn't, if the board wanted to do it and everyone was on, then that's what we needed to do. And I don't know, and it was difficult. It was difficult. I think.. how do I say this? I'm trying not to get out the pettiness. I tended to... if I got picked on, I got probably picked on more by other female board members more than the male. We didn't always have a lot of male board members, but some of the older women didn't like how I either said things or whatever. So, it was difficult. It was difficult. And I think being female and hapa didn't help. I think if I would have been a male -- and I don't know this would be true -- I don't know -- I'm just guessing. I know that when Don Wakamatsu, was that his name? Mariners coach?

BT: Yeah, right.

SS: Came into town and everyone, "Oh, the first Japanese coach!" And we love him, and we threw things for him. And I went to those and all of that. He was a hapa. He was a hapa. I mean, you know. And so I don't know, I don't know that to be true. I think that in my head, but that doesn't mean it's true. But I think being female and being hapa did not necessarily help, and also the issues that we had to do. I brought... my year was the year that all the uck and gunk, and pain was brought up to the surface. And that was my year, and that's what I had to deal with. And then also, even though my auntie was a JACLer since, way back, and Seattle JACL for I don't know, fifteen, twenty years. She's the reason... that's how I got on the board. My family had been in the Seattle area and been a part of the community for a long time. People just didn't know people were my family because I had a Caucasian last name. I think people didn't know where I came from, really. And that didn't help, even though I might say, I think it happened that way. And I don't think it's the same any more, and I think any time you put something new, new is always, it's just weird. It's just weird.

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<Begin Segment 9>

SS: And it took the... I did leave, I think you have to know that I did leave on December 2000. I decided right there, that's when I decided. I was at a party, it was a party of everybody. We didn't have a meeting, we had a little holiday celebration. And anyone talks to me, I felt ignored. And I would rather be yelled at than be ignored. I mean, go ahead and yell at me. Because either I'll take it because I feel I deserve it, or I'll give it right back at you twice as hard. But ignoring me, made... it took the wind out of my sail. And I thought, huh. That now I gave up too much to be here. I gave up my family, you know, raising my little girl, being with my husband, being with my family to do this. So, I thought now it's okay. I'm proud of all that happened. I can't change any of it. I did it to the best of my ability. I did it with the most pure heart as I could. And I felt like I took on some of the hard issues and questions that a lot of people, I was kind of the bad cop. And I've actually taken that and moved forward with my work and with other things. I now am the bad cop. If there's a good cop and a bad cop, I'm the bad cop, and I guess I'm kind of comfortable with it now. I take it as, the bad cop is the person who does the dirty work. And it's okay, I can do it. I'm kind of a tough chick, so I can do it. But that was that was my answer. I think it was quite difficult. I don't want to go into too much more, because it doesn't matter. But it really doesn't matter because it's not the same anymore. So, I went to my first JACL Installation Banquet. I went to two since I've left. One was at, when you guys did, we all got interviewed again. Remember, Bill?

BT: Yes.

SS: We did, that was a... no, 75th, maybe?

BT: �No, you know, I thought it was our 88th or 90th.

SS: Okay.

BT: It wasn't that long ago.

SS: Okay. And then...

BT: And I... by the way I've been trying to locate those tapes. Lori Matsukawa interviewed us.

SS: Actually, I don't think it was Lori. It wasn't Lori. It was a news camera person, but it was not Lori.

BT: Oh, Lori interviewed me. I remember that.

SS: Okay.

BT: Ryan Chin, I thought just had his camera. Taking pictures.

SS: Oh, no, no. So, the one I'm thinking of, and I don't know. I know that we were interviewed by someone from channel 5, but it was not Lori because I knew Lori. I did not know this woman who interviewed me. She interviewed me, she interviewed Janice, Jeff, those are... and David because we were kind of boop, boop, boop, boop, boop, and at the same time. And it was a camera crew from channel 5? Channel 4? I don't know. One of the two. Anyways, I forgot now what I was saying. I went to, the last one I went to was 2017? No, 2000? Maybe? Yeah, maybe 2017. When we were talking about the 75th and the LC, big award of LC. Anyways...

BT: [Inaudible].

SS: Yeah, maybe. So, that was 2017, something like that. Anyways, when I saw you guys take a picture of the chapter, all you guys got together and took that picture afterwards, I almost started to cry. I just, I just almost started to cry. It just made me feel so good, and it made me so proud. And I thought, you know what, if all the stuff that I went through helped lead to this, then I'm okay. I'm okay, I'm okay. It's okay, it's okay. Again, I have some war wounds, but you know, I'm a tough girl. So...

BT: Well, Sharon, I have to say, because like I said, your year was my first year on the board. And I think I was a little oblivious to some of the things you're saying.

SS: Oh, no. I didn't know that.

BT; I actually don't, sometimes I'm missing things that I should be, pay attention to. So, if... I had no intent for any slight or anything to you, because I always thought you were a good president. Not that I knew how to measure, a measurement because I didn't know any other presidents. But I was... the only other person I really knew on that board was Elaine Akagi because we were such good friends for years.

SS: Right, right.

BT: But I wanted to say that I was unaware that you were the first hapa president, and I actually didn't even, I didn't even think about it until you said that. And I think it's because people of my generation -- all my friends -- very few married Japanese, Sansei. Part of it was just the way it was. When you're looking for a partner, there's not a lot. If you're going to be picky like that, you're really narrowing the field.

SS: Well, yeah.

BT: Especially for me, if you're gay, and that's even, real narrow. But, I didn't think about that. And I think what you were saying at first, part of it might have been that parents, Nisei, they may have been used, gotten used to the idea that their children would not marry. But I mean, but they didn't think about the grandchildren. And so maybe that was part of the... it's kind of like when you have a grandchild, when you have a baby, it doesn't matter. Everybody just thinks all babies are so cute. And there's... but as they get older, then grandparents get more worried. "Oh, I wonder what's gonna happen?" I see that with Colby's grandma right now. And that may have been part of it. But they get used to it. Then, just think about it, Sharon. Afterwards, we had Tatsuo Nakata, who was hapa, and he was younger. He, and I don't think people gave him a hard time. And then, since that time, I think almost all of our presidents -- because we've had such young presidents -- have been hapa. And then, I don't, I never heard even anybody say anything about HyeEun Park, who was our president in 2013. We've had our first Korean American president.

SS: That was wonderful.

BT: Yeah. So, I think that things have changed. And I'm sorry if there was those issues with you. The other thing I wanted to mention, and I won't go into detail...

SS: Well, first of all, Bill, you don't have to apologize for anything. I don't want anyone to... it's okay, like I said.

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<Begin Segment 10>

BT: No, but the other thing I was going to mention is that you had one -- and I'm not gonna go into detail about this, but you know what I'm talking about -- you had one of the harder internal issues. And when you were talking about the old guard, I remember when some people came to our meeting to, I thought, to berate the board, and I thought we handled that fine. But when I think about that, yes, you did have a hard year.

SS: And well, I don't know. And I'll just mentioned it lightly, and you'll know. Well, first of all, that incident happened at May -- March of 1999.

BT: Yeah. I know.

SS: This didn't get taken care of until 2000.

BT: Yeah.

SS: I was president-elect, and I was, I kept hoping, okay, let's take care of this, okay, you need to take care of this. Because I was gone -- I was actually, just had a baby -- but besides that, I think what took me just completely down was also there were... some of the finances. I don't know if you remember that. Just the accounting, let's just say the accounting. There were some things we had to straighten up, and the methods I had to do it was not lovely. It was a little... I had to take care of it quickly. And there were, you can't... there was an opportunity that we could have lost our 501(c)(3), and so I had to take care of some stuff.

And so, Kristen, when you go into a civil rights organization, I think most people, or at least me, I'll just again talk from my perspective. And when I was president, when I first started, I was excited, like, "Okay, we're gonna go fight the fight, we're going to fight the man, right? Give me the bullhorn, man. I am going to be out there." And we started with the MLK March, I was there. We did a couple other things and, you know, put up your dukes, I'm ready for you. So that's what I was thinking, and that's what I was ready for. And to... I think it was so internal. For the bulk of the year -- it wasn't like one internal thing. I think we had three or four, that were internal things -- and I had to say, "No, we're going to bring it up. No, you're wrong. It's illegal to do this." And especially sometimes the old guard -- and it's not just our community -- this is some of, I know my dad's friends, all that, there's that. "Oh, it's okay. It's okay. Don't worry about it, la la la la la." We're just, "Shhhh. If you don't look, and we just take it, it's working. It's working, so let's not." So, I had to be the one to... Believe me, I would have loved to have gone on. But it was just... I think I was meant to be, to do that, I think that was just going to be it. I don't think... I think that's just the way it was, I think, and it had to be me. I think it had to be, I don't know. So that was -- hopefully that answered your question. I don't...

KE: No, it did.

BT: Kristin and Sharon, I'm trying to be mindful of everybody's time here.

SS: Sorry.

BT: A couple more questions. But I think at this point, I was looking at the other questions, and I think we could send these to you. A lot of it is just to get your perspective on other issues and people, that we might consider that, we make sure that ensure that we get everything important on our screen. So, I think I'll talk to Kristen later, and we'll email each other, and we'll send you some more questions.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2020 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

BT: I'll leave one question, and this is something Kristen added, is there anything else -- I'll put two questions -- first one, is there one piece of information or advice that you'd like to pass on to the next generation? And also feel free to add on anything else that you wanted to do that we missed? So, there's two things here. One is what's one piece of advice that you would pass on, and the other one is, is there anything else that we missed that you wanted to add?

SS: I think what I would like to add on -- I mean, as far as for the future, would be for our community, for JACL, just to be tenacious and don't be afraid to make mistakes. Because sometimes hesitation, it's not a good thing. It's a bad habit to get into. Sometimes you have to just go out there and fight the fight, �and especially if you know it's the right thing to do, and not to be scared, or, "Oh we don't want to offend anybody." Sometimes you have to, unfortunately, to make a change. I think we always have to look at ourselves first. What are we doing as individuals? What are we doing as a chapter? What are we doing as a community? I think we have to look in first before we can go out, and make our stand and say our, speak our truth. We have to know what the truth is.

I think those are my... complacency -- I've always said this, I've always said this -- complacency is really a luxury we cannot afford. We just can't afford it. And back in my day, I used to call this subtle racism. I think today it's micro aggression -- Is that the term? Is that the hip new word now? -- Which is basically, it's the same thing. I used to always talk about those subtle, racist and bigoted things that we do, we say -- we don't even know we're doing it and saying it sometimes -- and I think those are things that we can't afford anymore to do, we have to call those things out. Even if it's embarrassing, sometimes your best friend might even say those things. I've caught myself. So, it's a new world. There's a lot of new things that we never thought of -- I'm talking about "we" meaning my age. And I hope that... as now the old guard, that we help and support the new leadership, even if we don't understand it, maybe completely, or get it all. It doesn't matter. We need to support our young leaders, and help guide, but definitely support them all the way up, all the way. And that means sometimes you have to be on the street, too. So that would be my thing.

Anything I would add? I can't say... Again, I bear no ill will ever, even when I left. And I was just kind of deflated. I still always believed in JACL and their mission and their goals. And I've always wanted them to succeed. I'm now a member of -- I have been for the last few years -- with the Puyallup JACL, and so is my daughter. So there's still a lot to do. Some of this other stuff is... all the hurt, all of the whatever, it's still, it's legitimate, but we got to look at the bigger picture. There's a lot of work to do, so much work to do. And I'm very proud to have been a part of JACL and Seattle Chapter. I've done, I've gone on and done a lot of things, and I learned a lot from those years I was there, and I have gone on to do more things. Things that were again, not popular. But I'm glad I did them anyways. So, I did learn that from Seattle Chapter JACL 2000. [Laughs]

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2020 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.