Densho Digital Repository
Seattle JACL Oral History Collection
Title: In Memory of Tatsuo Nakata Interview
Narrators: Akemi Matsumoto, Emily Momohara, Joy Shigaki, Arlene Oki
Interviewers: Brent Seto, Bill Tashima
Date: February 6, 2022
Densho ID: ddr-sjacl-2-32-7

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BS: Yeah, and then many of you have already touched on this a little bit, but I would love to hear what your guys' thoughts are on what special interpersonal skills did Tatsuo possess that really set him apart from other people? And maybe we could start with Akemi for this one.

AM: Well, as mentioned, he was really a good listener, and he was genuinely interested in what you had to say. So I really felt heard when I was with him. And it was easy to discuss anything with him. So I was president in the year 2000, and that's the year that it was already in a mix when I became president that the National Youth Conference was held in Seattle. And he had that planned and he was very detail focused. He had it organized... as I said before, he'd just follow through, that was really a good conference. And I think it really set the tone for Seattle JACL to have a big group of Sanseis and Yonseis come and join the board and be active in JACL. So shall I pass it on? Shall we popcorn? Emily?

EM: Well, I guess I have a slightly different take on Tatsuo because we actually were a couple for a little bit. So it's funny to hear all these things about how mature he sounds, because I remember when we met, I think I'm four or five years older than him. And so it was like, "No, you're too young. I don't want to date you." And so, you know, our dynamic was a little bit different, I think, than other people when we talk about, yeah, some of those characteristics. But I think for me, there's two words that I would probably use to describe him, and that would be "charismatic," which has already been said, I mean, he could make friends with anybody, he just was very charming. And then "tenacious." I think, you know, if he set his mind to do something, he was going to follow through with that. Or if he set his mind to not do something he was not going to follow through with that as well. So I think he just, he had a really strong presence of like, who he was at a very young age, which I think is quite unique. I just wanted to add, too, to one of the stories that Bill told about the aunties. He had a way like, if an auntie wouldn't do what he wanted him to do, he's like, "Oh, you're not number one Auntie anymore." There was number one Auntie, number two Auntie, and he had this whole, like, system where, you know, he had his, all his ladies around him, you know. And I guess I'll pass it to Arlene.

AO: Well, I think he was like the Pied Piper with younger members of our community. He was always so cheerful. And I'm aware of his upbringing, he had a difficult childhood, and I always was amazed that he was so well adjusted, and he was happy. And he was non judgmental, and he had this special quality about him that was kind of magnetic to everyone. People like Kazzie and May Namba and Tama Muratani and me. [Laughs]

JS: Well, I'll just jump in. I mean, I think that, on top of what's been said, he was also really strategic. I mean, so part of, if you're gonna be in politics -- and frankly, the politics of JACL, there are politics in community, which I think all of us can speak to and name, none of the work was happening outside of that context, because politics is personal, right. And there's history, personalities, expectations, what have you. And that was a lot, we spent a lot of time talking about that. Because that, fundamentally, is at the core of wanting to go into political life and having influence in policy, which was some of the work we did in JACL, and social change work. But it's also knowing who's in your corner and who you can trust. And I think part of those really caring relationships and mentorships and Marlene and Kazzie, and May, and Jeff Hattori, who were very close friends, who should be on this call, and the three of us spent a lot of time together and other people on this call, both at the Bush but also in really thinking about what it meant to take positions that sometimes were controversial even in our chapter. And I say the youth piece because when you said he was so young, I was like, oh my gosh, I didn't... I mean, in my mind, I'm like how old was I and How old was he then? So to Emily's point, it's like, the age thing was real. There was something about, I don't know, a groundedness in him that was sort of distinct, what I think about it. I think I was in my late twenties, maybe later in my later thirties.

But there's a sophistication and understanding that social change work doesn't happen by accident, it happens with strategic work. It happens with strategic relationships, and it also happens fundamentally, and you can disagree with people, but you still need to hold space for people, right? It's not about, you know, burning bridges, and he learned that obviously at the state and the city level, but I think that that exists at the community level, too, when you really need to have hard conversations. And I think the uniqueness both I think of Seattle, but also the JACL, was like it was intergenerational, and in that is gathering all that wisdom, right in the process. And honoring the past that was very grounded in our chapter. Nothing's perfect, but I think he kind of fundamentally understood that. And then you could go and blow off steam at the, Bush 'til two in the morning. So I think that that's the balance of all of these things, and you know, what makes up the complexity of our community, too, but he brought, I think, a lot of that, I think, a lot of just inherent sort of wisdom in that.

BS: Yeah, that was a thing -- oh, sorry.

EM: Oh, I was just gonna say that reminds me of a thing he used to say. He and Jeffrey would always, when we were talking about issues, whether or not something was a symptom of or a causal, you know, part, he would say, "Oh, well, that's low hanging fruit." We don't need to deal with that. [Laughs] And there was always this thing, "low hanging fruit." Because of the way that he thought about strategy and how to make change, so that just kind of reminded me. I don't know how many discussions that we've had at the Bush about what is or is not low hanging fruit. [Laughs]

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2022 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.