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-2-32-9

<Begin Segment 9>

BS: And then, I guess, as the youngest president, was he able to change the conversation in the Seattle JACL to an agenda that was maybe more focused on youth interests or other interests of his? And like, do you think that his age or biracial identity ever presented a challenge for him here with the Seattle JACL?

BT: You know, I'm gonna give an answer here, because I think that he was very instrumental in changing the conversation to both youth issues, and also mixed race. And thinking about the NYSC conference that we had in Seattle, you know, the face of Japanese Americans has changed so much. And, you know, for my generation, being a Sansei, it's like, you have Nisei parents on both sides, and for Yonsei, it's not the same. Okay. And so I think that one big deal that he had after the conference was focusing on mixed race, to have those discussions to have workshops. He brought in Matt Kelly, who at that time, was the founder of the Mavin magazine and foundation that was purely directed for Asian American mixed race youth. And, you know, having him being the keynote speaker, presenting him an award and having workshops on that, helped the chapter also see that we need to expand our programming to include mixed race issues. I think the whole emphasis on youth, I think our chapter has always been active. But one thing I think about Tatsuo is he was able to really bring everybody on board.

And again, I think about that conference that he had. And two parts of that conference that I distinctly remember is, one, he had a luncheon that was atypical of luncheons because it was like a mentorship luncheon. And so what he did was... excuse me, what he did was he invited a whole bunch of Nisei and Sansei professional leaders in the community. And then it was like box lunch, and he invited the youth participants into small groups to sit at a table with an older mentor or professional that they could exchange ideas on, on how they could develop their careers and give tips on life and stuff like that. But that's a little bit unusual, that was kind of far thinking. It wasn't just, let's have a panel and have people talk about this. No, this was just getting people together, one on one, you know, and all the [inaudible] and the younger person, and it was a group of young people that was really, really good. And the other thing I remember about that is he involved our board, he invited everybody, the whole membership, out to the final banquet at Campion Hall at Seattle University, and it was well attended by hundreds of people. And then they had a dance. But it was a lot of fun, because, you know, for older members, we were able to see the energy of the youth. And then when they started the dancing, we realize, yeah, we're older members, time to leave. [Laughs] But when I think about that with Tatsuo, and I think with Joy and the subsequent leaders, Tatsuo actually laid the groundwork to permit this, us going into different directions and strengthening our commitment to youth and young folks.

AM: On the mixed race issue, since 1968, the outmarriage rate among Japanese Americans has been over 60 percent. So by the time Tatsuo became president of our chapter, almost everybody on the board had some mixed race people in their families. And it was time to give up the prejudices that I grew up with. My father was just so, he was so ethnocentric Japanese. And when I was growing up, I could only date Japanese, and only Japanese from a certain province in Japan. So I mean, come a long way over those thirty years. So I think the community had changed, and it was a good step, it was right to have our first mixed or a second mixed race president.

EM: This might be -- oh, go ahead, Arlene.

AO: Oh, well, I was thinking about him, and I was thinking about the times that we would go to the Bush Gardens, and he would love to do karaoke, karaoke. And he was so great. But he changed the kind of music that we were used to.

AM: You mean "Knocking the Boots" wasn't what you were used to? [Laughs]

AO: Yeah, it was kind of amazing. But he was so comfortable with it, and I grew to like it. I looked forward to hearing him sing. Or do you call that singing or rap? Rap? I'm not sure. But he was entertaining, too. [Laughs]

JS: No, it's true. He had a couple of -- we'll talk a little bit about his push numbers -- but that was definitely one of the top of the list. The thing I was gonna say about him stepping in as the kind of the youngest president, though, is I think he was aware -- and this is true. Like in community, you don't just come in and step into leadership, because not everyone was running to be president of JACL. None of us were like, "We want to be president." But it was the recognition that you have to serve community and know it before you can step in and our respect for it. And so because he knew what it meant to be the youngest president, and that he, as much as I know, Seattle's very supportive, but it also meant that he wasn't from Seattle, right, and that he was hapa, because to all the points that people have made, just about, I think, really this recognition of the changes in community, which again, have been difficult, right? It wasn't that those things were going to happen, but there were still hard conversations and just challenges with the changes that were happening in the Japanese American community, even Seattle, right, and the demographics. So he was aware of those things. And I think that that's a piece of, I think, both a commitment and a desire for his own personal growth and identity, like as a person of color as a mixed race person, right, as a Japanese American, but also what it meant to step forward in that way and kind of carry that torch and open the door for others to come in. And to move into the next, literally the next chapter of the organization. Because I think as we know, there's been multiple major shifts that have happened over time in a chapter that's been historically pretty active and radical to some people. And redress was actually really radical in our community for a very long time, so it's all context. And so I just, I kind of think it's important to sort of point to that. And then staying involved obviously, in the national piece and the regional piece, and the connection of all of this to how we are moving in all these issues, not just in our community organizations, but in positions of power in our jobs and government, and nonprofit and corporate work, which I think, again, Seattle is a really unique place where many of us had these opportunities to go into these positions was always the mindfulness of remembering the community when you're in these places to be able to make social change and be able to make change within. And I think he carried that forward in his work and how we thought about kind of his responsibility to community.

BS: Yeah, thank you all for those responses.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2022 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.