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

<Begin Segment 1>

BT: Hello, my name is Bill Tashima, and I'm a past JACL president for the Seattle Chapter and I'm also one of the chairs for our Legacy Fund project. And our project is funded by a national JACL Legacy Fund grant, and it aims to preserve the rich history and legacy of our chapter through preservation of our historical materials, but also supplementing these materials with our own recorded histories with some of our leaders. And in this session, we'll be having a conversation about Tatsuo Nakata. Tatsuo was a charismatic, energetic and visionary leader, who at the age of twenty-four, became our chapter's youngest president. Sadly, three years later, Tatsuo passed away after being hit by a car while he was crossing the street, by a careless driver. And leading our discussion today will be Brent Seto, a U-Dub intern. And he will be joined by Akemi Matsumoto, Emily Momohara, Joy Shigaki, Arlene Oki, and from time to time, myself. And in a few seconds -- in a few moments, Brent will introduce himself as well the others.

And before I turn over the screen, the session to Brent, I would like to give a brief bio of Tatsuo. Tatsuo was born in Hawaii as Matthew Nakata. His family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, when he was five, and he continued his schooling there until he was a sophomore in college when he went to Seattle University. And it was in Seattle that Tatsuo gained his identity as a Japanese American activist. And he changed his name from Matthew to Tatsuo to honor his Japanese American roots. After graduating from Seattle University with a degree in political science, Tatsuo became a legislative assistant to state representative Velma Veloria. And as Velma would fondly recall, "When I hired him, I wasn't hiring a legislative assistant, I was hiring the future of the Asian American community and the future of our country." In 2000, Tatsuo was already on the executive board for the National JACL and chair of the National Youth Council -- wait, National Youth and Student Council, or NYSC, which was a part of JACL that was devoted to youth and students. In 2001, Tatsuo received the chapter's Unsung Hero Award, and in 2003, Tatsuo became our chapter president. An open secret about Tatsuo is that someday he would run for political office, and he counted as his supporters and mentors countless community leaders such as Ruth Ruiz, affectionately known as Auntie Ruth, David Della and his wife, Odette Polintan, Bob Santos, again, we all know him as Uncle Bob, Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos, and so many, many more. Tatsuo was our first non-Nisei, non-Sansei JACL president and only our second mixed-race president. Tatsuo was able to pivot the chapter into wider social issues concerning social justice, civil rights, and he pushed for more inclusion of youth leadership and mixed-race programs and issues. And with that, we honor Tatsuo. We hope that the discussion today, among Tatsuo's friends, will lead to a deeper understanding of him, his accomplishments, and moreover, remembering his gifts that allowed him to be a lasting impact for our chapter. And with that, I'm going to turn it over to Brent to introduce himself and start things off. So Brent, take it.

BS: Yeah, thank you, Bill. Hi, everyone. My name Brent Seto, I use he/him pronouns, and I am one of the Seattle JACL interns for this year. Just a brief introduction about me, I'm a junior at the University of Washington double majoring in Political Science and Law, Societies and Justice. I am passionate about activism and advocacy, and I'm heavily involved in the student government on campus. I'm originally from San Jose, California, and I wanted to intern with the JACL because I am a Yonsei, fourth generation Japanese American, but I know very little about JA history or culture. So the JACL provided me with the opportunity to connect with the JA community and learn more about myself and my identity.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2022 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

BT: So getting right into the conversation then, please talk a little bit about yourself and your background and then tell us how you met and how you worked with Tatsuo and what your lasting impressions were. And anyone's free to just jump in.

BT: Joy, why don't you start?

JS: I'm Joy Shigaki, I'm here and I'm a Yonsei, born and raised in Seattle. I got involved in the JACL, probably in the late '90s, you know, you're gonna get roped in, and then really kept my involvement because of our civil rights work, and was president a couple of years following both Tatsuo and Bill, so I guess that was 2005. Confirmed that for me today. You know, it's so interesting with the bio, like just recognizing how young Tatsuo was, but also how wise and grounded he was. I think a lot about just sort of, you know, he's not from Seattle, and I think there definitely was this question, and always is this unstated thing about if you're not from Seattle, what your, sort of, roots are, who your family is, and then why you're coming to organizations in the JA community. Not that that is explicitly a reason that you can't be at the table, but I think it also is one of the challenges that I think he always was very mindful of and respectful of, but also what made his leadership also really extraordinary and coming into our chapter work, but also a real connect and a commitment to community. Which I think, given how he, his experience in Cincinnati as a mixed race kid, and particularly the kind of experiences he had around racism, and just a lot of lack of understanding of who he was as a person from -- this is, again, from my memory -- like was so formative to him. So long and short, we did a lot of work in the civil rights work, and really building cross racial solidarity work and envisioning something really different in the chapter's history. So I will stop there and pass it on to either Emily, Akemi, or Arlene.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2022 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

AM: I'll go next, because you really triggered some memories for me. So I'm Akemi Matsumoto, I'm a Sansei, and I was born and raised in Denver, Colorado, in a very isolated Japanese American community, which is really different than growing up in Seattle. And one of the appeals of JACL is that it's a place where you can find a home no matter where you're from, because it's a Japanese American organization. And my cousin pulled me in, and I was briefly a member like in the mid '70s, and decided to drop out for a while and came back when I, as a young person, could have more of a voice. So I met Tatsuo -- I was a community college counselor, and I worked with students a lot and a lot of student groups. So I'm not quite sure when I met Tatsuo, but I easily connected with students because that sort of was my work environment. And I remember I was so impressed by him because he was... he always followed through. And that wasn't always the case with a lot of people. So I was always really grateful when he would volunteer, and he volunteered a lot, and he always followed through with what he did. And I think JACL Seattle also was a place for him to come home and really find who he was as a Japanese American. Next?

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2022 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

BT: Emily.

EM: So, hi, I'm Emily Hanako Momohara. My pronouns are also she/her. And I am coming from actually Cincinnati, where Tatsuo grew up, and I am sometimes in contact with his mom. I moved here, actually, after grad school, so I had known Tatsuo previously, and it was by happenstance that I ended up here in Cincinnati. I first met him, I think it was 2000. It might have been 2001, we were just talking about this. But it was, I had been working on a project documenting the incarceration camps. And I was looking for support and sponsorship for my project, I came to the JACL, and then I was asked to, if I wanted to be on the Social Justice Committee. And then when Tatsuo became the president-elect, he asked me if I would join the board. And so then, you know, then I became fully entrenched in all things JACL from that point on. So I guess I will pass it on to Arlene.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2022 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

AO: Can you hear me?

BT: Yes.

AO: Oh, good. Okay. I was wondering if Bill had let me in, because my screen says I have to, you have to let me in. But my name is Arlene Oki, and I have been in JACL for something like thirty-five years. I first joined JACL when I was asked to be the secretary. And this was in the period of time when redress was being proposed. And it was the most difficult meeting that I've had to take minutes for, ever, because everyone was yelling at each other. And I was actually kind of scared because I didn't know the people there, and they were all men. And somehow, I started to tape, record the meeting and was able to get content printed. But it was a very difficult time, and I was very impressed with the degree of passion expressed by the members of the JACL. And I think it's still present today. We have a wonderful group of young people on our board. So I've been president, I've been vice president, I've been secretary, and I just finished being corresponding secretary where I wrote all the thank you notes, letters to people who have contributed. And it's been a wonderful experience for me.

And the reason, I think the reason why Tatsuo and I bonded was because we were both interested in politics. So whenever we would get together, we'd talk about politics, and what was happening and what could happen. And he had, he had such a wonderful personality, and he was the type of politician who I felt would really listen to people and act on the concerns of his constituents. And he would have been a wonderful elected official in any capacity. He was also very sensitive. He would see where there were moments when I was stressed, and the next thing I would know, he'd call me up, and he'd say, "Oh, why don't we have lunch?" And so we had a lot of lunches together and got to know each other. Our background... but he was always interested in everybody and was one of the kindest people I've ever known. Everyone loved him, the people in the city and city government and in the community. And he was so nice, but he also showed great leadership capability, was willing to take a stand regardless of the criticism that that he might take, and he was always someone who would speak up. I was really, I feel honored to have had that experience of being with him, and I still miss him today.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2022 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

BS: And Bill, seeing as you knew Tatsuo, and how you might join in the conversation as well, I think it would be good for you to give a brief response on how you met and worked with Tatsuo. So, would you like to do that really quick?

BT: Yeah, I think I came on the JACL board around 2000, and Tatsuo was there. You know, he was just involved with everything, and he voiced his opinion. He had this little subtle sense of humor that was kind of, you know... but he got along really, he cultivated relationships. That's what I remember. And I was talking to one of our older Nisei members, Kazzie Katayama, a couple days ago, and she regretted that she couldn't be part of this. But anyway, she was saying one thing about Tatsuo is he "courted" all the old Nisei ladies on and actually had a little fan club going. Every, like Arlene was saying, every once in a while, he would call May Namba and Kazzie Katayama, and Tama Muratani and say, "Hey, let's get together for lunch." He would do that. And then he was... Kazzie just has so many fond memories of him. I said I would be sure and relay that, too, on this call. The other thing is, Tatsuo was the one that -- I don't know if I credit or blame -- for me being president. One thing is, when you're president, you always have to make sure you find a successor. And so he invited me out to the Bush, and I knew what he was gonna ask me. But his method was devious. He knew my favorite drink was a martini, so he said, "Oh, I'll buy you a martini," gave me a martini. And then it's like, a little bit later he's like, "Tell me about why you became involved in in JACL. Oh, let me get you another martini." [Laughs] So I have another martini and he said, "I'm always impressed by how much you do and your commitment. And yeah, we're looking, you know... it's just really good, what you do for our chapter. Let me get you another martini." And then eventually, it led up to, "Well, Bill, I would like you to be my president-elect, so you can become president." It took four martinis, and I said, "Well, sure, why not?" [Laughs]

But anyway, I think about that with Tatsuo because, you know, that's the type of person you want. I mean, he was, it was not unnatural, but he always was on target, he knew what he wanted, but he brought you along and nurtured you, and that's what I remember. I wanted to add on final thought that Arlene said about how he was beloved. And I was reading an article that Uncle Bob Santos wrote, and he said when Tatsuo died, they had a memorial service at Seattle Center, and over five hundred people attended, including every member of the Seattle City Council, the mayor, and so many members of the House of Representatives from Washington, as well as members of the governor's staff and his administration, so that was just a... but there's, I think we all have these really, really good memories of Tatsuo. So thanks, Brent, for asking me.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2022 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

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.

<Begin Segment 8>

BS: Yeah, I thank you all for sharing that. And I think that's a great transition into my next question, which was going to be, as established, he became the youngest president in the history of the Seattle JACL in 2003. But what factors motivated his interest in becoming involved with the Japanese American community here in Seattle and nationally?

AM: Again, I think it was searching for a home as a Japanese American, and Seattle's Japanese community was so vibrant, and involved for a long, long time, I think that drew him. And as Bill mentioned, changing his name from his first name, Matthew, and using his Japanese name, Tatsuo, I did exactly the same thing when I was thirty-six. When I came to Seattle, my name was Joan, and when I was thirty-six and involved much more in the community, I started using my Japanese name, too, Akemi. So yeah, I think that's really was the draw and Seattle was welcoming. As hard as the politics of the community were, you're not from Seattle, there was still a home here for all of us who weren't born and raised in Seattle.

BT: Akemi, I think that you hit on something that we don't always talk about. But somewhere along the line, there was a transition in our chapter. And for the longest time, the chapter was, was basically homegrown. And through the years, a lot more people who aren't from Seattle have migrated to the JACL. I think a lot of it has to do with the programming that we offer, but part of it also is the comfort that you find because you're with other people, that you that relate, and aren't always asking you what high school you went to, and, you know, talk about those type of issues. And so I think for Tatsuo, you know, being at Seattle University, which was, you know, nurturing for him, and then finding, being active with the Seattle JACL, I think it really provided him a good space for him to grow and find himself.

EM: I also think that it was a place where he could find mentorship. And growing up in Ohio, there were no Japanese Americans that he could talk to or have community with. And now that I live here in Cincinnati, I understand that a little bit more. But he didn't have... his father lived in Hawaii, so he didn't, wasn't able to have that kind of relationship with him. So I think moving to Seattle, you know, it was specific for him wanting to go somewhere for college that was, had the kind of community that he wanted to be part of, and I think it also allowed for him to meet all the aunties and to have his mentors. And I think that JACL contributed a lot to, you know, him growing as well.

AM: I'd just like to jump in quickly and note that the Seattle Asian American community is very... worked together, and it was pan-Asian, which is really different than it is here in Southern California. So, and I think that was another thing that really drew him. And Velma, of course, was an incredible mentor for him, and she's a great politician.

AO: I think he really liked the fact that the community had leaders who were advocates for social justice. Because I think innately he had that, that sense of what is right, and what is equal. And he saw a lot of that activism, kind of activism in the Seattle community, and particularly in the Seattle JACL.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2022 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<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.

<Begin Segment 10>

BS: And it is clear from your anecdotes that Tatsuo cared deeply for civil rights and equality. Can you discuss some of the work he's done for civil rights and speculate maybe as to why he cared so deeply about activism?

EM: I think part of that is because of how he grew up. I think he stood out so much as a mixed person, I think in Ohio, he probably wasn't viewed as being mixed, he was probably more viewed as just being on the Asian side. Even though, on the West Coast, there's more and more folks who were mixed. In Ohio, even in Ohio, now, I think I've met two other mixed Japanese Americans and their siblings. [Laughs] So there's just, there's just, one, not a lot of AAPI folks, and two, especially then, I think some of the things that he had to go through in school, and, you know, getting jobs and just existing, made him realize what discrimination is like, let alone kind of the hardship that he had, you know, with family that Arlene alluded to earlier. So I think that, like most of us, what we end up... the topics that end up surrounding our professional careers, sometimes are the things that it's not how did we get into activism or how did we get into politics, it's like, well, with his genetic makeup and location, he couldn't not think about what it was like to be a hapa Yonsei. He couldn't not think about what it was like to be a person of color or a mixed person, because it was so much of how he walked through the earth, that, you know, if you're going to do meaningful work, that, you know, that's just ever present. I think, yeah.

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<Begin Segment 11>

BT: You know, Emily, you're bringing up some really good thoughts here. And I'm going to ask if Joy can get in on this conversation. Because on the civil rights part, I tend to think of Joy and Tatsuo as a team, because they were both on the Civil Rights Committee and Joy actually rejuvenized that committee and expanded it to include a lot more coalition partners, but they did a lot of work with communities, especially during 9/11. And I know that Joy and Tatsuo did a lot of work with Pramila Jayapal when she was head of Hate Free Zone. But there's a personal aspect to that, I think, of Tatsuo that he took civil rights issues personally, like you said, because he knew the pain. And one part that that sticks out in my mind that is how our chapter got very involved with a Somali family, the Hamoudi family, and helping them. And I'm hoping that Joy can expand on these experiences because I think it's it talks about both Joy and Tatsuo's commitment and the reasons why they did this. Joy, if you don't mind.

JS: Sure, I mean, I think for both of us, but I think Emily's spoke to that. As people of color, you're oriented to the world and your experience of racism, whether it be overt or microaggressions, like your view of the world is particular within the context of a racialized society being in the U.S. He certainly carried that from the Midwest back to Seattle. But I also think so much about the chapter was about, I mean, it was established to honor the Japanese American, sort of, community, but also fighting for civil rights. Fundamentally, the work was about equal rights and justice for Japanese Americans. So there is a history of that, and we came from a chapter that also, you know, drove... it was divisive at times during the war, right. I mean, again, these are the evolutions of organizations over time historically, but also was the driver a lot in terms of the redress movement and carried forward amazing mentors and people who were leadership in our community, but also informed what was happening nationally in this country, not just in the JA community, but within the context of American history. And I think similarly, both of us, and many of us on this call were part of the Civil Rights Committee. It's this connection of our own personal community and family experience to the context of what's happening in the country, that issues of civil rights and issues of social justice and issues of fighting against, sort of, white supremacy, which is what we call it now is like about seeing that intersectionality across communities of color, because oppression is not, and racism in this country is not fundamentally only sitting within the context of our own sort of racial group. And I think that evolution of making these connections of what it means to be in solidarity around issues that impact all of us, but also on the same token, like the Japanese American community, have built sort of a certain amount of... and again, this is not about comparison, but we have a platform to be able to advocate and be in solidarity with other communities, when it came to 9/11, to use the, speak to our Japanese American incarceration experience to those who spoke about imprisoning Arab Americans and anyone of Middle Eastern descent right after 9/11. And what it meant to show up for community, which I think it's also a reflection of how other communities showed up for us at certain times in our own history. So I think for many of us who came into JACL either later, but also even those who came in earlier, you know, it was this recognition that our struggles are not in isolation from one another. And because of the Solidarity work that was very central in Seattle, and very unique, I think most of us know, it's still very unique out in the Bay Area. There is some of that, but there is something very unique, I think, to leadership and then history in Seattle.

And I think that was part of the reason I came back to the work in the chapter and I knew about it growing up and obviously very aware of that history. But it really was about are we really willing to turn the corner to really stand behind communities and on behalf of communities because of our history of, and experience of incarceration, and because of our real understanding of how structures in this country have continued to oppress communities, and what does it mean to use our platform and our voice to be able to be showing up for folks? The work of the committee, though, is meant to be fun. I mean, I think like we all spoke to, it's how do you build community, you build through relationships, and we can talk a little bit more about that. But we were talking about, you know, but I have food, and you got to make it fun. And I mean, I think many of us on the screen, some of the work has been hard, right? I mean, that's just the truth. But it's also, it's the balance of having fun, and enjoying the people you're working with, and really building authentic connections, which I think Tatsuo fundamentally understood, too, and valued, right, so that everyone's point about the relationships that he built, it wasn't just as a means to an end, it really was about deeper connection to people. Because ultimately, that's how the work has to get done, too. Can't get done kind of in isolation. So I think that that was at the center of a lot of our work together. And it was just a furthering of learning as a community, learning as a board, learning in membership, reflecting back what we're learning together, right? This is all about, kind of, progressive growth and reflection too as an organization, it's people who are part of the organization. That we didn't have all the answers, but we also knew that it was this opportunity to really build dynamic community that was unique, and I think, a really unique and special time at the chapter at that time.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2022 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

BN: Something I wanted to follow up on with that is, it seems like Tatsuo cared deeply for solidarity as well as all your work on the Civil Rights Committee shows that, was this a progressive ideal for the chapter at the time? Or was this something that was pretty widely accepted here in the Seattle JACL?

AM: So you're asking whether it was unique to Seattle's JACL, the solidarity?

BS: Mainly, I was wondering if Tatsuo's ideas on solidarity were pretty widely accepted. And was, it did you face backlash and trying to do anything implementing solidarity work, or was it pretty widely accepted?

AM: I can just speak to a little bit of that. I don't think that anyone ever said no, we don't want to partner with other groups, or, no we don't want to... you know. But I think that there is a certain kind of insular characteristic to the community that probably came with immigration and the backlash of, you know, it was probably a defense mechanism. But I remember having conversations with him and some of our other friends during the Secret Hapa Society, which was evenings, so we would get together at the Bush and have drinks. And we were all mixed. And we would say, "When are they going to stop introducing us as "Tatsuo Nakata, the hapa Yonsei?" Like, when is it going to be enough just to be part of the group? Why do we have to have this, you know, pre status on there that were mixed? So I think it was much more subtle, the ways in which the community was separating out, like siloing different kinds of people. But it was never... I don't even know if it was something that was articulated, it was probably just because of the way the community had protected itself in the past. And then, you know, it slowly gets unpeeled, you know, layer by layer as time goes on.

BT: Yeah, Brent, I think that, when I think about your question, I think, in a larger sense, we, Seattle JACL has been lucky that we've had such visionary leaders that have been able to involve us in big picture items and solidarity with other communities. And I think that with Joy and Tatsuo at that time with 9/11, and the, that type of solidarity with those communities was easy for the JACL chapter here to align itself with that, because you can see the clear correlations between anti-Arab, anti-Muslim discrimination and that, that we suffered during World War II. I think where Tatsuo, kind of like, expanded our thought, was to say, you know, it's beyond this. It starts with micro aggressions and the type of marketing that's going on. And I say this because I remember one of the things that came up on the news and in the papers was a picture of Tatsuo with a group of people demonstrating outside of Abercrombie and Fitch, because they had displayed, all of a sudden they had a line of t-shirts that carried, just stereotypes. It wasn't, it was derogatory, but it was just racial stereotyping just being continued. And I think for a lot of older members, it was probably kind of like, well, what's the big deal? This has been happening for a long time, you know. But I think for, it woke us because it was kind of like, wait, this is how things start, you know, and I was glad that the Tatsuo brought this to the attention because it made everybody aware of the subtle roots of racism and discrimination. And this is where it has to stop. And I think that's the part that I don't want to say backlash or pushback, but at least it spread an awareness of these issues to the older generation.

AM: Another really unique thing about Seattle and its Asian American community was the leadership of Bob Santos and the Gang of Four. So I think we have a long history of coalition-building within Seattle. And before I was president of the chapter in 2000, I helped organize an organization called APACE, which fought for the preservation of affirmative action. And that group actually came out of the Rainbow Coalition for Jesse Jackson. So there's a long history in Seattle of communities of color working together, and the Japanese American community was an integral part of the pan Asian community, which was an integral part of communities of color coming together to fight for affirmative action, discrimination after 9/11. And even now, it continues as we fight for reparations for Blacks.

JS: I think that for me at that time, I think it was how do we hold the complexity of opinions around some of these issues? So I think that there wasn't fundamentally this question that these things were tied together, but it was the visibility and like, for example, police accountability back in like 2000 was a tough issue for our community to reckon with. It's not where we are now, I think both in terms of how public discourse has changed, even though we know that it still needs to change, and how do we hold in respect members who are not quite there. I mean, I will say those were a lot of the conversations that we had on the committee and on the board, right, that we want to be respectful of a lot of Niseis who weren't quite there. And I think we see that. These were the changes in demographics in our community, but I also think the evolution of what was happening within our organizations, or our cultural institutions at that time. And, you know, Arlene was one of the early kind of civil rights leaders of our committee and the work, too, of the chapter. And I think it always was a sensitivity of we know this is right, but how do we keep and bring people along? And I think that always is the challenge and the work. Like, I'm not gonna say that that, you know, there's not one answer to that work. But it is about holding space that you can bring people along, because you are mindful of those who just were a little, there was discomfort at times about really being visible about certain issues. So I really don't think it's about, you know, creating this, like, perfect image of that. I think that what's important, though, in this work, because it was intergenerational, is how do we carry and respect that and tie it back to our experience? Because that's so much about undoing all of our trauma. You don't want to be seen taking positions, what does that mean to be so outward on certain issues, and not everyone was there. And that's where the growth in space happens. You hold space, and you hopefully create room for dialogue and fuller understanding. And I think, you know, Tatsuo really carried that, and a recognition that we also have to be unapologetic, because in places and city government and other places, we want to have policy change at the state level, we also need to be unapologetic, and we need to be visible. But there's lots of different tactics and ways we can get there. But it is about how you help bring people along and be aware of sort of the sensitivities along the way.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2022 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

BS: Yeah, and something else was like, in my research, I've learned very quickly that it was expected that Tatsuo would run for office someday, and he was heavily involved in politics, like you mentioned, all of you have mentioned. So I guess, what characteristics would you say made him successful politically, and touched on the political legislation that you just brought up? What types of legislation did he care for or maybe lobby for, that he was passionate about here in city government? And do any of you have any stories of you would like to share when you realized he would make a great politician?

EM: I have one story. I had to do a little research for this, but I wanted to make sure that this was discussed. And I guess I'll set it, I'll tell it like a story. There was some legislation, it was House Bill 1174 that he was, had drafted it, it was basically his words, and it was an anti-trafficking bill. And one of the things that it had in it was that folks who were found to be trafficked would not be deported, because they were, their status was illegal. And I remember, you know, he worked on this, and Velma, you know, brought it to the floor, and it passed, and it was great. And a couple years later, I was talking with my mother. And my mother is not Nikkei, but my mom was a social worker, she worked for Child Protective Services as well as did other work after that as a social worker. And she had had a situation where they had removed a child who was sold to a couple and became an adult while basically being a servant in these people's houses. And she said, you know, this woman would have been deported if we didn't have that legislation, and now they're able to get assistance and be able to stay here, the only place really that that this person knows. And thinking about that kind of, kind of personal, you know, the way in which policy, the way in which being a politician, you know, and I think that he, his heart was in the right place, he really wanted to create change. And I think that's, to me, what makes a great politician.

BT: I have two short stories. One is with, about Tatsuo's networking, and it goes back to when he was at legislative aide in the legislature for Velma. And if you talk to any legislator, they always say that a lot of the work is done by the their aides. And what I heard about Tatsuo was that when he was a legislator, state aid, he was able to organize an informal group of other Asian American legislative aides, and this included some really, you know, people that would move on like Hyeok Kim, who later became Deputy Mayor of Seattle, and Nora Katabi, who was a big community activist. And anyway, he would organize a group of several of the legislative aides that could talk and kind of like, informally come together with an agenda to push to their bosses, you know, and I thought that was that's really, as Joy would say, very strategic and very smart, you know, and I always thought that was really good.

Another story was, I wrote a letter to Velma to thank her for something, and then I get this reply back that says, you know, "Bill, thanks for your input, I really appreciate it. And by the way, thank you for your support in the community and all that you do. I'm always amazed to see what you do and the work that you're doing." And I'm reading it and my head is getting bigger and bigger. And then I, then I remember, wait a minute, this is Tatsuo writing it. And so I said, when I saw him, I said, "Tatsuo, when did you write that letter from Velma?" And he goes, "Well, of course, I did. I had a lot of fun with it." [Laughs] But anyway, the reason I bring that up is because, you know, for any politician, constituent services is very important, and he had that down pat.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2022 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

BS: Yeah, and then I guess, moving on to another thing that was heavily brought up by all of you guys was, could you tell us about Tatsuo's legendary work sessions and his karaoke at the Bush?

AO: Well, you said legendary work sessions and his time at the Bush Garden?

BS: Yeah, his karaoke specifically, because I've heard from a couple people now that he was, he liked to sing.

AO: Yes, he liked to sing. But also, I think a lot of deals were cut among the group that got together at the Bush after our meetings. I'm sure... I can't remember any specific one.

BT: Brent, I want to set the stage a little bit for people that are watching this that may not be familiar with the Bush, but you know, this is, it's a well-known local establishment that's been in the community, was in the community for years. And it started out to be one of the premier Japanese restaurants. And as happens, as age happens, the restaurant got smaller, but you know, the lounge is always a popular watering hole for the community. And especially after any board meeting, all the communities, when they had a board meeting, they would say, "Let's go to the Bush now." And that was like, almost as Joy would say it, almost like a second board meeting where people could actually talk more freely about issues and you know, just get out their emotions and have a couple of drinks and a lot of informal business was accomplished there. You'd always go to the Bush and always see people that you knew. You'd see people like, you know, like Uncle Bob Santos was always making an appearance. Sharon Tomiko Santos would be there on occasion, Mark Okazaki. Just people in the community, you would always you'd always see someone and it was just a fun place. And, of course, as Emily said, you know, it's like, Mark Okazaki, Jeffrey Hattori, and Anna Tamura and Tatsuo would be going there, and it was just fun. You know, I didn't know about it until later. And then it was like, oh, my god, that's where everybody's going after the meetings. And then I started going, I was like, well, this is this is pretty good. And the other thing I wanted to add is, Tatsuo was really good at karaoke. But my favorite is when there would be a duet with Joy and Tatsuo because Joy just has a fabulous voice. [Laughs]

EM: In addition to "Knocking the Boots," though, I was thinking of he always saying Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called to Say I Love You." So there was a bit of a, I think there was one other one though.

AM: "Yesterday."

EM: Oh, was it "Yesterday"?

AM: Or no, "Yesterday" by the Beatles, but he would sing it different than... yeah.

EM: I think this is a reminder though about, like, I mean, so that was the lunch spot where he had lunch with Arlene and Kazzie and May, and we know Auntie Ruth was there, right? So it was also this other place where a lot of really critical community conversations and strategy sessions happened at lunch. And then it was also the kind of convening place where the community could come. And in some ways, it's like, the work can be hard, but you can still do the work and have a good time. And certainly, it's better once you have a couple of drinks in you, too. And maybe build relationships with folks on a more personal level outside of the meetings. I mean, some of us were there probably a little bit too much. But you always knew when you came, you could see someone you knew and sing a couple songs.

AM: Yeah, I think the work sessions also is a way to build community and build relationships. So as we licked envelopes, stuffed them, you know, did whatever we were doing at that particular time, and I really missed that. I think our organizations have really lost something in that we don't do sort of mindless paperwork together, so that we can just sort of chat and be together and share our histories. So I missed that. And on a Zoom, it makes it really hard to... but what's good about the Zoom is we're in different geographical locations, and we can have this conversation. So there's pluses and minuses.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2022 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

BS: Yeah, and I guess this will be my last question before wrapping up. But from working as a legislative assistant under Washington Representative, Velma Veloria, to becoming Chief of Staff for Seattle City Councilmember David Della, to lobbying in political campaigns, it's very clear that Tatsuo was very politically involved, very charismatic, very hard working young man. So what do you think his lasting impact in the community has been? And I would really like to hear what all of you have to say about this. So I guess let's start with Emily.

EM: Can I go later? I need to formulate my...

BS: Sorry for putting you on the spot like that. If anyone's ready to speak to this, I would really like to hear what you have to say.

EM: Okay, I can go. [Laughs] I just, you know, I moved away in 2003 for grad school, and so my time on the board, and working in JACL Seattle was short. And I think Tatsuo's leadership was so much of what was accomplished while I was there. So I think for me, I just, when I think about that time, I mean, there's really no campaign or issue or event that I can't remember him being a part of. And so I think that just the legacy is, you know, being a young person and still being able to be a leader and being involved, and that's, I mean, that's really what we what we want for JACL in the future.

BT: For me, that lasting impact for Tatsuo again, is just keeping the chapter moving back onto a trajectory to always be open to new issues, especially issues that involve younger folks. Because we can share our values, but sometimes specific issues can change over the years. And if we become entrenched in one program, we are missing out on connecting with newer generations. I think as a community, you know, Tatsuo will always be an example like Emily's saying, someone that's young, that's making a difference. And I think about the fact that each year, the International Examiner, and they have the Community Voice Awards, they always award the Tatsuo Nakata Youth Leadership Award. And so I think that's just a reminder to the community and to people that they award, all that other folks have gone before them.

AM: So Tatsuo was in the first class of the Asian community leadership fellowship program that Kip Tokuda created after he was president of JACL. And, again, the idea was to pass leadership intentionally. And I know Kip really felt that they sort of learned as Sanseis by the seat of their pants, and they wanted to help people shortcut some of that learning process. So again, I see it on a trajectory and lots of things happening in our community, that, again, the time and the place to move to Yonsei leadership. And he was a great leader, and he brought other young people with him. So he kept us in presidents for the next five to ten years, I think. [Laughs]

JS: I think it'd be similar. I mean, this is what's kind of amazing like thinking how young he was, because I think I must have been five or eight years older than him at the time, and a commitment to community in that way that I think was really important to both model, but also to do that cross-generationally, because I think that he really, he valued that. And I think, again, you don't live in, you can be in isolation of not growing in your leadership, but so much is about learning from the wisdom of those who came before you and those you're working alongside. And that doesn't exist in a lot of organizations anymore. But that was such a unique and special history and legacy piece to JACL. And then in his work in government, he had a bigger context to the political landscape. And that also is the legacy in history, both of JACL, but when we talk about social change work, it also needs to happen through a lens of policy work. And he as a staffer, understood how to navigate City Hall and, and state government, so that all of us could see ourselves and I think inviting people in to becoming changemakers in that, and I think that's also a testament of his understanding of making that accessible for people who may not see themselves in having that kind of impact. But how much he enjoyed and loved that, and of sharing that with other people and bringing forth kind of, I think all of who he was in his work, in his community work and his professional work, that so much was very intrinsically tied together. And I think to what we had talked about, too, like this not needing to be like, "And he's hapa," that that actually, as the community was changing, was also ensuring that we were creating a sense of belonging, though, for folks who identified as multiracial in our community. Which at times, I don't think -- as Emily had mentioned -- may not have seen that it was a difficult issue for our community, but whereby there was a greater sense of belonging for folks to feel like they could be included in Japanese American institutions and be fully invited in.

BS: I'm not sure if Arlene is here right now. Arlene, are you with us? Okay, I think she might be having some technical difficulties with the microphone. But I guess in that case, I'll start wrapping up. Is there anything else that any of you wanted to mention or describe that we did not cover today? I know we covered a lot, so maybe not, but if there is. Okay, yes.

EM: I think we've talked a lot about who he was as an activist and as a politician. But he, you know, he was goofy and he was fun. And, you know, he would do dumb things just to make you laugh. He was that kind of person. So, you know, he wasn't all just about business. He was a very, he was a human and a really fun person. Which is why I think so many people were drawn to him.

BT: Emily, I think you're... it reminded me of another story, sorry. But it was, when you say fun it was his relationship also with May Namba. And if you got those two together, especially at a meeting, it was like they were having their own conversation. And you'd be trying to conduct the business and they'd always be laughing. And you knew that they both were very committed and engaged in the meeting, but they had this thing going. It's like, hey, include me in on this, too. But they were having fun but you're right. So I, again, I think that's the end of our session. I want to thank Brent for your job here as our lead and also for everybody for participating and I hope that you all had fun and it was very informative. So thanks again and, yeah, have a good day.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2022 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.