2019 National JACL Convention Completed in Salt Lake City

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Former JACL National President Floyd Mori (right) with Wat Misaka, formerly of the New York Knicks, the first person of color to play in the NBA, breaking the color barrier the same year that Jackie Robinson did in pro baseball.

By FLOYD MORI

The National Convention of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), which was held in Salt Lake City, Utah, from July 31 to Aug. 4, is now a memory and part of history.

The convention, which was experienced by over 500 people in some capacity, celebrated the 90-year anniversary of the JACL, which was established in 1929 to fight prejudice and discrimination.

The theme of the convention was “Advocacy. Inclusion. Action.” The theme reminds us that the fight for civil rights is real and ongoing. Diversity in America is acknowledged and encouraged. It will take our continued advocacy, inclusion, and action to help make a better nation and world.

Actor/writer/director Lane Nishikawa screened his new documentary, “Our Lost Years.”

The convention hosts were the three Utah JACL chapters and their presidents: Mount Olympus, Dick Mano; Salt Lake, Michael Iwasaki and Devon Matsumoto; Wasatch Front North, Sandra Grant. The co-chairs for the convention were Sherrie Hayashi, Lynne Aoyama, Sandra Grant, and Floyd Mori. Janet Komoto, Intermountain District Council governor, was on the committee. Marissa Kitazawa, vice president for general operations on the JACL National Board, worked closely with the local committee as did National President Jeff Moy, Executive Director David Inoue, and other members of the JACL staff.

Wat Misaka, a Utah legend who was the first non-white person to play in what is now the National Basketball Association (NBA) after being drafted by the New York Knicks, was honored with a President’s Award. Also receiving the President’s Award was Arlene Inouye, an activist and educational leader from Los Angeles. U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii was given the Ralph Carr Award.

Dianne Fukami (left) and Debra Nakatomi discuss their documentary on the life of former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta (right).

The Japanese American experience of incarceration and the subsequent redress, which was achieved with the passage of HR 442 and the signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, was one of the main topics of the convention. The egregious act against the Americans and immigrants of Japanese heritage during World War II of being imprisoned in concentration camps was a matter of discussion in plenary sessions, workshops, business sessions, and films. Most of the work of the National Council is covered elsewhere by others except to say that the JACL will continue to hold annual conventions for now.

With the participation of the Japanese American Confinement Sites Consortium (JACSC), there was emphasis on camp preservation. The JACL and other organizations are partnering with JACSC to ensure that funding will continue for the preservation of the camp sites to teach others about the history.

David Ono of ABC 7 in Los Angeles and actress Tamlyn Tomita emceed the banquet.

Sponsors who helped make the convention a success were: Platinum Sponsor, State Farm; Gold Sponsors, Comcast NBCUniversal, AARP, APIA Vote; Silver Sponsors, National JACL Credit Union, Motion Picture Association of America, Verizon; Community Sponsors, AT&T, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Foundation, Reagan Outdoor Advertising, My529, Union Bank, and the JACL Intermountain District Council.

Other supporters were: Caesars Entertainment, ABC, Mount Olympus JACL Chapter, Salt Lake JACL Chapter, Wasatch Front North JACL Chapter, Snake River JACL Chapter, Janet and Bob Komoto, WFC Insurance, and Zions Bank. In addition, many others donated, purchased tables of ten for the banquet, and placed ads in the program booklet. Thanks to all who contributed including exhibitors, vendors, committee members, speakers, filmmakers, color guard, volunteers, hotel staff, and others.

Speakers included Mike Honda, former congressman from San Jose.

It is always great to have Secretary Norman Mineta and his wife Deni participate in the conventions as well as former Congressman Mike Honda. Dr. Brian Shiozawa, who was a regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the current administration and a former Utah state senator, and his wife attended the Sayonara Banquet.

In keeping with the spirit of diversity, Virgil Johnson, a Goshute Native American, presented a blessing at the Sayonara Banquet. Elder Gary Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gave remarks. The Honorable Midori Takeuchi, consul general of Japan in Denver, spoke at the banquet and went on the Topaz tour.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and Mayor Jenny Wilson of Salt Lake County spoke at the Opening Reception as did Utah State Senator Jani Iwamoto, who introduced other senators and representatives from the State of Utah.

A visit to the Topaz Museum.

Convention attendees enjoyed Open Mic night with the youth, a golf tournament, visits to the Family History Library and the Tabernacle Choir, a hike, and films. The convention ended with an optional trip to the site of the Topaz camp and the new Topaz Museum in Delta, Utah. The bus ride started early on Sunday morning with more than two busloads of participants.

Former JACL staff members John Tateishi, Ron Wakabayashi, and Ron Ikejiri and past national president Frank Sato were on hand to share their experiences on redress. Other former JACL staff and fellows who attended the convention were: Paul Igasaki, Debra Nakatomi, Kenzie Hirai, Brandon Mita (currently general counsel on the JACL National Board), Jean Shiraki, and Amy Watanabe.

It was nice to see the youth taking a prominent role in the convention under the leadership of Kota Mizutani and Mieko Kuramoto. Some of the younger generation involved and volunteering were Seiji Hayashi, Ethan Hirabayashi, Michelle Huey, Kurt Ikeda, Jason Kunisaki, Eric Langowski, Devon Matsumoto, Eric Tokita. Kayla Watanabe, and many others.

Past national presidents of the JACL who were in attendance were: Judge Raymond Uno, Floyd Shimomura, Frank Sato, Floyd Mori, Ken Inouye, Larry Oda, and David Kawamoto.

In addition to the past national presidents and their spouses, it was good to see some of the stalwarts who have been supporting JACL conventions for years, including some current and former members of the National Board of the JACL: Toshi Abe, Michelle Amano, Sheldon Arakaki, Jim and Thaya Craig, Jim Duff, Larry Grant, Mas and Marcia Hashimoto, Marion Hori, Paul and Lou Igasaki, Judge Dale and Debbie Ikeda, Nicole Inouye, Jeff and Linda Itami, Miyako Kadogawa, Don Kajioka, Stanley Kanzaki, Mark and Lisa Kobayashi, Tom Kometani, Chip and Setsy Larouche, Greg Marutani (who very deservedly received the Ruby Pin), Ted and Yeiko Nagata, Terry and Leah Nagata, Travis Nishi, Tom Nishikawa, Walt Sato, Marielle Tsukamoto, Kai Uno, Paul Uyehara, Valerie Yasukochi, Sadie Yoshimura (who provided the gifts for the Opening Reception), and others.

Mary Kawakami, a 106-year-old member of the Mount Olympus Chapter, was recognized. We miss Shea Aoki, who had attended every JACL convention ever held until she could no longer attend in her nineties. Shea is now 104 and still lives in Seattle.

Notably missing was Richard Amano, a long-time supporter of the JACL who was “always” at the conventions with his daughter Michelle and his mother-in-law Etsu Mineta Masaoka until her passing. Our sympathies to Michelle for the loss of her father in January 2019. Our condolences to the families of other JACLers who have passed on since the convention in Philadelphia one year ago.

Thanks to all who attended the 2019 JACL National Convention. Hope to see you at the 2020 JACL National Convention in Las Vegas.

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Floyd Mori has a book available, “The Japanese American Story as Told Through a Collection of Speeches and Articles” (www.thejapaneseamericanstory.com). For a free copy of the ebook, send an email to [email protected].

Photos by CORY SHIOZAKI