JANM Recognizes Two ‘Woman Warriors’

From left: U.S.-Japan Council President Irene Hirano Inouye, JANM President and CEO Ann Burroughs, Sen. Mazie Hirono, and JANM Board of Trustees Chair Norman Mineta.

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

“Service to Democracy” was the theme as the Japanese American National Museum presented its Award of Excellence to two women who have had an impact in the fields of politics and civil rights during its 2018 Gala Dinner on April 21 at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites in Los Angeles.

Attended by more than 1,000 people and emceed by Frank Buckley, co-anchor of KTLA Morning News, the evening featured singer/songwriter and musician Judith Hill, who performed with her parents, Pee Wee and Michiko Hill, sang the national anthem, and also sang during the “In Memoriam” segment. Hill appeared in the documentary “20 Feet from Stardom” and recently released her debut album, “Back in Time.”

Opening remarks were made by Nikki Kodama, co-chair of the Gala Dinner Committee and member of the JANM Board of Governors, and former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, chair of the JANM Board of Trustees. The other dinner co-chairs were Ernest Doizaki and Leslie Furukawa.

Mineta remarked, “2017 was not a good health year for me, but your support and generosity have been a particular comfort during the past several months and I thank you very, very much for your prayers … gifts and messages.”

Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Shinsuke Sugiyama.

JANM’s mission, he said, embodies “our community’s dedication and service to democracy, from the earliest Issei, who exemplified the values of hard work, perseverance and responsibility to the community even though they were denied U.S. citizenship and suffered so many hardships during their lifetimes, to the Nisei, who demonstrated remarkable and extraordinary dedication and loyalty to the principles of democracy, even under the suspicion and shameful treatment of our own government.

“This summer, Aug. 10 will mark the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, a moment that I will always cherish as a proud witness as President Ronald Reagan inscribed his signature … on a document that acknowledged the United States government’s wrongful actions against those of Japanese ancestry during World War II …

“Today, 30 years later, I ask you to reflect on the current situation for communities undergoing challenges similar to the ones that those of Japanese ancestry have faced throughout our long history in this great country. Let’s never forget the great things we can accomplish if we can all respond one to another, respect each other and work together in a true spirit of collaboration.”

Shinsuke Sugiyama, who recently succeeded Kenichiro Sasae as Japanese ambassador to the U.S., said he had arrived in Washington about four weeks earlier and presented his credentials from Emperor Akihito and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to President Trump. “I’m still a newborn baby ambassador … Please try to grow me up to an experienced ambassador,” he joked.

Judith Hill sang the national anthem and performed with her parents.

Many friends, as well as Abe, who attended USC, “told me I must visit California as soon as possible,” Sugiyama said, noting that California is the state with the largest population, has the sixth-largest economy in the world, and is home to a significant Japanese American community. He said he was “astounded” by the large turnout at the dinner and impressed by the community’s “enthusiasm” and “power.”

He pledged “to do whatever I can do as a new envoy” to help the community.

Having just attended Washington’s Cherry Blossom Festival, where he and his wife Yoko were joined by Mineta and his wife Deni, Sugiyama said he was leaving for San Francisco, where the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival was being held.

“These Are Not Normal Times”

The first honoree, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), was introduced by Irene Hirano Inouye, U.S.-Japan Council president and former CEO of JANM, who said, “Mazie … has spent her entire career pursuing social justice and extraordinary public service. She’s not been afraid to take risks, to be the first to forge a pathway for Japanese Americans, for women, and for those who have faced discrimination and inequality …

“When she was Hawaii’s lieutenant governor, she was among the earliest Hawaii elected officials to join the Japanese American National Museum’s Board of Governors. She has always been there when we call her.”

After serving in the House of Representatives, Hirono became the first female senator from Hawaii, first Asian American woman elected to the Senate, and first senator born in Japan.

Remembering the late Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) as “one of our greatest champions,” Hirano Inouye said, “When Sen. Akaka made the decision to retire and not run for re-election in 2012, immediately both Dan Akaka and [Sen.] Dan Inouye endorsed Mazie for the U.S. Senate race. Both Dans worked hard alongside Mazie to ensure that she successfully won that election.

“Dan Inouye was never prouder than when he joined Mazie on election night and celebrated her victory. There is a tradition that when a new senator is sworn in, they are accompanied by another senator. Dan told Mazie that night he would proudly walk her to be sworn in … It was several weeks later in December 2012 when Dan passed away. Earlier that day, when he knew his health was failing … he wanted me to ask his good friend Sen. Patty Murray from the state of Washington to do the honors, to accompany Mazie in the swearing-in …

“Mazie has been an inspirational woman warrior. She works hard each and every day and has stood up to her own personal health challenges so she can continue to make a difference.”

Hirono has been battling kidney cancer since last year and is seeking re-election this year.

“It is particularly meaningful to receive this award from an institution dedicated to commemorating the contributions and preserving the collective memory of Japanese Americans,” she said. “Thank you to the museum for everything that you do …

“I know as a member of the Honorary Board of Governors that JANM is a non-partisan organization, but at the risk of offending some of you, I’d like to take this time to instill the sense of urgency for all of us to get off the sidelines and into the fight because these are not normal times …

“It’s not normal when this president puts the lives of 800,000 young people at risk by canceling the DACA program. I’ve spoken to so many of these inspiring young people and it is clear that the president has created a crisis in their lives, unnecessarily so. Many go to work or school not knowing if their families will be there when they get home …

“It is not normal when a president attacks women’s health care on a continuous basis and tries to throw 30 million people off of their health insurance. It is not normal when we have a secretary of education who doesn’t even believe in public education or an EPA administrator who wants to dismantle the very agency that he is leading. It is not normal when this president uses his executive orders to single out and target religious minorities for discriminatory treatment through his Muslim ban.

“As Japanese Americans, we know first-hand what happens when our government targets a group for discriminatory treatment based on ethnicity and race, and we know how it feels for our country’s institutions and strongest voices to be complicit and even support this injustice …

“Our president talks about making America great again even as he and his administration continue to marginalize and discriminate against every minority group we can think of. What we need to do, what we need to focus upon, is to make America whole again.

Speakers include