“Come back. Even as a shadow, even as a dream.” — Euripides 480-406 B.C., writer of Greek tragedies
So far, the Year of the Monkey has been monkeying around with my patience. Things that were annoying me last year are leaching into 2016. Keiro is changing hands, Little Tokyo is digging in, determined to survive Metro’s overbearing Regional Connector construction, and the presidential election has become a circus sideshow.
What happened to the good old days? I’m talking about, you know, 2014. Back then, Keiro was still the “go-to” retirement home for aging Japanese Americans, Metro’s Regional Connector was still on the drawing boards, and Donald Trump was still just another reality show celebrity.
It is in times like these that I miss the late George “Horse” Yoshinaga. No one could put a pithy spin on the news like Horse could. Although his positions were often intractable, he never shied away from controversy, nor was he ever hypocritical. And, trust me, he would have had plenty to say about the current Keiro debacle.
Horse got his start as a journalist while working on the camp newspaper at Heart Mountain, Wyoming. He had earned with the nickname “Horse” while in high school because he was often seen running around the school track like a racehorse.
When he and his family arrived at Heart Mountain, Horse was 18 and had already graduated, but he convinced the camp officials that he should repeat his senior year. Tall and well-built, he wanted to continue competing in sports and wasn’t ready to leave youthful socializing behind. He enjoyed attending the dance parties that became popular among JA teens in camp and even kept a collection of the dance cards, which he eventually donated to the interpretive center.
Unfortunately, while many in the JA community were working to raise public awareness about the indignities and human rights violations wrought by the wartime camps, Horse insisted that “relocation camp” was one of the best times of his life. He was just being honest. To him, the situation was tailor-made for a young, single JA man.
My first encounter with Horse was in the early 1970s. He was covering sports and writing his Horse’s Mouth column for The Kashu Mainichi, one of several newspapers serving the community in those days. Other papers published at the time were William T. “Wimp” Hiroto’s Crossroads and the National Japanese American Citizens League house organ, Pacific Citizen, edited by Harry Honda. Another paper, Shin Nichi Bei (New Japanese American News), was launched in the 1950s but ceased publication sometime during the 1960s.
Although Rafu Shimpo had the largest circulation, Kashu Mainichi was not far behind. The vernacular newspapers were friendly rivals. So friendly, in fact, that when Honda went on vacation, I filled in as Pacific Citizen’s editor while also working at Rafu. Once, I did the same for Hiroto. Crossroads seemed to cater to a younger readership, and I recall proofreading an article by a young community activist named Warren Furutani, a Crossroads columnist.
We weren’t arguing about terminology back then, we were in a generational tug of war over whether we should talk about the camps at all. When I started to write my column, Kennedy was president and the Vietnam War was raging in Southeast Asia. Horse and I hadn’t formally met. However, occasionally I would express an opinion in Rafu that elicited a swift response from Horse at Kashu. About 20 years separated our ages, so naturally there was a philosophical chasm between us. Did I say “chasm”? It was more like a ravine, a canyon, a black hole in outer space.
The back-and-forth sniping went on for months, with neither one of us willing to let the other have the last word. People were enjoying the verbal sparring, and before Horse and I realized it, we had boosted the circulation of both our papers. You see, if people wanted to know what we were arguing about, they had to subscribe to both publications. It was phenomenon that can’t be created. It just happens.
To put our journalistic jousting into contemporary context, it was like having a debate, with one combatant on Time Warner Cable while the other was on Direct TV.
As the Sansei came of age in the ’60s and civil rights issues entered America’s consciousness, the younger generation began to raise questions about what happened to their parents and grandparents following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
As I observed from my vantage point as English editor of The Rafu from 1966-1977, a political exorcism was developing, and there was no stopping it.
The community’s evolution mirrored the five stages of grief. First, there was denial of the indignity, hurt, and devastating financial loss as many Issei and Nisei tried to minimize or put a positive face on what had happened to them after the outbreak of World War II. “Shikata ga nai (it can’t be helped),” they shrugged. They felt that the evacuation, as they called it, ought to be left shrouded in the past.
Then, anger emerged, not solely from the younger JAs but also from Issei and Nisei who had found their voices and called for an official apology. Younger JAs continued to question why elders had kept silent for so long but efforts to unite were becoming evident.
Bargaining took the form of public discourse and ignited the movement that led to the demand for redress and reparations.
Depression brought introspection as the community realized that the struggle to eradicate injustice was far from over and, indeed, could be directed at other groups and religions.
And, finally, acceptance took the form of education, of building monuments, museums, and interpretive centers, of writing books, and bringing the Japanese American story into the classroom to illuminate the lessons embodied in JA wartime experience in the hope that injustice is never repeated.
I left The Rafu in 1977 and took a job at ABC Television. When I rejoined Rafu in 2001, I learned that Kashu Mainichi had gone out of business, and Horse was now writing his column for The Rafu.
Coming by the Rafu offices one day, Horse stopped in his tracks when he saw me standing there. He rolled his unlit cigar in his mouth, then he asked, “Are you going to fire me?”
“Of course not! Why would I do that?” I gave him a big hug. “Good to see you looking well, Horse.” In his next column, he wrote about the hug. I had forgotten that Horse writes about anything and everything that happened to him.
As the community crusade to stop the Keiro sale rages on, I can only imagine the litany of quips and remarks he would be “pounding out” for Rafu readers. He had often hinted (maybe more than “hinted”) that something fishy was going on at Keiro. He may not have had solid facts or reliable research, but Horse never let that stand in the way of his commentary. Right or wrong, he never wavered.
His health started to fail last year, but he continued to plug away for The Rafu as long as he could. Today, we can only imagine what he might have written about Keiro’s current predicament. Something along the lines of “I told you so,” perhaps?
Oh, by the way, I have no doubt that this column would have elicited a spirited argument from Mr. Yoshinaga. And I would have loved it.
“Perhaps they are not stars but rather openings in heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy.” — Eskimo proverb
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