By Jocelyn Chui
Northwest Asian Weekly
Founded in 1929, the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) is the nation’s largest and oldest nonprofit organization committed to protect the rights of Japanese Americans and other segments of the Asian Pacific American community.
This year, the JACL National convention took place at the Hyatt Regency in Bellevue from July 5 to July 8.
Though the event was hosted by the Seattle chapter, other local JACL chapters like the Lake Washington and Puyallup Valley JACL chapters, along with help from the National JACL group, assisted in the planning of the event. Under the JACL Convention Chair Elaine Akagi, planning for this convention began two years ago with a core committee of about 20 people.
“By the time the convention began, we had scores of volunteers. It was a lot of work with the normal behind the scenes jitters, but I think to the average participant, the convention ran seamless[ly]. Things just [came] together and everything work[ed] out fine,” said Bill Tashima, convention committee member and former Seattle JACL president.
The convention lasted for three days and included seminars on varying topics from environmental justice to health. JACL worked closely with Nikkei Concerns on a “Living Well” health fair focused on diabetes.
The Seattle Chapter Japanese American Citizens League presented major awards at the end of the 43rd annual National Convention on July 7, celebrating the contributions made by local leaders and organizations.
The Community Achievement Award was given to King TV anchor Lori Matsukawa, recognizing her community engagement and achievements for the JACL, the Nikkei community, and others.
“This convention was particularly meaningful for me,” Matsukawa said in an interview through e-mail. “It was an acknowledgment of my effort as a journalist to write the ‘first draft of history.’ ”
Matsukawa covered issues important to the JACL, such as redress for internees, the fight to protect the civil rights of Muslim Americans post 9-11, and the coramnobis case exonerating Gordon Hirabayashi.
The President’s Award was given to Congressman Jim McDermott for his support of social justice issues, including his two recent legislative proposals, “Justice for Ward Cove Workers Act” (HR 4275) and the designation of the Wing Luke Asian Museum as a national historic site.
Representing the most diverse district in the state of Washington, McDermott was especially acknowledged for setting an ideal example as a political leader in a democratic nation.
The Edison Uno Award was given to Karen Narasaki for her work on civil issues. Born and raised in Seattle, Narasaki is a nationally known civil rights and human rights activist. As the former executive director of the Asian American Justice Center, she led the organization in promoting the human and civil rights of Asian Pacific Americans through advocacy, public policy, education, and litigation.
Frank Fuji, who designed the logo used for the internees redress campaign, received the Japanese American of the Biennium award. His work was also featured in the Smithsonian exhibit on the WWII Incarceration of Japanese Americans.
The Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee/Seattle NVC Foundation (NVC/NVCF) also won the Japanese American of the Biennium award.
Matsukawa recalled a poignant moment during the Sayonara Banquet, which concluded the convention, “At the Sayonara Banquet were two men who were instrumental in the redress movement for [Japanese internees] — former Governor and Congressman Mike Lowry was the first to introduce redress legislation as a freshman congressman back in 1976, and former Congressman and Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta, who helped shepherd the [redress bill], Civil Liberties Act of 1988. They expressed their appreciation to one another before the entire audience. It was very moving.”
For her hard work on the convention and for JACL, Elaine Akagi was elected National Vice President for General Operations. In a surprising bid for diversity, David Lin, a Chinese American, garnered 75 percent of the vote for the new National JACL President.
According to Bill Tashima, convention committee member and former Seattle JACL president, there was a surprising number of young people at the convention this year.
The event served to reflect a wide range of social issues and history that arose under JACL’s wide ranging influence over the last 80-plus years. For Tashima, the surprising number of young people at the convention was a promising sign that the decades to come will be just as fruitful. (end)
Jocelyn Chui can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.