By Hiroshi Eto
The stereotype of the quiet and demure Asian is bothersome to be sure. People expect Asians to be quiet and compliant. We often get ‘mansplaining’ about Asian virtues of not tooting our own horn or how the nail that sticks up gets hammered down. If I were to point to a ‘cause’, I would say the unlawful arrest of Japanese Americans and placement into concentration camps forced a generation to suppress everything Japanese within them and become quietly ‘American’. In some ways, we became our own Japanese American experience deniers.
Perhaps quietly, but there have been Japanese Americans who accomplished great things and leveraged enough political clout to obtain a presidential apology and federally funded reparations for those who were unlawfully imprisoned. These early families built the Sakura Square, Little Tokyo, Japan Town, Keiro, Keiro Northwest, Oto’s, Uwajimaya, etc. It is a legacy worth celebrating, but the memorializing tributes seem few and far between the Norman Mineta International Airport and Daniel Inouye International Airport.
Rather than sell Keiro in Los Angeles for failure to finance an ethnocentric theme no longer required by a dispersed and assimilated Japanese American community, how wonderful would it have been to see a Sadao Munemori Veterans Nursing Home? If you ask, “Who is Sadao Munemori?” that makes the point that it would be wonderful to know the first Japanese American Medal of Honor winner, as much as we might know Colonel Ellison Onizuka or Four Star General Eric Shinseki. It would have been wonderful if the naming resulted in a broader revenue stream from multiple demographics that would allow many more to appreciate a part of the Japanese American experience. If Keiro Northwest became the William Nakamura International District Nursing Home, would people know that he was a Seattle-born Medal of Honor winner who enlisted out of the Minidoka concentration camp to die in Castellina, Italy? It could just as easily have been renamed for the founders to serve as a celebratory expression to generations of people and future immigrants about what can be accomplished in the land of opportunity. What they did to allow our aging pioneers to spend their last days in a culturally familiar setting was a blessing that is deserving of being immortalized.
Our children should not have to wait to go to a university and delve deeply into Asian American studies to know there was only one Asian American receiving the Medal of Honor in the Korean War. He was Hiroshi Miyamura who came out of tiny Gallup, N.M. to personally receive his honor from President Dwight D. Eisenhower. I’m sure there is no Keiro Southwest in Gallup, but wouldn’t it be nice for more people to know about his part in our Japanese American experience? If we want to be embraced as part of the American experience, we may need to learn to be proud about ourselves a bit more first.
Eto is a member of the Federal Way Public Schools Board of Directors. This letter reflects his personal opinion as a community member.