When I attended Robert Louis Stevenson Junior High School, I began to have classmates who were the children and grandchildren of the Japanese and Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II.
I had no idea of the history of their families. They were just the parents of my buddies. They learned some Spanish from me, and I learned some Japanese from them. It was a fun way to expand my horizons. If you're lucky, I think it's at junior high school where you begin to try on what feels right and true.
I've come to learn that my buddies' version of Japanese and the "correct" version weren't always the same. "Bachan" was the word my friend Donna Ikeguchi used for her grandma. This was not to be confused with with the word, "baka", which meant stupid or dummy. Hashi legs was what someone with skinny legs was called. Hashi means chopsticks. And so it went. A linguist would have found it messy. We found it fun.
It was when I was in the 10th grade at Garfield, that I learned about "the camps". I marvel at the teachers who reached out to members of the staff who had lived at Manzanar; they were bold enough to share their experiences with us. History quickly switched from boring facts to lives lived.
Years later, as a young wife, I watched the Watergate Hearings. There on the panel was a fellow, although considerably older than me, who bore a resemblance to some of the fellows I'd had a crush on in school. He looked like folks from my community. I felt as if he represented me and mine. I felt pride in his in his approach and his comments - forthright and to the point.
I later learned that he had been a member of the 442nd and was a recipient of the Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart. Lost a limb and continued to lead while in battle. His story is stunning.
What a handsome guy! Oh, yeah, he was smart, too. Hold on. My 16 year old self took over there for a moment. Let me compose myself.
Daniel Inouye became Hawai'i's first Congressional Representative in 1959 and evetually became the Senior Senator from that great state. From 2010 until his death he served as the President pro tempore. He was the first Asian American elected to Congress: he was the highest ranking Asian American elected official in these United States.
Each of us has large and small dreams and we have thought that we don't let become dreams since we know they'll never happen. I never thought I would meet Senator Inouye.
In 2011, he and Senator Barbara Boxer attended opening of PCC's Veterans Service Center. He spoke briefly and his comments felt forthright and to the point. My memories of that much younger man were instantly brought to mind. His accomplishments made me feel proud.
I treasure the blurry image that was taken that day.
|PCC, March 25, 2011|
His staff share that his last word was "Aloha". To the point, even to the end.