Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
As someone whose Sansei “credentials” include being a graduate of McKinley High School, which, back then, was widely known as “Tokyo High” due to the demographics of its enrollment, I find it difficult to imagine that our generation will leave a legacy that can even begin to compare with that of our grandparents and parents.
The risk-taking Issei left their families and culture behind in hopes of finding a better life in the middle of the Pacific. Through their hard work and perseverance, they left us the priceless legacy of U.S. citizenship and the democratic values and individual freedom that came with it. The Nisei have been widely recognized and celebrated for their bravery and sacrifice during a dark time in our nation’s history, when fear and prejudice unjustly imprisoned and impoverished many Japanese American families. But we should not overlook their determination to never again be treated as second-class citizens after they returned from the battlefields of Europe and the Asia-Pacific theater. Their strategic decision to use the political system to achieve this goal left a legacy of economic, social and educational opportunities not just for the Sansei, but also for all the people of Hawai‘i.
But I also view this Legacy (capital L) from a more personal perspective. My grandparents, Sotaro and Iyo Komo, left Japan and eventually established a home in the coffee fields of Kona on the Big Island. There they raised nine children, many of whom graduated from college and went on to become nurses, lawyers and teachers. My mother, Itsuko, was the eldest daughter. She did not finish grade school in order to help care for her siblings and to work in the coffee fields. She later put her caregiving skills to good use, contributing to our family’s income by what was then referred to as “babysitting.” A longtime member of Moiliili Hongwanji, my mother volunteered for Project Dana, a nationally recognized service program founded and maintained by members of the Hongwanji. She would pay friendly visits to shut-in elders, many of whom were younger than she was. My mother turned 100 last June. Our family is blessed to have her century-old legacy of unselfish love and service to others.
My father, Edward Takamura, was orphaned at an early age and separated from his two sisters. He was sent to Kaua‘i to live with an uncle he barely knew. He worked for a long time as a coffee salesman, and although he did not graduate from high school, he enrolled in Dale Carnegie courses to improve his speaking and sales skills. He later retired as the maintenance foreman for Palama Settlement, where he was loved and respected by the staff and children alike for his reliability, patience and kindness. Like many Nisei fathers, my father did not engage in deep conversation, but he did teach me, by example, how to live life successfully and productively.
The Legacy of the Issei/Nisei can also be seen in tangible ways in our community today. Moiliili Community Center was founded over 100 years ago as a Japanese language school by Issei who wanted their children to remember the language and culture of their ancestral home. In 1941, when the school had an average enrollment of 1,081, the military government in Hawai‘i closed it down after Dec. 7 and threatened to confiscate the school’s six-acre property. It was only through the creative efforts of Nisei, led by attorney Kinji Kanazawa, that this was prevented. They hastily formed the Ka-Moiliili Council and prevailed upon some prominent haole businessmen to serve on the council’s board of directors and then deeded the school’s property to the council. After the war ended, Kinji and the others formed the nonprofit Moiliili Community Association, and the Ka-Moiliili board willingly transferred the property to the association. Today, Moiliili Community Center is one of a handful of multipurpose community centers providing programs that service seniors and children, and it is unique in that it continues to provide Japanese language education, although to a decidedly ethnically diverse student enrollment.
I grew up in Mö‘ili‘ili-McCully and have fond memories of football games, stock car races, Elvis and Meadow Gold Christmas parties in the old Honolulu Stadium. I first became involved with MCC when, as vice-chair of the then-3M (Mö‘ili‘ili-McCully-lower Makiki) Community Council, I spearheaded, with the help of VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) volunteers Ed Kuniyoshi and Warren Young, a grass roots campaign to turn the 9.5-acre Honolulu Stadium site into a park. MCC provided us the office space and, more importantly, the community credibility we needed to organize and eventually achieve success in this effort. I feel that the fact that Old Honolulu Stadium Park exists today as an oasis of green in the midst of one of the most densely populated sections of O‘ahu, is due to the support of MCC and the determination of the people of Mö‘ili‘ili-McCully to have a voice in the future of their community. I am currently into my 20-plus years as a member of the Moiliili Community Center’s board of directors and, more recently, as a member of its Board of Trustees, which is chaired by Kinji Kanazawa’s son, Sidney.
So, returning to the question of what is the Legacy of the Sansei, I do not know if the Yonsei/Gosei generation will be able to — or even see the need to — discern what the Legacy of the Sansei has been to their generation. I do hope, however, that they will recognize that we Sansei tried our best to honor and enhance the Legacy gifted to us by the Issei/Nisei and will be inspired to do the same for the generations to follow.
Carl Takamura is a former Hawai‘i state legislator and educator and past executive director of the Hawaii Business Roundtable. He currently serves on the boards of a number of nonprofit organizations, including Moiliili Community Center, the McKinley High School Foundation, TEMARI Center for Asian & Pacific Arts and AARP Hawaii.