We learned in the spring of 1989 that what HR 442 had authorized — $1.2 billion for 60,000 internees or $20,000 per victim — was not the way the bill should have been written. Applications at the Justice Department for individual payments showed that there were 80,000 living Japanese Americans eligible. The actuaries were wrong. The bill should have called for $1.6 billion.
So we were looking at a $400 million hole, and faced the prospect of having to go through the whole authorization rigmarole again for more money. And we probably couldn’t get it. Congress was tired of our issue, and could only talk about deficit reduction and the big Japanese economic threat.
Congressman Bob Matsui went to Director Dick Darman at President G.H.W. Bush’s Office of Management and Budget, and got him to do an accounting maneuver that may not have been totally cricket, but which got us the $400 million with no trouble.
Few know what Bob did, but it was a huge contribution to redress. Bob is dead. While he served in Washington, he was never one to blow a horn of any kind. He was a brilliant man, and also quiet and very modest.
Another remarkably capable Japanese American was Cherry Kinoshita of Seattle. She actually read the Senate bill after it came out of committee.
I don’t know anybody else who did except Spark Matsunaga and John Glenn, chairman of the committee with jurisdiction.
What Cherry discovered was that if an Issei died before her payment turn came up, the bill would give her estate nothing. In short, the legislation was written so that Issei and some Nisei would find themselves in an arm wrestling contest with Death itself, and some of them would lose.
When Cherry called me about the problem, she was crying and said, “Grant, the Senate bill is worse than nothing.” She was right.
What Cherry brought to redress was raw IQ and total gaman.
Spark went back to Glenn to get the provision changed. Glenn relented grudgingly. With conservative constituents living along the Ohio River, the Ohio senator was a big deficit hawk. The upshot was to save money on the backs of the Japanese American old.
One of Cherry’s colleagues on the Legislative Education Committee (LEC), JACL’s non-tax-deductible lobbying arm, was Denny Yasuhara of Spokane. Denny carried Harry Kajihara of Oxnard to a win over the physically striking Rose Ochi of L.A. in the race for JACL national president at the July 1984, Chicago Convention.
Ochi was the candidate of the Japan Trade faction on the National Board. It was a group that had six, sometimes seven, backers among the Board’s 16 members. But using National JACL to lobby on behalf of the Japanese government had virtually no support among JACL rank and file members.
Nevertheless, on the second day of the Convention, Ochi was estimated to have a 10-15 vote lead among the 121 chapter delegates. She was a compelling candidate. Kajihara, less so.
After Denny relentlessly twisted arms behind the scenes, Harry won by three votes on the fifth day of the Convention, and kept JACL devoted solely to redress. Lobbying for the Japanese was not permitted, because it could have destroyed Japanese American redress.
The Japan Trade faction, a group led by National President Frank Sato with the support of staffers Ron Wakabayashi and John Tateishi, really thought redress was a hopeless enterprise — what with the bill having been forever bottled up by conservative subcommittee chairmen in both the House and the Senate and with a re-elected Ronald Reagan, publicly opposed to HR 442, sitting in the White House. The chances, in fact, did not look good at all. But without National JACL behind redress, we had no chance at all. Denny went to work, and we got the chance we needed.
Like Bob and Cherry, Denny is dead. But when he was alive, he was barely 5 feet 3 inches tall, very smart, and absolutely fearless.
Most Japanese Americans don’t know much about what it actually took to make redress a reality.
Over time, more will as scholars and students look into the work of people like Bob Matsui, Cherry Kinoshita and Denny Yasuhara. But I will say right now: No redress without Bob, Cherry and Denny.
Grant Ujifusa was the strategy chair, 1982-1993, for the JACL-LEC. The views expressed in the preceding commentary are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.