BERKELEY, Calif. — Nichi Bei Foundation President Kenji G. Taguma was presented the Consul General Award by Consul General of Japan in San Francisco Hiroshi Inomata last month. The award presentation was made at the VIP Reception for sponsors of the third annual Northern California Soy and Tofu Festival, held at Berkeley Bowl West on May 11.
Inomata said he was present to recognize Taguma “for his extensive accomplishments and contributions to the community through media,” particularly at the former Nichi Bei Times and the current Nichi Bei Weekly.
“He did a lot of efforts in connecting the Japanese community and promoting Japanese culture with the news media,” said Inomata, who read a translation of the award transcription, which conveyed the Consulate’s “deepest respect” in honoring Taguma for “his distinguished achievements in contributing to mutual understanding and friendship between Japan and California.”
Taguma, who also serves as the editor-in-chief of the Nichi Bei Weekly newspaper and the co-chair of the Northern California Soy and Tofu Festival, was introduced by longtime community activist Andy Noguchi, the civil rights co-chair of the Florin chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League. Noguchi, along with his wife Twila Tomita, are on the Nichi Bei Foundation Advisory Council.
Noguchi recalled working together while Taguma was in college at California State University, Sacramento.
“Back in 1993, there was a series of hate firebombings in Sacramento, where someone or suspects bombed the NAACP office, bombed the Sacramento JACL office, bombed the Temple B’Nai Israel, a Jewish temple, and bombed the home of (Sacramento) City Councilman Jimmie Yee,” Noguchi noted. “Kenji started organizing efforts to combat that hate, and organized a forum at the Sac State campus. He also organized many other things and all, too, in the community there.”
“Kenji started out on the road to be a pioneering young Asian American journalist. (He) started an Asian American newspaper while he was still in college, and took it out in the community and covered many issues. So I guess we’re not very surprised at how far Kenji has come, and all the things he’s contributed to the community over these years.” He mentioned that those who have received such awards are “more mature” in age.
Taguma saw the recognition as a way to recognize those involved in two inspiring movements — the movement to rebuild the Nichi Bei Foundation and Nichi Bei Weekly out of the ashes of the Nichi Bei Times, and the movement to create the Northern California Soy and Tofu Festival.
“I am deeply humbled to be here today … because it represents acknowledgement for two particular movements that I’m truly honored to be a part of. I can only accept this, however, on behalf of these movements, and the army of staff, volunteers, donors, members, advertisers and sponsors who have inspired and continue to inspire on a daily basis. This is your award.
“Looking back at my career as a journalist, I feel fortunate to have been a part of not only documenting history, but in ways influencing it.”
Taguma recognized predecessors, the Nichi Bei Shimbun and Nichi Bei Times — and their respective founders, Kyutaro Abiko and Shichinosuke Asano — as “historical pillars” that “fueled our mission to keep the community connected, informed and empowered, as we rose out of the ashes of the historic Nichi Bei Times” to create the first nonprofit ethnic newspaper of its kind in the country, the Nichi Bei Weekly, in 2009.
“This road was definitely not easy … But our tiny staff of just four full-time equivalents — who I can proudly say is the most productive staff in Japantown — has taken on this challenge, inspired by community support and fueled by a lot of volunteer help … Starting a new nonprofit in the worst of economic times in decades was not the easiest thing to do, but this community rose to the challenge. We needed to save a treasured community resource, and began to rebuild, brick by brick … to document our history and support other community nonprofits.”
He noted that a major contribution by The Henri and Tomoye Takahashi Charitable Foundation essentially saved the Nichi Bei Foundation over the past year.
In conclusion, Taguma dedicated the award to those who recently passed away — his father, Noboru, and his mentor and founding Nichi Bei Foundation board member Wayne Maeda, a founding member of the California State University, Sacramento Ethnic Studies faculty who inspired him as a young student and became the longest-serving contributing writer during Taguma’s tenure as editor of the Nichi Bei Times and Nichi Bei Weekly.
“My father Noboru Taguma was a simple farmer in the Clarksburg area for more than 45 years, but during World War II he took a Constitutional stand against the unjust wartime incarceration of the Japanese American community, by resisting a military draft imposed upon young men behind barbed wire. … Learning about his experience really taught me about pride and principle — two values that influence my drive and determination,” Taguma said.
“But it was Wayne … who first validated, for me, my father’s place in history,” said Taguma, noting that Maeda passed away after a bout with cancer in late February, while his wife Lorrie passed away three days later. “I arrived in Wayne’s Asian American studies class a painfully shy kid, but through his example, I found my mission in life: to serve our community, to document its history, and to strive for historical accuracy. Without Wayne … I would not be here today.”