Read who, how and why Japanese settled in Colorado

Most books about Japanese Americans focus on the West Coast because that’s where Japanese first arrived and settled on the US mainland.

So few well-known books tell the stories of Japanese as they crossed the country and decided to live in the mountains, or the midwest, or the northeast or the south. Yet I know of communities of JAs in New York (not surprising), Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, Nebraska and Utah. I have JA family in Atlanta who speak with a sweet Southern drawl. I recently interviewed a JA woman in Nashville, Tennessee (who admitted the Japanese community there is minuscule and good Japanese restaurants hard to find).

The point is, the Japanese American story isn’t just about California, Oregon and Washington (and Hawai’i). We’re spread out, and quite often, the stories behind our arrival away from the West Coast can be compelling and as rich with history and promise, hopes and dreams, tragedy and triumph as the stories of the pioneering families who settled on the coast.

That’s why I enjoyed reading “We Chose Colorado,” a collection of oral histories from Japanese and Japanese Americans who live in Colorado — mostly in the Denver area. The book is by Joyce Lebra, Professor Emerita at the University of Colorado and a longtime expert on Japan and India. She’s written non-fiction books about the history of Japan, as well as novels set in Japan. Lebra was raised in Hawai’i and lived in Japan for 10 years. She received her doctorate in Japanese History from Harvard and Radcliffe, and lived through a big moment in Japanese history herself.
Continue reading

Next on Meet Naomi Hirahara, award-winning mystery author

Naomi HiraharaErin and I are thrilled to announce the next call in our AAPI Empowerment Series, with Edgar Award-winning author Naomi Hirahara, whose fourth Mas Arai mystery, “Blood Hina,” was recently released. The Edgars, by the way, are the prestigious annual Edgar Allan Poe Awards for the best in mystery writing.

I fell in love with Hirahara’s ability to effortlessly capture the spirit and personality of the Japanese American community with her instantly engaging first book, “Summer of the Big Bachi.”

Her characters, starting with reluctant crime-solver Mas Arai, a retiring gardener in Los Angeles, speak and think and live in a culture rich with JA rhythms, from their speech to historical references. Arai is a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and he has a knack for stumbling into murder mysteries.

The plots of the Arai series, which also include “Gasa Gasa Girl,” in which Mas travels to New York, and “Snakeskin Shamisen,” in which Hirahara explores the rich culture of Okinawans in LA. “Snakeskin Shamisen” won Hirahara the prestigious Edgar Award for mystery writing.

Here’s Hirahara’s bio:

Naomi Hirahara’s fourth Mas Arai mystery, Blood Hina, was released in hardcover by St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne Books on March 2, 2010. Other books in the series, which features a Japanese American gardener and atomic-bomb survivor who solves crimes, includes Summer of the Big Bachi, Gasa-Gasa Girl, and the Edgar Award-winning Snakeskin Shamisen.

Her crime short stories are featured in Los Angeles Noir, Los Angeles Noir 2: The Classics, A Hell of a Woman, and The Darker Mask. Her book for younger readers, 1001 Cranes, was chosen as an Honor Book for the Youth Literature of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in 2009. She also contributed a mystery serial, “Heist in Crown City” to an English-language weekly in Japan, Asahi Weekly.

A graduate of Stanford University with a degree in international relations, she is the president of the Southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America.

She’s also a former journalist, who was a reporter and editor for the Rafu Shimpo newspaper in Los Angeles, and she has written books for the Japanese American National Museum. Welcome Naomi Hirahara and join us when we interview her about her books, her characters, and how she comes up with her fast-paced, clever and exciting plotlines.

Tune in and meet her!

SIGN UP FOR OUR FREE LIVE INTERVIEW WITH NAOMI AT 6 PM PDT (9 PM EDT) TUESDAY, MAY 11! You can listen to the live interview over the phone (long distance charges may apply) or FREE via a webcast. You can also submit questions for Naomi before and during the interview. If you miss the live event, you can listen to the interview for a limited time online.

Next up on Tamlyn Tomita, leading lady of AAPIs in Hollywood

Tamlyn TomitaErin and I are taking September off from doing interviews for, our series of live conversations with leading Asian American Pacific Islanders. But we’re kicking off October with a star: Tamlyn Tomita, whose inspirational career as an actor spans movies, television and the stage, and whose leadership and activism spans the Japanese American and Asian American Pacific Islander communities.

Our conversation with Tamlyn Tomita will be on Tuesday, October 6 at 6 pm Pacific Time (7 pm MT, 8 pm CT and 9 pm ET) is archived as an MP3 and is available for download for a limited time.

When we thought of starting, Tamlyn was the first person we thought of to interview, because of her prominence and passion, and because we’d met her on the set of “Only the Brave,” Lane Nishikawa’s powerful movie about the Japanese American soldiers of the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team.

She was funny, approachable, salty and very real. I have a very vivid memory of her during the filming, taking a break between scenes by sitting in her pickup truck (this was a low-budget production — no trailers for the stars). She was yelling and screaming and so animated we thought something was wrong. It turned out she’s a huge LA Lakers fan, and was listening to the playoff game in progress.

Last year, we saw her again at the Democratic National Convention, when I was one of the emcees at an APIA Vote Gala along with Tomita and Joie Chen, formerly of CNN. She’s a passionate, exciting and entertaining public speaker, and I’ve since seen her on video (just search YouTube) giving lots of speeches and serving as an emcee on many Japanese American and Asian American community events. Continue reading

Next on Dale Minami, rock star of AAPI attorneys who took on Supreme Court… and won

Attorney Dale MinamiThe next interview scheduled for Erin and my project is one close to our hearts. The free, live interview on Tuesday, August 25 at 6 PM PT (9 PM ET) will be with with Japanese American attorney Dale Minami.

Dale is a rock star within the AAPI community — in fact, the entire U.S. legal community — as the lead attorney in Korematsu v United States, the landmark case that cleared the name of Fred Korematsu, a Japanese American who resisted being sent to internment camps during WWII and was sent to prison. A 1944 U.S. Supreme Court’s decision established the constitutionality of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. But Dale and a team of young pro-bono lawyers took on the case and in 1983, got Korematsu’s conviction overturned.

He’s most famous for the Korematsu case, which he won on a writ of coram nobis, a legal tactic that forced the court to admit that an error of “fundamental character” had been made in Korematsu’s conviction.

Here’s a must-see video about Dale made for an award ceremony when he received the UC-Berkeley law school’s highest honor:

But Dale has been fighting for the AAPI community all his career.

He filed the first class-action lawsuit over employment by AAPIs on behalf of AAPIs with United Pilipinos for Affirmative Action v. California Blue Shield, and he helped the Spokane chapter of the JACL take on Washington State University with a class action suit to establish an Asian American Studies program. He also led a fight against UCLA over tenure that was denied an Asian American professor that revealed the layers of discrimination in the academic community. Continue reading

A Japanese American Judge for Denver: Mayor Hickenlooper and Kerry Hada’s swearing-in

Japanese Consul General Kazuaki Kubo, Denver District Court Judge Kerry Hada and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper.
Consul General of Japan in Colorado, Kazuaki Kubo, left, and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, right, congratulate Judge Kerry Hada on his appointment at a ceremony on Dec. 3.

When Denver County Court Judge Melvin Okamoto announced earlier this year that he was retiring after two decades on the bench, the legal community offered up a handful of qualified candidates to take Okamoto’s place. Of those, three top candidates were interviewed by Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, and Colorado native Kerry Hada, an attorney who went to Wheat Ridge High School, served as an Army Ranger in the last years of the Vietnam War, ranked nationally as a skier while attending CU, and got his law degree from DU, was chosen for the position.

Hada deserves the honor, because he’s a mainstay of the legal community and the Asian American Pacific Islander community. That community support was obvious last night.

As Hickenlooper looked out over the hundreds of people gathered in the lobby of the city’s Wellington Webb building last night, he remarked that he’d never seen such a huge crowd for the swearing-in of any official appointment since he became mayor. He joked that everyone in the room probably sent at least two letters to his office recommending Hada; Kerry himself noted that he would not have received the nod this time (he’s tried for a couple of judgeships before, including one a couple of years ago with Hickenlooper) without the support from the community.

People from every segment of Kerry’s life and work, including friends, family, military friends, folks from the local legal community and many representatives of the local Japanese American and Asian American communities were there to congratulate him. The Consul General of Japan, Kazuaki Kubo, and his wife also both attended.

Hizzoner and Kerry both gave props to Okamoto, himself a damned nice guy, who waved happily from the side of the room. It’s purely coincidental that the Mayor chose a JA to replace another JA, but I’m glad — and proud — that he did.