- The Washington Times - Friday, June 9, 2000

In the early 1940s, Mike Masaoka worked to reinstate military service for Japanese-Americans and, for his own efforts in World War II, received a chest full of medals. He loved his country so much he once wrote, "I glory in her heritage." And that, his detractors say, is the problem.
A group that says his "blindly patriotic" writing fuels stereotypes about minorities and ignores those who resisted internment is trying to have Mr. Masaoka's name and excerpts removed from the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism, a monument to honor Japanese-Americans.
Months before the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, Mr. Masaoka wrote his "Japanese American Creed," which reads, in part:
"I am proud that I am an American of Japanese ancestry. I believe in this nation's institutions, ideals and traditions; I glory in her heritage; I boast of her history; I trust in her future."
The group trying to remove him from the monument which includes eight of the 47 members of the foundation that raised money for the memorial monument and selected its design says Mr. Masaoka's statements show a willingness to give up ethnic heritage and pride for American culture and ideals.
"This blindly patriotic oath fans the 'model minority' myth," said Steve Yoda, a historian for Stanford University Nikkei, a student organization. "To inscribe any portion of [this creed] upon this memorial is to enshrine passivity even when faced with civil rights violations. What an embarrassment."
Those trying to remove his name say Mr. Masaoka, who lived in Chevy Chase, Md., until his death in 1991, cooperated with the U.S. government by testifying before Congress in 1942 that Japanese-Americans would willingly sacrifice their constitutional rights to show their loyalty to the nation by going to relocation camps.
They argue Mr. Masaoka's inclusion will overshadow the spirit of the memorial, which will be located at the intersection of Louisiana and New Jersey avenues NW next to the U.S. Capitol.
"This memorial will be marred by continuous and vociferous controversy long after the memorial's dedication if the inscription remains as approved by the National Park Service," said Rita Takahashi, a National Japanese American Memorial Foundation (NJAMF) board member who also is a professor of social work at San Francisco State University. "The memorial should unify people, not split and divide them."
But many others in the Japanese-American community, including U.S. Rep. Robert T. Matsui, California Democrat, said Mr. Masaoka's inscription should remain intact.
"The creed was a statement of extreme patriotism at a time when the loyalty of Japanese-Americans was openly questioned by government officials, military leaders, journalists and other citizens groups," Mr. Matsui said. "The message Mike Masaoka was conveying was that these are loyal Americans and over time that message proved to be correct."
Many of his supporters say Mr. Masaoka, who was in his 20s when he made those statements, was trying to make the best out of a "very bad" situation in a country that at the time questioned the loyalty of Japanese-Americans.
"He was a man who did a lot of good for the Japanese-American community," said Norman Mineta, a former U.S. congressman from California who now lives in Maryland. "He has worked on behalf of the Japanese-American community all of his life. He deserves to have his name and quotes on that wall."
Mr. Masaoka came to Washington at the outbreak of World War II to work toward eliminating internment camps and mitigate the effects of relocation.
He also pushed to get Japanese-Americans back into the military, which led to the formation of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He served with the team, taking part in military campaigns in Italy and France.
Mr. Masaoka himself was awarded the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and the Italian Cross for Military Valor during his military career.
He later became the Washington representative for the Japanese American Citizens League, a civil rights group, and helped reform immigration and naturalization laws that for years had discriminated against Japanese-Americans. Among the changes he brought about:
The repeal of the 1924 Japanese Exclusion Act, which barred Japanese immigrants from becoming citizens and from owning land.
The abolishment of the National Origins Quota Immigration System, which set a quota for each nationality based on the number of its members already in the United States, as well as an overall ceiling of 150,000 immigrants a year. Most Asians were barred entirely.
Congressional approval of the Evacuation Claims Act of 1948, which compensated Japanese-Americans for some of the losses they suffered during their internment.
"Mike was the one who got citizenship for our parents," said Cherry Tsutsumida, executive director of NJAMF, which funded the project. "Mike tried to give some communication between the government and the Japanese-American community, who didn't have a voice. He was a true hero."
The monument will pay tribute to the 33,000 Japanese-Americans who served in the armed forces, with the names of the nearly 800 who died inscribed on panels of the wall of the memorial.
It also will honor the 120,000 Japanese-American civilians who, by order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, were herded into internment camps in California, Arizona and other Western states starting in 1942 and kept there until the end of the war in 1945.
The NJAMF raised $11 million through private funds to build the memorial. It is scheduled to be completed in November.
The foundation approved the design of the memorial and voted last year to include several inscriptions and names of individuals who played a vital role in the Japanese-American community. But the eight members who are now trying to convince the federal government which oversees the construction of all such monuments to remove Mr. Masaoka's quote say they were never told what quotes from which people would be featured on the memorial.
One of those inscriptions turned out to be from Mr. Masaoka.
Among their other concerns, critics also say including Mr. Masaoka's creed on the memorial would fail to represent the scores of Japanese-Americans who resisted the internment and calls to fight on behalf of the United States.
"Once we found out, we've been against it. Including the creed would be inappropriate," said Yeiichi Kuwayama, a D.C. resident and foundation member.
So far, the controversy has not threatened completion of the monument. But critics like Ms. Takahashi and Mr. Kuwayama have already collected about 500 signatures on a petition that asks the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Park Service to review the memorial and to withhold Mr. Masaoka's name and creed.
As of Wednesday, neither agency had received the petition and declined to comment on the issue.
Mr. Masaoka's supporters, however, seem to feel just as strongly as those trying to scrub him from the monument.
In a Dec. 21 letter to the Commission of Fine Arts, Mr. Matsui wrote: "Mike is not only worthy of inclusion on the memorial, he is, in fact, one of the real giants in Japanese-American history a true hero."

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