On March 11, 2011, as Japan was facing a horrendous triple disaster with the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, us five Taguma children, our mother and 10 grandchildren lost our beloved father, husband, and grandfather. Sharing my eulogy of him, on the occasion of his five-year memorial anniversary.
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Remembering my father, resister Noboru Taguma
Eulogy by Kenji G. Taguma
April 9, 2011
Sacramento Memorial Lawn
We find our heroes wherever we can, sometimes not by choice. They could be Super Bowl MVPs, or even more iconic figures like MLK, Malcom X or Cesar Chavez. But some heroes are not necessarily found in history books.
But what my dad taught me is that ordinary people can do extraordinary things in the face of adversity. Even a simple, unsophisticated farm boy like my father.
Growing up, I was ashamed of my heritage, as I was constantly teased for my slanted eyes, and called “Nip,” “Jap” or “Chink” all too frequently. I used to run away from my own mother as she yelled my name in Japanese at the local supermarket. I just wanted to be a “regular” American. But now I realize that “America” is indeed in the heart, and that people of color, who have been marginalized in history textbooks, do have their rightful place in the great American mosaic.
My father’s story saved me. It gave me a sense of purpose. It instilled an unbreakable sense of pride, an unshakeable sense of principle.
My personal relationship with my father, however, actually wasn’t always so great, particularly in my teens, when I saw him as an easily irritable old man. It was probably partially my fault, however, that he appeared so mean. The fifth of five kids, I took it upon myself to rebel from the examples set before me by my other siblings, who were exceptional students, athletes, or both. One day, my English teacher took me outside of class, concerned about my academic performance when compared to my other siblings. I just laughed at him. I knew I wasn’t dumb — I became the editor of our school yearbook, after all — but I felt more at ease goofing off in high school. Instead of the 4.0 GPAs of my siblings, sometimes I barely made a 2.0.
At home, I was a lazy, unfilial son. I wouldn’t be quick to do any chores, and intentionally wouldn’t try hard with homework. In addition, my father must have been disappointed with me, as I got into trouble with the law twice. He never even heard of my other run-ins with the law, including another time when police guns were drawn upon me.
Because of my lack of ambition, he kept yelling at me “Prido ga nai! Prido ga nai!” — or “You have no pride!” He also kept saying “They don’t know about us guys. They don’t know about us resisters” like a mantra.
It wasn’t until my chance enrollment in an Asian American studies class that I started to understand what my father meant, and I began to discover the true heroism in his wartime actions. My semester-long project for Wayne Maeda’s class was to interview and research my father’s history, which eventually became part of Wayne’s exhibit at the Sacramento History Museum.
This process was an epiphany. It transformed me from a relatively shy 20-something — in danger of dropping out of college because I couldn’t deal with Business Calculus — and it gave me my new calling as an activist. I changed my major from International Business to Ethnic Studies, and organized the first of some two dozen programs on the California State University, Sacramento campus — on Nisei draft resistance during World War II. I went on to organize forums on hate crimes, anti-immigrant legislation, Asian Heritage Weeks, film festivals and the like, while publishing three editions of my own Asian American newspaper — all within the course of just one and-a-half years. This once painfully shy boy from the country was transformed to the most active student on campus, inspired by my father’s own fight for social justice.
My father’s story gave me a voice, and so I was committed to give his story the voice that he had been yearning for all these years. The story of the resisters started to be rediscovered on a local, national and even international level. Books, videos and forums would come out. The Florin JACL would honor the local resisters in 1994, and the recognition of this once-shunned group would culminate with the National JACL’s Resisters Reconciliation Ceremony in 2002. We attended event after event together.
Now, dad could no longer say “they don’t know about us guys.”
Through it all, our family was by his side, even traveling to the former federal labor camp he was sentenced to near Tucson, Arizona. It is a testament to my father that his kids truly supported him every step of the way, as he finally received recognition for his gutsy stand some five decades earlier. The uncovering of his story, coupled with the arrival of his first granddaughter Cheryl, helped to peel off layers upon layers of his tough exterior, and truly made him a happy Papa Bear.
His story continues to inspire me.
When the Nichi Bei Times was folding in September of 2009, it took a tremendous will to launch the first nonprofit ethnic newspaper of its kind in the country — especially in the worst of economic times in decades. It took courage and determination that I didn’t even know I had. And while my family and others were supportive of this inspiring community movement, I believe that it was my father’s resistance that gave me the courage to resist the demise of a treasured community institution, and the fight to move forward to give a voice to the voiceless.
My father’s pride and principle, no doubt, will continue to inspire us as the years pass. He will forever be a guiding light as we face adversity. His love of family and his hard work ethic will forever be a part of our fabric, interwoven with the huge generosity and faith that is inherited from our mother.
On March 11, as Japan was losing so much in the devastating earthquake and tsunami, I lost my personal hero. But I’m sure that his spirit will live on in each of us who were touched by him.