Video Remembrance of Noboru Taguma (from Memorial Service)

In Remembrance of Noboru Taguma

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Remembering ‘Sonny Boy’

“Sonny Boy” – Noboru Taguma




Noboru Taguma was a farm boy. He grew up understanding the meaning of hard work, responsibility, and respect for his elders. At the age of nine, he already understood that he was responsible for his younger brothers, and he took that responsibility very seriously. At this young age, he even tried to drive his father home one night when his father was in no condition to drive. When Noboru was pulled over by a motorcycle police officer, the officer kept calling him “Sonny boy,” even though Noboru Taguma insisted that this was not his name. When the officer gave him a citation (clearly at the age of nine he was too young to be driving on a highway), Noboru thought he was giving him was a certificate for driving straight. Only later did he realize it was a ticket. Paul Tsuneishi kept this name alive for the rest of Noboru’s life after hearing this story, always asking, “How’s my Sonny Boy doing?” The name caught on. Sonny Boy Noboru Taguma was ahead of his years at nine taking responsibility for his younger siblings and even expecting an award for driving straight when he was pulled over for trying to drive his father home.


During the war, Noboru knew that being in camp was hardest on the Issei, especially Issei farmers. If there was one thing that his father understood was the pride that came from working hard and making an honest living. Being confined to the camps, away from their farms, and denied the respect of being the head of the family and leaders in the community was traumatic for Noboru’s father, as it was for most Issei men. The college educated JACL Nisei, Noboru recalled, did not really understand how hard this was, especially on farmers when the JACL embraced “evacuation” and confinement in the camps as a way to prove their American loyalty.


When Noboru received his draft notice after being in the camps for two years, he refused. He did not need a college degree or a sophisticated understanding of the Constitution to take an impressive stand for the rights of citizenship and to demand some respect for his parents. If his parents were freed from the camps and allowed to go back to their farm in California, he would serve proudly, but until then, he refused. He was one of the first Nisei to refuse the draft. Even though James Omura, later defender of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee, suggested that these first Nisei were rash in their arguments and too disorganized to make a difference, Taguma did not back down. The JACL leaders, most notably Min Yasui and Joe Grant Masaoka, came to see Noboru Taguma and the other first four resisters in an effort to convince them to give up the fight. As Taguma recalled, “the JACL say, sacrifice your life to prove your loyalty.” But that was just crazy in Noboru’s mind. “We were loyal to America,” he said, “but the government itself was un-loyal to us.” With the support of his father, who urged him to stick with whatever decision he made, Noboru Taguma resisted the draft and later renounced his citizenship in an effort to bring the family together and to get them to Tule Lake – a little closer to home than Granada, Colorado. Despite the fact that Taguma’s efforts to reunite the family did not work out as planned, and despite the fact that the JACL did not recognize his principled resistance until 2002, Taguma knew that he did the right thing in standing up against injustice during the war.


When I started to learn about the resisters’ stories, I was very fortunate to meet Noboru Taguma. Simple stories of loyalty and the Constitution would not suffice. It was Noboru Taguma who made me look hard at the unique way that farm families responded to the war, to their confinement, and to the draft. As Noboru explained to me, President Truman understood the sacrifices of farmers. He was a farm boy himself. Truman ordered an investigation into all draft resistance cases and at the end of 1947, he gave presidential pardons to all Japanese American resisters, including Noboru Taguma. Clearly Japanese Americans felt betrayed when they were ordered to leave their homes, leave their farms, and subject themselves to the humiliation of confinement in camps that defied any legal protections of due process.


Noboru Taguma told his story to Paul Tsuneishi, an avid supporter of the resisters, who picked up on the stories of Taguma’s youth and started calling him “Sonny Boy.” Noboru Taguma’s lessons from his childhood did pave the way for the rest of his life. It was loyalty and respect for family and for his father that helped give him the courage to stand up against injustice.


Noboru Taguma looked up to others who stood up against injustice during the war. He especially admired Gordon Hirabayashi, who said that the Constitution was just a piece of paper. It is the responsibility of individuals to defend it, or as Noboru Taguma said, “It’s the people who got to protect that.” Younger generations might know that, but Noboru Taguma believed it was his responsibility to remind them: “I tell them always fight for your rights. That’s all. Everybody’s equal in America.”


Noboru Taguma will be remembered not just as a resister, but as a man who lived the lessons he learned as a child – to respect his elders, to take care of his family, and to stand up for what is just and right.


Cherstin M. Lyon is an assistant professor of history at the California State University, San Bernadino. Her recently published book, “Prisons and Patriots: Japanese American Wartime Citizenship, Civil Disobedience, and Historical Memory” — which is about civil rights icon Gordon Hirabayashi and the “Tucsonian” Nisei draft resisters — can be purchased at

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Prof. Art Hansen’s review of new book on Tucsonian resisters and Gordon Hirabayshi

A lifelong relationship: Citizens and the state

January 1, 2012

By ART HANSEN, Nichi Bei Weekly Contributor

PRISONS AND PATRIOTS: Japanese American Wartime Citizenship, Civil Disobedience, and Historical Memory
By Cherstin M. Lyon
(Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011, 233 pp., $30.95, paperback)

“Prisons and Patriots” is Cherstin Lyon’s first book. Its publication catapults Professor Lyon, a historian at California State University, San Bernardino, into the ranks of the premier scholars of World War II Japanese American protest and dissent. Accordingly, this volume will now assume a place among seminal books like Roger Daniels’s “Concentration Camps U.S.A.: Japanese Americans and World War II” (1971), Michi Nishiura Weglyn’s “Years of Infamy” (1976), Richard Drinnon’s “Keeper of Concentration Camps” (1987), Eric Muller’s “Free to Die for Their Country” (2001), Frank Chin’s “Born in the USA” (2002), and Shirley Castlenuovo’s “Soldiers of Conscience” (2008), as well as such similarly consequential documentary films as Emiko Omori’s “Rabbit in the Moon” (1999) and Frank Abe’s “Conscience and the Constitution” (2000).

“Prisons and Patriots” originated in the “Tucsonian” Oral History Project that Lyon launched at the 1999 ceremony renaming the Tucson Federal Prison Camp as the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site. During World War II this facility was a minimum-security honor camp for prisoners constructing highways in Arizona’s scenic Catalina Mountains above Tucson. In 1943 it detained Hirabayashi, a University of Washington Nisei student, Quaker, and conscientious objector who the previous year had resisted U.S. government-imposed curfew and exclusion orders on West Coast Nikkei (and then later became a draft resister). In 1944 it confined 41 other Nisei, mostly inmates from the War Relocation Authority-administered concentration camps at Topaz, Utah, and Amache, Colorado, who resisted induction without having their stripped prewar U.S. citizen rights restored.

Lyon draws upon her interviews with Hirabayashi and the other Nisei Tucsonians plus archival documentation to craft a compelling narrative. On one level, it conveys a multifaceted story about a largely neglected wartime confinement site. On a deeper level, though, it relates why and how its Nikkei denizens elected to demonstrate their patriotism via U.S. Constitution-sanctioned civil disobedience as against heeding combined federal government and Japanese American Citizens League propaganda and pressure to prove their “loyalty” through segregated military service.

The genius of Lyon’s book lies less in the stories she recounts than in her placing them into instructive and relevant contexts. The most important of them concerns the nature of citizenship. While seemingly static in “ordinary” times, notes the author, this concept in unstable times (e.g., during World War II and today’s roiled global climate) becomes “contested, variable, fluid.” Citizenship, Lyon contends, is “not simply a set of rights or obligations to be granted [but is instead] … the relationship between citizens and the state, and [it] is redefined over the life of the individual and in response to the state’s changing needs.” Building upon this insight, Lyon persuasively advances the grounded argument that over and beyond the Tucsonians, Gordon Hirabayashi, and the several hundred draft resisters within the constellation of Japanese American prison camps, the entire wartime incarcerated population of Nikkei mounted a “strong, diverse, and at times well-organized resistance” to both voluntary service and the draft.

While neither the wartime acts of individual draft resisters nor the pervasive community resistance sentiment underlying them has yet attained a popular hold on the American or Japanese American collective memory, “Prisons and Patriots” promises to provide this development with considerably greater traction. Moreover, it very likely will serve the same function for those still demonized Japanese Americans who during World War II renegotiated their U.S. citizenship rights and obligations through expatriation and renunciation.


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New book on resisters examines wartime definition of patriotism, civil disobedience

October 20, 2011 By Nichi Bei Weekly Staff

CHICAGO — A new book being published by Temple University Press in November is re-examining wartime definitions of citizenship, patriotism, prisons, and civil disobedience through the lives of Gordon Hirabayashi and a group of Nisei draft resisters who called themselves the “Tucsonians.”
“Prisons and Patriots: Japanese American Wartime Citizenship, Civil Disobedience, and Historical Memory” is written by Cherstin M. Lyon, an assistant professor of history at the California State University, San Bernardino.
According to the publisher, “Prisons and Patriots” provides a detailed account of 41 Nisei, known as the “Tucsonians,” who were imprisoned for resisting the draft during World War II. Lyon parallels their courage as resisters with that of civil rights hero Gordon Hirabayashi, well known for his legal battle against curfew and incarceration, who also resisted the draft.
These dual stories highlight the intrinsic relationship between the rights and the obligations of citizenship, particularly salient in times of war.
Lyon considers how wartime civil disobedience has been remembered through history — how soldiers have been celebrated for their valor while resisters have been demonized as unpatriotic. Using archival research and interviews, she presents a complex picture of loyalty and conflict among first-generation Issei and Nisei. Lyon contends that the success of the redress movement has made room for a narrative that neither reduces the wartime confinement to a source of shame nor proffers an uncritical account of heroic individuals.
“‘Prisons and Patriots’ adds welcome depth and analysis to a growing number of works that are now disclosing two increasingly important reasons the Japanese American experience during World War II needs further research: first, the complex ways in which the Japanese American communities responded to the unconstitutional barbarity with which the U.S. government treated them and, second, the fascinating ways in which postwar actors sought to play roles in the crafting of a metanarrative for the ethnic group, the war, and the nation,” stated Franklin S. Odo, chief, Asian Division, Library of Congress.
“In ‘Prisons and Patriots,’ Cherstin Lyon presents, in a clear, accessible style, original material that is not available elsewhere. She provides interesting case studies of the internment of the draft resisters — known as ‘Tucsonians’ — along with an examination of the generational conflict within the Japanese American community,” said a review of the book by Frank Wu, chancellor and dean at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, and author of “Yellow: Race in America beyond Black and White.”

“Prisons and Patriots” can be ordered at:

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Remembering you, dad, on Father’s Day

Dad, it’s been three months since you’ve passed, and we all miss you so much, especially mom, who had been by your side for 53 years. We will do our best to look after her in your physical absence. I will take mom to visit you at Sacramento Memorial Lawn today. Today, I will post a couple of the eulogies and remembrances from your service. Kenji


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.

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Remembrance by niece Midori Tanaka

Noboru Taguma, Rev. Tomoyoshi Tanaka, Midori Tanaka

Noboru Taguma Remembrance Speech

By Midori Tanaka, niece

April 9, 2011

Noboru-ojisan, I still cannot believe that you have passed away.  You have always been by my side, joking and laughing; I thought I could always rely on you.

When it was decided that I would be getting married and coming to America, my mother was very worried about letting her daughter go to such a faraway place. You gave her strength by saying with a nudge, “It’s alright, let her come.”  Since then, you have always been my emotional support.  Whether it be happy or sad moments, you have always treated me with warmth.  Even though my parents were far away, I never felt lonely since I was able to receive an abundance of strength and love from you, along with the Taguma cousins.

For the almost 31 years since I arrived in America, you have rarely missed our monthly service at our church.  You drove every month from Sacramento to San Francisco, then to Hayward bringing your whole family.  Each time you came, even if you had a brand new car, you would fill up your entire trunk with fruits and vegetables.  It was so heavy that the front of the car would rise up because of the weight.  You would bring more than enough so that we could share it with people in the San Francisco area.  Sakae-obachan would often tell me how you enjoyed talking to and being thanked by many San Franciscans when they saw you at the Mission Headquarters in LA.

When my oldest son was still a small child and didn’t have any siblings, I remember the Taguma family would visit and play with him.  And when it was time for you all to go home, he would cry and say that he wanted to go home with you all, regardless of the fact that I was holding him in my arms.  It made me feel very warm and appreciative knowing that although his real grandparents lived far away; he still had his Ojichan and Obachan and the whole Taguma family nearby who truly loved him.  This is something I will never forget.

After your stroke stopped you from driving, we took the liberty of picking you up for monthly service.  You would always say, “We don’t need to go anymore, we don’t need to go anymore,” saying that it should be left for the young people to do.  However, when the day came to leave for church, Obachan would say that you would be ready one to two hours before the set time and wander in and out of the house waiting to be picked up.  Hearing this story made me very thankful and warmed my heart.

Even last month’s service which ended up being your last, you were the same as usual being at the core of laughter.  When it was around the time for you to leave, you again said, “We don’t need to go anymore.  It must be hard for Shiori to pick up and send us home.”  But I told you that I can’t hear anything that you are saying and that Shiori will just go and put you in the car so you have to come.  Everyone laughed and agreed, and that was the end of it.  We all said our goodbyes and that we would see each other next month.  I never imagined that day would be the last time I would see you.

Throughout all these years, I have never seen you in an unpleasant mood, which allowed me to rely on you without worry.  It touched my heart deeply.  It has become very lonely without you, but I am encouraged knowing that I still have Sakae-obachan, who you have been one in body and soul with all these years.  I hope to respect and care for her to uphold “oyakoukou (filial piety),” which is something that you always talked about.

Ojichan, thank you very very much for helping me all these years and also keeping the promise you made to my mother.

I hope to meet you again even after rebirth and be able to properly thank you.  I truly thank you very much.

(translated by Sara Shiori Tanaka)

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Eulogy of Noboru Taguma by Andy Noguchi

Noboru Taguma Eulogy

By Andy Noguchi

Saturday, April 9, 2011

I offer my deepest condolences to the Taguma family and thank you for allowing me to share a few thoughts about Mr. Taguma for myself, my wife Twila, and daughter Annie.  He did so much with his life and we are truly grateful.

Noboru Taguma helped change Japanese American history for generations to come. He brought people in the community together. He enriched people’s lives, including mine and my family’s.

Mr. Taguma’s character, his conviction, and his courage, helped write a new, proud, and honest narrative for our community. As he grew up as a farm boy to immigrant parents in West Sacramento, the lessons of hard work, family, community, and what America should be were etched in his character.

When the government unfairly locked him up, his parents and his 6 brothers and sisters at the Amache concentration camp, he firmly believed that the American dream and his convictions had been betrayed.

When our government asked him to forget about this grave injustice, he courageously protested by refusing to the draft until his family’s rights were restored.  He and 300 other young men, mostly farm boys like himself, bravely stood up against the overwhelming might of the U.S. government, police, courts, and even much of the Japanese American community.

We shouldn’t be surprised by this. Mr. Taguma told me the story about when he was just 8 years old on his family’s farm. His father Iwakichi was driving with young Noboru to visit friends on New Year’s Day. Being a social type, Iwakichi couldn’t turn down his friends’ generous offers of hot sake and respecting the traditional New Year’s toasts. He probably had a few too many adult beverages.

His father had Noboru drive him home. Here was a little 8 year old boy standing up to reach the steering wheel and controls with his father “relaxed” in the car. A policeman seeing a kid at the wheel pulled him over. The cop walked up to the window and asked:  “What are doing sonny boy?”  Eight-year-old Noboru’s reply? My name is NOT “sonny boy.” It’s Noboru Taguma!

Even at a very young age, Mr. Taguma was standing up (literally) and speaking up in the face of authority!  To all the Taguma grandchildren here, don’t follow this one example from ji-chan. You can follow his other examples.

Over the last 20 years, Mr. Taguma’s character, conviction, and courage continued – even when many others told him not to rock the boat. He didn’t have to speak out in his later years, just like he didn’t have to speak up in camp.  But he did!

My wife Twila and I first met Mr. Taguma in 1993 – 18 years ago at Sac State College.  We attended that first local forum on the Nisei Resisters organized by Kenji Taguma and moderated by Wayne Maeda.

In 1994, the local Florin JACL publicly honored Mr. Taguma and 5 other local resisters with the Daruma Civil Rights Award.  The plaque said “Recognizing your courage in challenging the internment of Japanese Americans.”

In the years leading up to the overwhelming vote for the National JACL Resisters Recognition Resolution in 2000, Mr. Taguma was very busy. He participated in numerous forums, interviews, and meetings to share the important stand for civil rights.

Finally in 2002, at the National Recognition Ceremony in S.F., Mr. Taguma and 17 other resister families bravely stepped forward to tell their story to millions of Americans through the media and seek understanding and reconciliation for the community.

Noboru Taguma inspired me, as well as a whole generation of 3rd and 4th generation Japanese Americans, about standing up for what’s right. In this era of post 9/11 suspicions, prejudice, and backlash against other unpopular Americans, this lesson is critical today.

When I think about the future of our community, I look to our young people and the role models they have. Our daughter Annie has grown up hearing of those like my late father, among the courageous Nisei veterans, who chose to serve in the Military Intelligence Service,  442nd , and 100th, fighting for American though their families were unfairly locked up. She has also grown up meeting many courageous Nisei resisters like Noboru Taguma, (Susumu Yenokida, Ken Yoshida, Yosh Kubo, and others) who chose to stand up for the Constitution and went to Federal prison. Annie values both choices.

Conviction, character, and courage?  Today, we need more people like Noboru Taguma.   He gave us so much and I thank the Taguma family for sharing him.  I am privileged to have known him.  Thank you.

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For more reading…

Ellen Levine’s 1995 book “A Fence Away From Freedom” features oral histories of Noboru Taguma and others such as activist Dr. Clifford Uyeda, Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee leader Frank Emi, Heart Mountain resisters Mits Koshiyama and Yosh Kuromiya, Granada concentration camp resister Joe Norikane and “Manzanar Martyr” Harry Ueno, among many others.

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Decades On, a Legacy Of War Still Haunts Japanese-Americans

Many Ex-Internees Shunned Nisei Who Fought Draft; Now, a Revisionist Push

‘Is That a Time to Resist?’


The Wall Street Journal, June 25, 1999

In 1944, as America’s war with Japan raged in the Pacific, Mits Koshiyama received his draft orders from Uncle Sam. Then, as now, he considered it his moral obligation not to answer the call. After all, he was languishing behind barbed wire, one of the roughly 110,000 Japanese-Americans imprisoned by the U.S. government as potential subversives.

“How could we have fought for democracy and freedom overseas when we were denied the very same rights by our own government?” Mr. Koshiyama says.


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Marcos Breton: UCLA student’s slurs gave new voice to old prejudice

Noboru Taguma and Hideo Takeuchi (Morris Weintraub / Bee file, 1999)

By Marcos Breton The Sacramento Bee
Published: Sunday, Mar. 20, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 1B

Slurs have a history, even if we forget them with the passage of time.

Then suddenly, there it is – ancient invective carried via modern technology. We witnessed it last week when a college student from the Sacramento area posted a video on YouTube that gave new voice to old prejudice.

Alexandra Wallace, once of Fair Oaks and Bella Vista High School, covered a lot of ground in that three-minute video, in which she disparaged the parents and extended families of Asian students at UCLA. She complained about being unable to study at the university library while students with relatives in Japan called to check on family in the aftermath of the disastrous earthquake and tsunami there.

She mocked the way Asian people sound to her ears: “Ohhhh. Ching! Chong! Ling! Long! Ting! Tong!”

Read more:

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