Response of Toshio Matsumoto to grand-daughter, Danielle Matsumoto’s inquiry of the early history of the Houston chapter of JACL; April, 2010.

Toshio and Lily currently live in Sacramento.

I will try to answer your question in order of your listing in the e-mail as best as Lily and I can remember.

As we settled in Houston we started to get acquainted with the Japanese- American community. One day we met a couple named Sut and Neva Oishi, who lived in our neighborhood and was introduced to us by Lily's doctor's nurse who was a neighbor of theirs. Sut was from Canada and worked for Shell Oil Company. Shell had recently moved their headquarters to Houston and consolidated most of their activity in Houston so there were many Niseis who were employed by Shell and became permanent residents of Houston. As we got to know all these people, we gathered at our home one night and discussed the possibility of organizing a Japanese-American group primarily for social activities and as a secondary function to get involved in local cultural activities, similar to what the Chinese community in Houston were doing. The Chinese had a huge population in Houston and were well organized culturally and politically. We felt it important that our organization provide educational and cultural programs to increase public awareness and understanding of Japanese-Americans. After a couple of more meetings we had enough couples interested and decided to apply for a Charter from the National Headquarter of JACL and received it in 1975. The Redress Movement started to heat up in 1983.

Our activities at first were strictly social with family gatherings at the park, dinner meetings at a restaurant, etc. But as the club membership grew and a more diverse group of professional individuals were added we became more culturally and civic minded. We participated in an annual Asian Culture Festival in San Antonio, Texas with a booth where we sold prepared Japanese food. We were invited to attend the New Years Party at the Japanese Consul General's official residence occasionally (memo attached) and often participated in the City of Houston conferences on ethnic population problems in the city. (Letter from Mayor's Office attached) One year we put on a memorial tribute to the soldiers of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and called it "Go For Broke Banquet". Texas people are well aware of the 442nd RCT because they were instrumental in a big rescue operation of a small group of Texas soldiers of the 36th Infantry Division surrounded by the Germans in a Italian forest at a huge loss of life to the Japanese-Americans. (Program is attached) There are other things we got involved in at the local level but we can't seem to remember any of them.

We got started with the Redress movement when the National JACL got going and formed their Legislative Education Committee(LEC, 1985). A good friend of Grandpa's in Chicago named Tom Tokuhisa (deceased) was on that committee and he sent us form letters and names of Congressmen who were specifically interested in the Redress program or those that leaned that way. So all members started writing letters to these Congressmen in Washington in earnest. They did not need any motivation to send these letters because most of us knew what it meant to get Congressmen on our side. Later on I believe Tom sent another form letter with further instructions and our members complied. Some of us received responses from the Congressmen we wrote to(attached).
With regard to membership, since we were the first group of its kind in Texas, as word got around the area of our existence, we were swamped with new member application. People from nearby cities and town such as San Antonio, Killeen, Humble, Orange, Hidalgo, Spring, Temple, etc were writing us inquiries and eventually joined. We kept changing meeting places as the membership grew. We first were using meeting rooms provided by the local banks and such but eventually one of our member named Leiola Onishi of Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese extraction contacted the Chinese group in Houston and we were able to use their meeting hall at no cost. The Houston area was a boomtown in the early 70's and the oil and gas industry was expanding operations in Houston and people were moving into the area by droves. Our membership group was a very diverse group of people starting with those that were native Texans involved in big business enterprises such as the Onishi family, and wealthy farmers such as Henry and Elsie Kawahata who used to fly into Houston from Hidalgo in their private plane to make our meetings. Houston has a very large medical center and we had Doctors and other professionals from medical related industry. Then we had many veterans of WWII who married Japanese nationals and were interested in our activity. Many Caucasian members joined because they were somehow involved with the Japanese-Americans during WWII or prior, such as Ms Cecile Lancaster who was a teacher at one of the War Relocation Centers. There was a group of Japanese nationals who were residents of Houston because of their business affiliation with Japanese firms that had established offices and facilities in Houston. These people never joined because the women were more interested in learning American recreational games such as golf, tennis, playing bridge,etc before they returned to Japan. Lily became acquainted with many of these women when she was heavily involved in tennis. Their children attended American schools and they did not want to go back to Japan. Most of the non-Japanese Houston community were very supportive of our efforts, especially the native Texans who were familiar with the Japanese soldiers of the 442nd RCT. There was one incident where a Japanese-American was assigned as a teacher at one of the schools in the Houston area and when they found out that she was of Japanese decent they fired her. Her name was Betty Waki and she approached our JACL chapter and asked for help. We felt that if word was sent to the School from our JACL headquarter it would present a stronger case. So we asked JACL headquarters to intervene and sure enough Betty was reinstated as a full time teacher. After that Betty joined our group and became one of the more vocal and active member of the Houston JACL.

It is true that many of members were never involved in political campaigns in the past. However at the time Lily and I were about to leave Houston for California, we acquired a new member named Mas Yamasaki, who was retired and moved to Houston from Dayton, Ohio. He was a past officer of the JACL in Dayton and presumably had some political experience. He was an excellent speaker and represented our Chapter at some functions. Of course the Redress Bill was our strong motivating factor in becoming active in politics by writing letters to congressmen.

Other than the several Installation Banquets at which we invited the Consul General of Japan speak, our 442nd Go For Broke Banquet is the only other activity I can think of that was of any significance. I mention other activity in the paragraphs above.

The progress of the Redress Bill was a very slow process which was to be expected because there was much opposition to this Bill. The Houston Chapter's only contribution was writing the many letters to the people in Congress. The main effort was made behind the scene in Washington, where our people did a lot of lobbying with the key people who were instrumental in getting the Bill through the tortuous path to get to the President's desk.
As far as Lily and I can remember we have no recollection of partnering with any other group while we were there. This could have very well happened after we left Houston because the chapter was becoming more political oriented at the time we left and there were some racial issues which arose at that time. One that comes to mind is the situation with the Vietnamese fishermen who had pretty much taken over the shrimp fishing arena by their aggressive tactics which caused the native Texans to take some drastic action such as burning the Vietnamese fishing boats.

Epilogue:

Hi George:

It was a pleasant surprise to hear from you and the Houston JACL after all these years. I retired in 1986 and moved to Sacramento in 1988. I was glad you got a chance to talk to my granddaughter, Danielle who has been interested in the Japanese evacuation and internment during WWII. Our family moved to Houston when my company, Bechtel Corporation, opened a Power Division office there in 1973. As Danielle has told you a small group of Japanese American decided to start  a JACL Chapter in Houston and received our charter in 1975. From glancing through your website I can see how the chapter has grown tremendously and it is reassuring to know it is still thriving. I would like to go through your website in more detail and if I can furnish you with any pertinent information from my very meager files of those days I will send them to you, after I check with Danielle to see what information she has already provided you. Thanks again for your e-mail.

Tosh Matsumoto

On May 2, 2010

Toshio Matsumoto [tmatsu368@comcast.net]

Hi George:

 

Thanks for the e-mail. I am sorry about the error regarding Betty Waki. Please express our apologies to Betty. Lily still swears she heard Betty was from Hawaii. I am glad you made the correction in my write-up and you certainly have my permission to put it into your website. Speaking of your website I have been going through the website page by page and it contains  the most interesting information, particularly about the early Japanese who migrated to Texas. I have learned all about both your parent's history and also about your personal background. The news articles by Vicki Parfait were so enlightening about life in Texas in those days. The story about your family discovering oil , your possible family connection with the famous Admiral Yamamoto is all so fascinating. By the way my wife had retained an old copy of a Houston JACL directory of 1979 and it contains the name of your parents: Tokuzo & Toki Hirasaki, Rte 1, Box 243, Orange, Texas 77630, Ph 768-1365. If you would like to see it I could send it to you. I am not quite adept at conveying such a document by e- mail so I will need your mailing address. I am currently going through the history of the 442nd RCT and there is so much more. What a tremendous legacy you folks are leaving for the generation to come. I came across the section on "Jap Road" and "Jap Lane" and I remember the subject came up in our meetings where we all felt that the word "Jap" had to go. I believe there was someone assigned to look into the matter but I do not have any recollection of what came of it. It appears that after all these years the matter is still under discussion. I see that you have been associated with Rice University and your background is very impressive. Our son graduated from Rice in 1981 with a BS in Chemical Engineering and went on to get his MBA from Stanford. He currently lives in New York with his family of two children. Well, I think I have said enough for now so I will close it here.

 

Best Regards,

Tosh Matsumoto 

On May 9, 2010, at 10:09 AM, George Hirasaki wrote:

Hello Danielle,

Sorry for not responding in a timely fashion.  My apologies to you George.  We've been out of town and also busy with our family.  Danielle, we do know your grandparents.  Tosh and Lilly were a big part of our community.  Sounds like they are doing fine in Sacramento.  I'll have to reconnect to see how they are doing.  My wife and I were one of the founders of JACL  but gradually left the group due to differences.  We later came back and participated at a lesser level over the years.  My emphasis was to push the social aspect of JACL cause we did not have a Japanese group as such in the mid 70's.  JACL, as you know it, is a civic rights group and that was not my interest at the time.  Over the years we've had some ups and downs where the club was ready to fold on multiple occasions.  Some how we persevered to where George has introduced some stability,

Over the years, we had many presidents.  Tosh Yamauchi was our first.  We had Paul Shinkawa, Roy Sugimoto, Dan Watanabe, Glen Gondo, Betty Waki, Mas Yamazaki, Mariko Okabayashi, just to mention a few.  We even had a white boy (Bob Hall) married to a Japanese national be a president for a year.  Lot of the aforementioned served for multiple years.  Most of these individuals are still in Houston if you could only get a hold of them.  I've lost touch with a lot of these past presidents.  Roy Sugimoto passed away years ago.
Dan Watanabe and Mas Yamazaki were recipients of redress.  I know there were others.  I remember attending meetings during the redress process, but I can't remember who the president was.  I think it was Betty Waki.  Dwight Nishimura was not part of our local JACL, but he was a local voice about the redress situation. 

Danielle, I'm retired and brain dead.  I'll have to do some soul searching to come up with facts.  Let me get back with you later.

In reference to the constitution, I think it was established in 76'.  Once again, Tosh Yamauchi would know more about this.  Take care.

Sut Oishi

--- On Sat, 5/1/10, Danielle Matsumoto <danief@wharton.upenn.edu>

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