The Dallas Morning News, July 14, 2004

Slur in road name challenged

08:51 PM CDT on Wednesday, July 14, 2004

By ESTHER WU / The Dallas Morning News

For the last several months, I've been getting e-mails from a woman named Sandra. The e-mails are updates about a situation brewing in Beaumont. I'll get to that later.

But I was intrigued by the messages from this stranger, so I called her.

Sandra was born in Texas. Her family has been involved in farming since the early 1900s. A schoolteacher for the last 20 years, Sandra considers herself to be a good citizen. Each time the U.S. flag passes by, she stands at attention and gives a slight salute in honor of her four uncles who fought in World War II. In the 1970s, Sandra left Texas to attend college, fell in love, got married and started a family - the all-American story.

She and her family returned to Beaumont in the 1980s. "That's when I noticed ads for a restaurant on Jap Road. It made me bristle - but I thought, well, what can you do?"

Sandra and her family decided to try the popular restaurant - despite its location. And that's when it happened.

Her teenage son complained that it was wrong for a road to be called something so derogatory to their family and refused to enter the restaurant.

"I knew then I could no longer ignore it," Sandra said.

She wrote a letter to the Japanese American Citizens League in Houston describing the situation. But nothing happened.

"I was too scared to sign my name. It's not my way to make trouble for anyone," she said.

But someone had to do something, so she wrote to the Jefferson County commissioners. And this time, she signed her name - Sandra Tanamachi.

In 1993, county officials refused to change the name of the three-mile stretch of road in Fannett that became known as Jap Road decades ago as a tribute to the pre-World War II rice farmers in the area. About 130 residents live along the road, and many say they like the name.

"Teachers started leaving me notes at school telling me to 'get a life,' or 'get over it.' Others called the school and left messages for me to go back to my own country," Ms. Tanamachi said. "Someone shot up our mailbox, and we'd get calls at all hours of the night."

In 1997 her husband, Bruce Nakata, was transferred to Lake Jackson, and the family moved. But she continued her fight. In 1999, Thomas Kuwahara stumbled onto the road and was equally appalled by the name. He contacted Ms. Tanamachi, and they hired attorney Scott Newar to file a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In the complaint, Mr. Newar points to legal precedents establishing "Jap" as a racial slur.

Several civil rights organizations - including the Anti-Defamation League, Japanese American Citizens League, Organization of Chinese Americans, LULAC and NAACP - have joined the fight.

The final battle may come Monday, when Jefferson County commissioners are expected to vote on the issue after a public hearing.

Ms. Tanamachi still finds it difficult to speak about the issue.

"It just needs to be changed," she said calmly. "I don't want anyone to see that sign." She said it is degrading to Japanese-Americans who have done so much for this country - including her 83-year-old uncle, Willy Tanamachi.

Willy was a member of the 442nd Combat Regiment during World War II. Brothers Goro and Saburo were also a part of the 442nd, while a fourth brother, Walter, served in a different unit.

"Uncle Willy was born in Beaumont," she said. "He is coming to the hearing. He wants to tell the commissioners about the early days in Beaumont. He also wants to tell them how he fought for this country, how he remembers being called that ugly name and how much it hurt.

"Now he wants to see that sign come down."

Peter S. Hoffman

Media Relations Specialist

Anti-Defamation League

823 United Nations Plaza

Phone: (212) 885-7715

Fax:     (212) 661-3844


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