Orange County Commissioners Court
July 5, 2005
statement by
George J. Hirasaki

Members of the Orange County Commissioners Court and Residents of Orange County, I wish to thank you for this opportunity to speak to you. I first would like to commend Commissioner John Dubose for his leadership in bringing about the change in the road name from ‘Jap Lane.' I also would like to apologize to the residents of the road for their inconvenience in having to change their address. I would like to explain why the road name had to change.

I am well aware that our family friends and neighbors never meant to use the word, “Jap” in a derogatory way. We grew up with the Croak and Garrison families and I am pleased to see that members of the family still reside on the road. However, there is a dark side to the word, ‘Jap' that was seldom mentioned outside of our family.

When my older brother, Henry, who currently lives on the road, started school, he would sometimes come home crying because of kids picking on him. Sue Croak, who was a few years older, would defend Henry. When I started school, some kids would point their finger at me and tell me, “You are a Jap!” I would explain that I was born in Beaumont and am a Japanese American. Most kids would understand but some insisted that I was a Jap. In such cases, I felt I had no choice but to fight to prove I am American. After a few fights, they understood. Several years later, a substitute bus driver stopped the bus and opened the door, one-half mile from our home. It was the intersection of FM 1135 and Jap Lane. I said that, “Mrs. Harrington takes us to our home.” His reply was, “You Japs can walk.” What could we do? He was an adult and we were just kids. I realized how much my sisters were affected when Hana said that she wanted to bleach her skin. My sisters would say that someone used the “without the ‘anese' word.” ‘Japanese' without the ‘anese' is ‘Jap.' It was too painful for my sisters to even mention the word, ‘Jap.' I was so passionate about proving that I was a loyal American, I joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves soon after I became old enough.

The Japanese Americans living on the West Coast had it much worse than us. They had to leave their homes and live in concentrations camps that were called, ‘Internment Camps.' John Tateishi, who spoke at the Jefferson County hearing last July, said that he was six years old when he returned from Manzanar to Los Angeles. A group of high school kids beat him up with baseball bats and he was unconscious in the hospital for two days. My cousin's late husband, Larry Nakamura said that when he returned from camp, bigger kids would chase him down and beat him up. My cousin, Manabi Hirasaki served in the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion in Europe and was among those who liberated the Jewish inmates from the Dachau death camp. Another cousin's husband, Lawson Sakai served with the 442 nd Regimental Combat Team and participated in the rescue of the Texas ‘Lost Battalion' of the 36 th Division. The late Governor John Connally proclaimed the 442nd as ‘Honorary Texans'.

Norman Yoichi Kishi grew up in the Terry community. During World War II he served as an U.S Army officer in India and Burma. He had to deal with enlisted men who said that they did not want to serve under him. Despite the resistance, Kishi went on to become commander of the 800-soldier unit. He remembers the unique position he was in as a man of Japanese descent.  “Every time I saw a dead Japanese soldier, they looked familiar," he said. "Some of them might have been kin to me. Naturally, I felt a certain sorrow. But that's war." He once returned home to Houston to visit his mother, who he had to move to a shack in Genoa because she was not permitted to live in The Heights of Houston. He disembarked at the Greyhound bus station wearing his army uniform. A crowd was exiting from a movie theater. Three men tore his uniform and beat him unconscious. His greatest disappointment was that not one person spoke up in his defense. His mother crying while sewing his uniform said, “Lets go back to Japan.” Norman said, “I cannot do that. I was born here.”

I now have a station in life where no one is disrespectfully to me. However, I cannot live my comfortable life and allow others to suffer the racial slurs that I suffered as a child. You may be thinking that 60 years after World War II, no one is disrespectful to Japanese Americans. In 1983, unemployed auto workers in Detroit beat Vincent Chin to death because he appeared Japanese. In Jasper, James Byrd, Jr. was chained to a pickup truck and dragged to death and decapitated, just because he was black. Four days after 9/11, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Shik wearing a turban was murdered in Phoenix. We need the leadership of the State of Texas to no longer condone the use of derogatory, racist names. We thank you for the removal of the road name, ‘Jap Lane.'