Yosh Kuromiya

Interview with Yosh Kuromiya
Interviewed by Matt Ichinose, Kevin Machino, and Kristi Ueda – Nikkei Student Union UCLA
Legacy of Japanese American Activism Conference

The signing of Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942 would be known as a day infamous for the incarceration of over 100,000 Japanese Americans to the ten different camps. The forced removal of Japanese Americans from their homes to the ten desolate areas was a dark episode in civil rights history. It was a tumultuous time of mixed feelings of not just being Americans, but also what it meant to be a part of a split Japanese American community.  This was also a time when the U.S. government felt the need to test the loyalty of the Japanese Americans with the two questions:

Question 28: Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?
Question 29: Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any and all attacks by foreign and domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or disobedience to the Japanese Emperor, or any other foreign government, power, or organization?

It was a time for personal decisions to be made within each family. These questions led to breaking apart families, tearing up friendships, and straining relationships. The loyalty questionnaire forced people to choose between two paths in life. Some chose the path to prove their loyalty and join the decorated 442nd regimental combat unit, while others, chose a different path to prove their own loyalty and resisted the draft to gain notice of the wrongdoings of the government. As an unpopular decision at the time, resisting the draft generated criticism from the sensitive community. However, no one can blame any decision made at time of war, considering the circumstances of imprisonment in the camps. The only thing that people could do was to follow their conscience.

Yosh Kuromiya is one of many draft resistors who felt the need to follow his own conscience to make a decision as an American citizen. On August 9th 2011, we had the pleasure of interviewing Yosh Kuromiya, who was born in Sierre Madre and raised in the San Gabriel Valley for most of his life except for the few years he was incarcerated in Heart Mountain Relocation Camp after the signing of Executive 9066. Yosh would spend his college years in the middle of nowhere, in a deserted area in Wyoming. He would later join the Fairplay Committee, to resist the draft enforced by the U.S. government with the loyalty questions. At the time, Yosh recalled that he “never regarded myself as an activist,” and decided to resist the draft because it was a personal issue, not intentionally to create a movement. He resisted the draft by not reporting for the physical, and as a result, he was thrown to the Washington State prison because of his own belief-his own conscience.

He described his brief prison experience as a low security on an island off the coast of Washington. Despite being thrown in prison, Yosh felt that he acted upon his own conscience of what he felt as his responsibility and duty as an American citizen, by abiding by his own constitutional rights. He felt he “couldn’t justify killing another perfect stranger” and felt he was “subjected to so much propaganda like loyalty, heroism, and glory…and people would go along with it because we don’t know anything else.” Since his rights were stripped from him, he felt he had the responsibility to protect what he knew he had, his own conscience.

Yosh described his activism experience as “not activism, but resistance,” because he did what he thought was right. In his closing statement of what the future generation should take away from his words of wisdom, three students shared their personal reflection of the interview and conscience of what they felt was the mission for the future of Japanese America activism and the community.

“Create Your Own History for the Future”
by Kevin Machino

I had the privilege and opportunity to interview a wrongfully imprisoned Japanese American internee during World War II, Yosh Kuromiya. What remarkably stood out to me when meeting Kuromiya was how friendly and enthusiastic he was before, during, and after the interview. How could a former internee be so happy and not hold any grudges? The answer to this became clearer as the interview proceeded as I learned that he was always content with his life because he stayed true to himself and he did not let the government dictate his conscience and beliefs. Throughout the interview, Kuromiya not only shared his experiences during the war, but also gave advice to the present-day and future Japanese Americans on being active when facing any issues an individual feels strongly about. It was a truly an inspirational interview that placed my life in perspective and made me realize the importance in believing in myself and trusting my conscience.

We started the interview by asking questions regarding Kuromiya’s background and where he was born and raised. As the interview kept progressing, Kuromiya shared his experience on resisting the draft. Kuromiya states that he had a brief stint at the federal prison in the state of Washington for resisting the draft. During the time of the draft, Kuromiya was a part of the Fair play committee. According to Kuromiya, the committee consisted of about sixty-three people. All of the parents pooled their resources together and hired one lawyer to represent the committee and fight against the government. Although Kuromiya joined the Fair Play Committee, he does not consider himself “an activist.” To Kuromiya, it was a personal issue that he believed was an injustice and he felt the need to fight for his rights. He was not necessarily trying to create a movement to revolt. Instead, Kuromiya chose to resist the draft because he could not justify the killing of perfect strangers during combat. This is what Kuromiya believed in, and thus, his actions followed accordingly by not partaking in the draft. Others merely followed his lead without Kuromiya asking for support.

Kuromiya felt that he, along with many other imprisoned Japanese Americans were in the camps for all the wrong reasons. He felt that they needed to prove to the government that they were loyal and that they should get their citizenship back. Kuromiya did not want to participate in the war because he did not know what he was fighting for, whereas the enemies did have something to fight for. Therefore, he did not feel the need to report to the military. Consequently, Kuromiya’s conscious decision to not enlist got him sent to prison, which he feels was not punishment, but rather a fortunate experience. He states, “I’d rather go to prison for my own reasons than to get shot at for no reason at all.”

With this, it should go without saying that Kuromiya’s actions were not so much about “activism,” but more so about doing what you believe in, and what you believe is right and justice. His involvement with the draft resistance, or lack thereof, is a prime example of this. When asked how the younger generation should be active in issues, Kuromiya replied by saying that conscience should play a major role, and he or she should act accordingly. Each issue has to be personal to the individual, and each person needs to make a conscience decision for him or herself only. Kuromiya states, “Conscience is the only thing we can really rely on.”

Upon the conclusion of the interview, he gives great words of wisdom and advice. In short, as Japanese Americans, we need to do more. We need to stop reminiscing and sympathizing about the past and feeling sorry for ourselves, but instead, we need to move forward and create our own history. When moving forward and taking action, he emphasized once again to not trust anybody but yourself –“not even my words,” Kuromiya says.

“Knowing What is Right for Myself ”
by Matt Ichinose

My initial impressions of Yosh were casual and comical in that he would crack a few jokes in the beginning of the interview like it was nothing. I thought his interview would be a lecture about his internment experience and how he approached activism during the darkest of times. Contrary to my initial impression, Yosh was an insightful and deep thinker. His wisdom awed me. His words ignited my thoughts. He taught us that in order to truly understand an activist, you must understand their motives and thoughts instead of simply becoming absorbed in their vocal protests and active preaching. To move on your own “conscience” as Yosh stated, is to do what you think is correct. This message left me feeling inspired and motivated. It connected the dots for me on how to become an activist or a man thinking and acting on his own conscience. It enlightened me to think how one could be an activist, or even what an activist exactly is. It is not the generic rowdy crowd holding picket signs, but a group of people acting on the same conscience. It made me believe how anyone can become an activist by having a strong opinion, with the will to go the distance to have your voice heard.

Furthermore, the word “conscience ” that Yosh reiterates made me think of the importance and relevance of learning. Without learning, our conscience would not expand and we would be unaware between what is right and wrong. I realized that we wouldn’t understand the difference between justice and injustice. Our wisdom is what guides us in not just life, but as our role in the society to be an activist.  Activism does not start with learning from other or following others, but with knowing what is right and taking further action on our belief.

Yosh explained that in order to trust our conscience as our guide, we must also develop our minds to withstand the media and society. He expressed his concern of society’s increasing propagandas and medias, which are “brainwashing our minds”. The media blinds our own perception on issues on hand, and limits our actions in society. To me I found this to be a very revealing fact about our current generation, staring at computer and television screens and letting our minds wander to become susceptible to media’s persuasions. It also reminded me of how my generation can be viewed as apathetic and unaware of our society’s real issues, often conforming to the majority’s views instead of truly thinking upon one’s individual conscience and acting upon it. In addition, it may be that the younger generation is deterred from the word “activism” because of society’s skewed view on activism, attaching words such as voice, opinion, and knowledge to it. In order for our younger generation to be engaged in community’s issues, they must figure out the significance and connection between activism and their own conscience and experiences.

Throughout the interview, Yosh inspired me to understand the roots of activism by understanding my own self. I can only live and be active in the community by knowing what is right in my own conscience.

“New Way of Life for Endless Possibilities”
by Kristi Ueda

A Nisei who experienced discrimination and imprisonment, Yosh Kuromiya expresses his frustration regarding Japanese American activism today.
Japanese Americans, with our history and various experiences, have the potential to
be true inspirations for not only Japanese American generations to come, but for other minorities and the people of the world. However, as Kuromiya words it, we are “too busy licking our own wounds.” While the Nisei “poor me” attitude is understandable for their generation, Japanese Americans today must undo this so that it is not passed down to the Gosei and further generations. For, this mentality will not advance Japanese American activism, but hinders it. The younger generations, therefore, must sort out what is real and what is fake to be a successful activist. Kuromiya warns that there is a lot of convincing fakery; so sorting it all is not as simple as it seems.

For instance, Japanese Americans are too busy trying to assure the rest of the nation
that we are the model minority. We are the “good guys.” We are patriotic. We succeeded despite all the odds. This is all a scam.

Kuromiya says that we actually have not contributed anything in spite of the price his
generation paid during the war. And alongside pushing for the Model Minority image,
we are too busy feeling sorry for ourselves that we cannot move forward. We are too
far stuck in the past, bickering about the terrible conditions and treatment of Japanese
Americans before and during the war. This moving forward – progress – is what we need to promote as activists. And this progress begins with the younger generations.

We need to get our heads on straight. Rather than glorifying ourselves, we could be doing so much more like educating and inspiring others. This new future in activism needs to start now. We must not allow ourselves to be subjected to all the woes and lies we have been fed, but instead search for the truth, which can only be found deep within ourselves. After all, it is too easy to blame others for not taking activism in the right direction, so we must take responsibility and rethink everything we have learned.

It is not that we should not listen to what the Nisei have to say, but we cannot be too
caught up in their stories. That was the past and this is now. The questions we should be asking are – What did we learn from the Nisei experience? What lessons can we apply to our lives now? What could we do now so that the Nisei injustices will not be repeated again?

Kuromiya warns that we can trust no one and we should not accept anyone else’s
word. Everyone sees everything in a different light, so we must take on activism as an individual task. We must build our own base with the tools available to us research and experience. Only with our own foundations can we truly be successful activists. The younger generation could be instrumental in bringing this change to Japanese American activism. As Kuromiya states, we have the history but not necessarily the trauma, which is a beneficial combination that could advance our cause.

To me, Japanese American activism is a way of life. There is no on and off – it’s always with you, as long as you keep your beliefs, morals, and values clear. Just as human nature naturally urges us to leave a mark on earth in any shape or form, Japanese American activists’ goal should be to leave a legacy. Activism is inspiration and influence. It is guiding others in the right path. There is no should, just like there is no one-way you should live your life. Activism is full of endless possibilities and opportunities.

Yosh’s interview preached words like propaganda, conscience, and responsibility. His interview told us to take a “personal responsibility on our action.” Yosh iterates “the real issue is a matter of one’s conscience and something you have to develop” and “let your conscience be your guide.”  While many people during the war considered his draft-resisting decision to be unfavorable, he left a mark in history as an individual to think and make an individualistic decision for what he thought was better for the community. Yosh Kuromiya reminded us that we should “know deep down what you have to do-and that’s all that is important”. Through his interview, we were able to reflect on how we could be the future of Japanese America activism-by understanding and acting upon each of our personal conscience.

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