I am honored to be given the chance to make a few remarks at the JACL annual banquet this year. I have been Consul General of Japan in Seattle for just over a year now. I have had the chance to be acquainted with many Americans of Japanese ancestry. I have had the chance to pay visits to Nisei Veteran’s Committee Memorial Hall, the Japanese Cultural and Community Center, Densho, Keiro Northwest, the Wing Luke Museum and many other places. And it was a truly eye-opening experience for me.
Before I came to Seattle, I had read about the discrimination and incarceration suffered by the Japanese Americans. But the knowledge was very superficial. It was only in the past year that the true gravity and significance of your struggle dawned on me. I was overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed by the sufferings the Japanese Americans had long endured. I was overwhelmed by the gap they had to straddle between loyalty to American constitutional rights and values on the one hand and the reality of how they were being treated in society on the other. I was overwhelmed by the fact that they felt torn between a sense of enduring Japanese cultural identity and a sense of betrayal by the country of their ancestry.
And I was overwhelmed by the heroic sacrifice of the Japanese American soldiers during World War II. I was overwhelmed by the stoic efforts of the Japanese Americans to rebuild life after the war amid ongoing discrimination and hatred. I was overwhelmed by their heroic struggle against that discrimination and for a fair and just society. I came to understand that it is thanks to their perseverance and tireless efforts that they have garnered trust and respect in the United States. And I came to understand that it is through this hard-earned trust for the word “Japanese” that Japan enjoys excellent bilateral relations with the US today. This is a precious lesson that I learned in Seattle. The Japanese American Citizens League has played a particularly significant role in addressing these struggles. And your struggles were an important part of society’s overall struggle for justice and equality before the law.
Our Foreign Minister, Taro Kono, recently visited Honolulu, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. His visit was to mark the 150th year of immigration of Japanese to Hawaii. In these places Mr. Kono emphasized how he respects the historic significance of the struggle of the Japanese Americans. He emphasized that their contribution to today’s Japan-US relations should be better recognized in Japan. And he emphasized that stronger ties between Japan and Japanese Americans would strengthen the Japan-US alliance in many fields. I am really glad that he expressed these views publicly for the first time in many years, because I feel I now understand what he means. The Foreign Minister did not quite make it to Seattle this time, but I know Seattle is his favorite town, and I hope he will come in not a distant future.
Now, I would like to touch on one problem that Japanese nationals are facing today in Washington State. There were many international marriages in the past, and there are many today. In many cases it’s marriage between American men and Japanese women. They marry while they live in Japan and move to the US. The majority of marriages are happy ones. But a large number do break up as well. A divorce procedure is usually an unhappy process. But it is uniquely severe in the case of an international divorce; the process works against the immigrant wives because of factors such as linguistic barriers, the wives’ social isolation, unfamiliarity with the legal system, and ignorance of legal rights.
Many of these couples have children, but the father often wants to start a new life with another partner. Taking advantage of the lopsided access to legal services, he prepares a divorce settlement. He applies psychological pressure onto the wife and presses her to relinquish her fair share of his wealth and income granted under the common property clauses of the State in return for custody of the children. Once she signs such a document, she loses shelter and all income as quickly as the next day. She often relies on free food provided by the church. She sometimes finds no other way but to sell herself to support her children.
I am working with our consulate office’s attorney, Ms. Naoko Inoue-Shatz, who has been helping these wives regain their fair share. According to her, the number of such women who contact her per year is about 150. That number is considered to be the tip of the iceberg. And there are many other nationalities who suffer: Koreans, Filipinos, Brazilians, Italians, Russians, Germans and so on. Because their children are Americans and the disadvantaged women cannot take the children back to their country where they can make a better living, the mother and children are stuck in deprivation in America. Most of them feel ashamed and depressed. Most of them do not have legal or social protection.
I cannot explain the full extent of the situation in a short message, but I have contributed an op-ed piece in The Seattle Times on April 20 this year. Please take a look. This problem has existed since the period of “war brides,” and it is growing with the economic expansion of Seattle. Since JACL is an organization that fights for the civil and human rights of all communities and against injustice and bigotry, I thought I should draw your attention to the plight of these victimized, vulnerable and voiceless women.
I met many legislators and politicians to discuss this problem. During the last state legislative session this spring, we managed to secure a small but meaningful fund to support the young NPO created by our attorney to help these abused immigrant women. We were very encouraged by the overwhelming support we received from all politicians of all denominations. (I would like to thank Bob Hasegawa and Sharon Tomiko Santos (and name other politicians present).) We are talking with the Army and Navy commanders and receiving a very positive commitment of cooperation from them. This issue is perhaps the modern injustice faced by the Japanese and other immigrants. If you wish to work with us, your cooperation would be most appreciated.
I thank you for giving me this chance to share this issue with you. Once again, I would like to express my appreciation for your historic efforts. As you see, history goes on. Thank you for your attention.
Remarks by Consul General Yoichiro Yamada at Japanese American Citizens League Banquet (September 7, 2018)
September 14, 2018