Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Happy Diwali

Thank you all for being here tonight. I think we have a nice program planned this evening. My name is David Maeda and it’s been a great privilege to serve as a board member of the Council of Asian Pacific Minnesotans for the past three years and particularly to be the chair of the board in 2017.

We are here tonight to honor and hear from a great group of leaders in our community. I’m absolutely in awe of their contributions and accomplishments.

We are also here commemorating two significant anniversaries. The first is the 50th anniversary of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. We are blessed to have here tonight one of the great leaders of our state, Commissioner Kevin Lindsey, who you’ll hear from later. 

We are also recognizing  the 75th anniversary of President Franklin Roosevelt signing an executive order that led to the incarceration of over 120,000 Japanese Americans, including my father’s family,  at the beginning of World War II. Our keynote speaker tonight, the honorable Judge Jamie Cork will share her thoughts and insights and lessons to be learned about this historic event.

The theme of tonight’s dinner is “Toward a more perfect union.” I ask all of you to think what that means to you. All of us in this room want this country, and the state of Minnesota, to be the place where we feel at home. We all have our own personal stories that define how close we are to feeling this sense of union.

I wanted to take a few moments to share a personal story and say a few words about my father, Donald Maeda, who passed away in January at the age of 92. The loss of my dad has weighed heavy on me this year.
When I was growing up, dad often talked about life in the internment camp as being like a summer camp. As a teenage boy it was about wasting time with a group of friends. But the thing that stuck with him that made him realize the gravity of the situation was he had just bought his first car. Dad had a lifelong love of cars and driving cars. He was forced to give up his first car because he obviously couldn’t bring it with him to the internment camp. He gave his car to a friend who graciously visited him at camp, but would park dad’s car on the other side of the barbed wire fence. Dad said it made him sad seeing his car, his gateway to freedom within reach but out of his grasp.

Throughout his life dad had a lot of questions about the world around him. In the end the questions became more and more philosophical. They were questions about the promises of our country both delivered and broken, questions about the concepts of freedom and if the place you find yourself in at any given time can truly be called a home.

What is home? Whether you have survived a refugee experience or you are an immigrant or you were born here in the United States, what do you consider your true home? Is it based on geography? Your birthplace? The place you dream of at night? The place where you feel accepted and loved?

This is a question I’ve asked myself ever since my one and only trip to Japan nearly 20 years ago. There was day mid-week when I found myself in the middle of a downtown Tokyo subway station during rush hour with waves and waves of people coming and going and trying to catch the train that would take them home. I’ve never seen so many people in one place at one time. And then I noticed a strange feeling. It was a foreign feeling of calm and peace. If this same scene had played out in a subway station in New York or Chicago or Washington DC I would have freaked out being one who doesn’t do well in large groups of people. Why was I feeling this strange sense of calm? I realized for one of the few times in my life I fit in. I looked like the people around me.  I blended into the mass of humanity. Back home in Minnesota this had seldom been the case. In grade school, junior and senior high, I was one of the few racial minorities. In my workplaces the same is true. I hadn’t realized subconsciously how much this has always played on my mind. Walking into a room of people and feeling like you immediately stick out because you look different presents a conceptual wall against the feeling of inclusion. I’m sure that’s something many in this room know something about.

In the end, our home is where we allow ourselves to feel comfortable. The place where we can be our authentic selves. Hopefully we all will find this place.

To finish dad’s story, in 1988 Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. The law provided reparations to Japanese American citizens who were interned. My dad got a check for $20,000 and an apology letter from President Ronald Reagan. My dad wasn’t much for irony, and I’m not sure how much convincing he had to do with my mom, but he decided to spend his check on a brand new Honda. And I’m sure all the while his mind flashed back to his very first car parked outside the barbed wire fence.

I’ll leave you with words from the 2016 Nobel Prize Literature winner, Minnesota born Bob Dylan. Mr. Bob once wrote:

“A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.”

In other words we shouldn’t wait until we lose our freedom before we appreciate it and understand its significance.

Today is the third day of Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Light. It is a day to celebrate new beginnings and the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. So I wish you all a very happy Diwali and hope you all enjoy our program tonight. Thank you.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017


My 92 year old father passed away a few weeks ago. I share this with you on this a celebratory day not because my dad was a well-known or great man. No, he'd likely would have admitted he was in many ways, quite ordinary. He would have readily told you his proudest achievement was raising our family. Yet the life he lived was extraordinary.

Eleven days from today will mark the 75th anniversary of President Franklin Roosevelt signing an executive order ordering the incarceration of Japanese Americans living on the west coast after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. My dad, his sister and brother, all American citizens, and my grandparents were among over 100,000 Japanese Americans who lost their property, homes and freedom pretty much overnight. Years later the United States Congress and President Ronald Reagan issued an historic, formal apology and monetary reparation acknowledging this wrongful government action, one of the darkest in our country’s history.

I'm not sure I would have been as humble and strong enough to accept any or all of this fate like my dad and so many in our Japanese American community did without rage or a loss of faith. But instead of giving up on their country, my great community doubled down on the belief that the American dream was the one that would ultimately make their life and more importantly, the lives of their children, better.

A few weeks before dad died I had a dream. It was the type of dream that when I awoke, I couldn’t get back to sleep as I tried to figure out its meaning. In my dream one of my sisters told me I had to go back and get something from our childhood house, the house dad moved out when we moved him into a senior living facility four years ago. In my dream I didn’t want to argue with my sister yet I was uncomfortable walking into a house that a stranger now owned. When I entered the house it was empty. I walked upstairs to my childhood bedroom and the lime green shag carpeting and orange walls were still there. The only thing in the room was a video tape machine, my Betamax, along with a Minnesota Twins video tape up on top.

That's when I woke up.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about that dream. Ultimately what I think it meant was trying to come to terms with the achingly sad feeling of losing the last bridge to my childhood and beyond that, losing my real home. I can no longer go back into the house I grew up in and have so many fond family memories of. My sanctuary and security blanket. That was a very difficult realization to come to grips with.

I almost feel sheepish telling this story after, as a CAPM board member, hearing the personal hardships and difficulties many in our refugee communities had in coming to America. Many lost their homes in a much more real, difficult, often times violent and life shattering way. Many can never ever return to their home country without risking their lives. Even the way my dad lost his home in Seattle all those years ago is much more heartbreaking than my metaphorical middle class loss of home.

But what I've come to understand as I mourn and try to figure out what the loss of my dad means to me, is that home isn't merely a place, it's a tangible feeling with a lot of associated memories that make up who we now are. No matter where we are in our lives,what we’ve encountered, our ups, our downs, our triumphs and losses, what we really are always longing for or clinging to is something as basic as a place to call home, a place of our own, where we feel secure, safe, and sound. It’s really a basic human need right up there with air, water, and food.

Today we are standing in a glorious and historic building that is often referred to as the “people’s home.” The people who come into this building work so hard in trying to make this state feel like home for those they represent. Understanding what goes on in this building and how you can play a critical role in the process can be so important as you find the tools to achieve your own American Dream.

It’s been my great privilege during my time as a board member of CAPM, to hear from and learn from so many life stories told from different members that make up our great Minnesota Asian Pacific Islander community... as we gather in this awesome place of power, the beautifully restored Capitol...I'm humbled and inspired to play any role I can in helping improve our communities. And I thank you all for sharing in this journey.

Monday, February 6, 2017


Hit by a truck when you were a little boy
They said it was touch and go
You proved strong enough not to go
Not for another 86 years
Along the way you learned life
Presents you
with the occasional seven ten split
And you just have to give it your best shot
They took away your family's home
Said it was for your own safety
Judge Judy would have ruled that was Baka thinking
You saw your first car
Parked outside the barbed wire fence
Years later you bought a brand new car
With the apology check the government gave
You didn't like swear words
But I swear that's my all time favorite comeback
Sweet tooth crown artist who loved to drive
Proud father, grandfather, great grandfather
Never shot a man in Reno just to watch him die
Never made a Maya Moore-like three pointer
You didn't need to, to prove yourself
You just needed to live the life you did
Because you made that seven ten split
more often than most can ever hope to do

On my way to visit Dad on what turned out to be the final night of his life, a strange warning light appeared on my Mini Cooper's dash. It was a red warning symbol that looked like the hydraulic lift mechanics put cars on. When it turned off I noticed the brake warning light remained lit. I still haven't yet figured out the right metaphor, or what the symbolism of my car's warning light meant as I visited Dad during his last night on Earth. And having not had the opportunity to bring my Mini in for service, I still don't know what the warning is all about.

He drove his car. It didn't have to go very far. To him his car was all about freedom. Free to go here. Free to go there. Free to go just about anywhere. Dad and Mom loved the rides they took. Mom loved the destination. For Dad, it was just as much about the process of the journey.

I wasn't doing so well the year or so after I graduated from Macalester College with my history major and journalism minor, with my desire to become the world's next great inspirational writer. I told the world's greatest muse, who I recently met as we were now sitting in a little cubby hole our employer, a record store owner had built for children of customers to watch cartoons but where we were now taking our lunch together, (how's that for a well constructed sentence?) that I felt haunted by my recent sad overwhelming memories.  "We'll just have to make new ones," she said in her often matter of fact, but spot on Virginia Slims calming style.

Weeks later we decided we would hit the road with no particular destination in mind. She drew a map on a bar napkin to her mom's house in Kingman, Arizona, but how we would get there would be all about adventure and creating new memories to forget the old ones. When we hit the road in my robin egg blue Honda Accord that my parents bought for me, I think Mom and Dad wondered if they'd ever see me again. Not one for teary goodbyes, Dad offered his last bit of wise advice: "Don't ride the clutch."

I ended up writing an unpublished novel about that cross country trip. In a way the trip was the one that made me understand my Dad the most, and perhaps the feeling was reciprocal. I've never particularly cared for driving a car. It was always one of Dad's favorite things to do. Driving with my muse was inspiring. Dad drove a whole lot farther than I ever did with the great love of his life. 


 I was holding my Mom's hand the night she died 17 years ago. She gasped her last breath and all of us in the room kind of held ours. Dad broke the silence by asking the nurse, "Is she gone?" The nurse said yes. I, to my surprise because I had so much time to prepare for the moment, began sobbing. Dad looked over at me and said, "We will get through this, David." And I knew we probably would. What I didn't know was how much the "we" would mean.


We ate dinner most evenings together after Mom died. This lasted a number of years. During those years I think what we discovered was we really didn't have that much in common. Dad's proudest accomplishment was, despite not being a good student, helping raise five kids with college degrees (four with advanced college degrees, me being the dunce with just a Bachelor's Degree). He said he was proud, and Mom was too, that all of us turned out to be good people, successful in our chosen fields.

I don't think Dad ever understood why I never wanted a family of my own (unless you consider felines, three total, 10 and a half good legs between them, family). It wasn't I didn't ever want a family of my own, it was more that my life has always been about following my muse wherever it led me. To his credit Dad didn't consider me a failure for failing to follow in his footsteps toward what he felt was his greatest accomplishment.


Dad worked hard and a lot of long hours to provide for us. After dinner, when he was still working at Edco Dental Lab in downtown St. Paul, we used to call him at work to tell him all about our days because he wasn't going to be home before we all went to bed. We used to fight about who got the privilege of dialing his work number 224-5423. I don't remember what I talked to Dad about during those phone calls but being a busy working man now, I don't know how he had the patience to participate in that nightly routine. And that in a nutshell is how we were always so different.

There were some days (it must have been weekends), when Mom let us know Dad was on his way home from work and my brother Bruce and I would get all excited about seeing him that we went about hiding in the foyer closet, or the laundry room, all prepared to jump out at Dad and scare him. And boy did we seem to do so ever so effectively. Each and every time. When Mom notified us that Dad was starting a medication for a heart condition, I quite specifically remember Bruce and I asking if we should stop scaring him by jumping out from our hiding places. We didn't want to send him into cardiac arrest after all. It took many years afterward that I found out that Dad heard Bruce and I giggling from our hiding places and always just acted scared because he appreciated what we were doing in appreciating his return home.

And that was why he was the greatest Dad we could ever have.