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.