JAPANESE AMERICAN VETERANS ASSOCIATION
IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 21, 2005
CONTACT: Terry Shima (301-987-6746; firstname.lastname@example.org)
PHOTO: Will be provided on request.
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TEXAS SCHOOL TEACHER TO RECEIVE JAVA COURAGE AWARD
Washington, D.C. Sandra Tanamachi, Texas school teacher, will receive the Courage, Honor, Patriotism Award from the Japanese American Veterans Association for her 12 year struggle to have a racially offensive street sign removed from a public roadway in Texas. The award will be presented at the JAVA 5th Annual Veterans Day Program at the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism, located near Capitol Hill, on Veterans Day, November 11, 2005.
The JAVA traditionally on this day honors the men and women in the Armed Forces, reservists and veterans, including the 811 Japanese Americans who were killed in action in WW II. Their names are etched on the Wall of Heroes at the Memorial. This year, the principal speaker will be Rear Admiral Kenneth Moritsugu, Deputy Surgeon General of the United States.
The Award culminates a lengthy battle and a victory over racial insensitivity, bureaucracy, and ignorance. Tanamachi’s persistence and faith in the American system of justice prevailed throughout the personal harassment and threats she experienced until the county commissioners decided in July 2004 to rule in her favor.
Tanamachi’s decision to seek the removal of the street sign, “Jap Road”, began in 1992, when she could no longer tolerate the ugly racist connotation that word conveyed. She visited the county commissioners of Jefferson County which had supervision over the assignment of street names in the town of Fannett, located some 80 miles east of Houston, where the street sign was located. She also met with residents of “Jap Road”. Both rejected her suggestion stating they liked the name that was given by their ancestors in early 1900’s to honor a Japanese rice farmer.
Tanamachi next petitioned for a hearing which was granted on July 12, 1993. Tanamachi and her group had a large array of speakers to testify while there was none from” Jap Road.” The commissioners voted 4 – 1 against the removal of the street sign.
For the next eight years Tanamachi struggled alone, her friends having left the cause. She sought the help of the press, contacted the commissioners, met with residents of Jap Road and attempted to get a bill passed in the Texas legislature. In an effort to get her to quit, harassing telephone calls were made to her all hours of the day and night, some of which shouted that she “return to your country”, her mail box was damaged, her friends snubbed her, racial epithets were shouted at her and teachers left unfriendly notes in her mail box.
Tanamachi refused to quit. She was determined to continue the struggle, inspired by her uncle, Saburo Tanamachi, who was killed in France when his unit, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, fought to save the trapped Texas battalion from annihilation. She felt Saburo gave up his life in an attempt to remove this sort of racism from the streets of Texas, where he was born and raised.
In 2001, when Tanamachi’s mission had reached a dead end and was contemplating her next move, she learned that Thomas Kuwahara, a Louisiana helicopter pilot with 7 years military experience, had independently tried to get the same street sign removed. They joined forces. Reinvigorated, Tanamachi and Kuwahara formed a five person committee, Committee to change “Jap Road” (CCJR).
CCJR and their friends filed a petition with the federal government to get the street name removed but that failed They next sought a date for a second hearing by the Jefferson County commissioners, which was granted for July 19, 2004. CCJR marshaled the speakers, including 442nd R.C.T. veterans, to testify. CCJR also obtained the help of the Japanese American Veterans Association to orchestrate a nationwide letter writing campaign and to nationalize the issue. Eventually, it would draw international attention.
Senator Daniel K. Inouye’s letter to the Commissioners was read in the hearing. Inouye said “Fannet residents named the road to honor a Japanese rice farmer in the genuine spirit of cordiality, … however, time has changed the meaning of the word “Jap” and it now has a derogatory, insulting connotation. To be called a “Jap”, or to condone the use of the word “Jap”, no matter how innocent, is an affront and insult to an ethnic group”. At the end of the hearing, embarrassed this had become a national issue, the commissioners voted 4-1 to remove the road sign.
The decision of Jefferson County Commissioners caused the commissioners of two other Texas counties to remove, without challenge, similar derogatory street signs. 30