My grandfather, affectionately known as “Gramps” or Mr. Mits to those who worked for him, was always proud of the small manufacturing plant that he owned. What he loved most at his plant was the baseball batting cage he had set up. It was the highlight of every truck driver’s route to take on Mr. Mits.
I remember gleaming in amazement as these intimidating truck drivers would crank the pitching machine all the way up until the baseball was flying at 90 MPH. I could see the rye smile on Gramps’ face as they struggled to swing their hardest just to get contact. Gramps was already in his 60s at the time, but he was always up for the challenge. He would walk into the cage and hit every one of those pitches like he was still in his 20s- leaving the truck drivers completely awestruck.
What all those truck drivers never knew was that, back in 1942 when Gramps was still in high school, he was being scouted to play baseball for the minor league Los Angeles Angels. He played baseball, slicked back his hair in a pompadour, and never learned Japanese as a way to show he was a real American. That all changed with Executive Order 9066 and the incarceration of over 120,000 Japanese Americans.
Honestly, Gramps never really talked about camp, the loss of his baseball career and freedom, or how difficult life was back then. He only talked about the good. One of them being how he met the love of his life, my grandmother “Gummy”, at Manzanar, one of the ten concentration camps that held 10,000 Japanese Americans during World War 2. The second was how proud he was to serve in the army as soon as he was old enough, as a way out of camp.
Gramps passed away in 2002. He was and still is a true inspiration to me as someone who always stayed positive, endured with dignity, and was always up for the challenge. On this year’s Day of Remembrance, I want to honor all of those in the Japanese American community like my Gummy and Gramps who remained hopeful in the face of adversity- even when a nation they so fully embraced had betrayed them.
— Darin Tokunaga, Director of Finance and Administration