A Celebration of Life: Remembering Manzanar Committee, San Fernando Valley JACL, LGBT Leader Tak Yamamoto

LOS ANGELES — A Celebration of Life honoring long-time Manzanar Committee, San Fernando Japanese American Citizens League (SFV JACL), and LGBT community leader Takenori “Tak” Yamamoto, who died on November 9, 2012, will be held at on Saturday, January 26, 2013, at the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center, in Pacoima, California, starting at 6:30 PM.

Yamamoto served as president of the Asian and Pacific Islanders for LGBT Equality, and was one of the founders and a long-time president of the Asian/Pacific Lesbians and Gays (now Asian/Pacific Gays and Friends) in Los Angeles, an organization formed to fight discrimination against Asian and Pacific Islanders. It remains the oldest active group of its type in the United States.

During his tenure as president of the SFV JACL, Yamamoto was open about his sexual orientation, refusing to allow it to be an obstacle to his work, and in 1994, he was instrumental in pushing the National JACL to support same-sex marriage.

“I believe Tak Yamamoto should be held up as a model for all of us, as someone who courageously chose to be out of the closet at a time when very few, particularly Japanese American gays, were willing to do so,” San Fernando Valley JACL Board Member Phil Shigekuni wrote in the Rafu Shimpo. He took an independent stand of conscience, much like Fred Korematsu or Gordon Hirabayashi. He could have chosen to stay in the closet and not make any waves. If Tak were to have suffered discrimination being Japanese during and after the war, at least he could take refuge in turning to his friends and family.”

“But to be openly homosexual at that time, you were out there all alone,” Shigekuni added. “You not only would not get support from friends or family, you would be seen as bringing disgrace to your family.”

Yamamoto is best known for his leadership in the Manzanar Committee, sponsor of the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage since 1969, and more recently, the Manzanar At Dusk program, since 1997.

“Tak was a fighter, firm in his convictions and eminently patient,” said Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey, after learning of Yamamoto’s death. “He was one of the first who took on the struggle for redress and civil rights for the LGBT community, and that’s why, to those who knew him, Tak is a hero.”

“Tak embodied so many qualities that we all aspire to possess—honesty, integrity and determination. We want to celebrate Tak as a person, to celebrate his generosity, his kindness, and commitment to making everyone’s life a just little better.”

“Tak was an early, unheralded, behind-the-scenes civil rights leader,” said Rose Ochi of the Manzanar Committee and the Friends of Manzanar. “He did not seek glory, yet he openly took brave stands to advance the cause. He will be sorely missed.”

Embrey stressed that the event is a celebration of Yamamoto’s life, not a wake.

“Family and friends, many of whom worked with Tak in the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s office, or along side him in the LGBT community or the redress movement, felt compelled to honor him for a life well lived,” Embrey noted. “This isn’t a memorial. This will be a celebration of Tak’s life by all of those whose lives he touched.”

June Lagmay, City Clerk, City of Los Angeles, Eric Wat, author of The Making of a Gay Asian Community: An Oral History of Pre-AIDS Los Angeles, representatives of the the SFV JACL, Ochi, and Embrey, will join members of Yamamoto’s family to celebrate his life.

An oral history video, Asian American LGBT Pioneer – Tak Yamamoto, will also be shown.

The San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center is located at 12953 Branford Street, Pacoima, CA, 91331 (see map below for directions).

Dress for the event, which is free and open to the public, is casual. For more information, call (323) 662-5102, or send e-mail to info@manzanarcommittee.org.

To view/download a printable flyer (requires Adobe Reader software), click on this link.


LEAD PHOTO: Long-time Manzanar Committee leader Tak Yamamoto (second from left), shown here receiving the Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy Award at the 40th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, April 25, 2009, died on November 9, 2012. Photo: Gann Matsuda/Manzanar Committee.

San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center via Google Maps

The Manzanar Committee is dedicated to educating and raising public awareness about the incarceration and violation of civil rights of persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II and to the continuing struggle of all peoples when Constitutional rights are in danger. A non-profit organization that has sponsored the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage since 1969, along with other educational programs, the Manzanar Committee has also played a key role in the establishment and continued development of the Manzanar National Historic Site.

Creative Commons License The Manzanar Committee’s Official web site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Manzanar Committee Official web site – Licensing and Copyright Information.

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4 thoughts on “A Celebration of Life: Remembering Manzanar Committee, San Fernando Valley JACL, LGBT Leader Tak Yamamoto

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  1. Tak, My Dear Friend.

    You were my first partner when I joined the staff at the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk. In the late 90’s, when we started working together in Management Services, we were a 3-person team, you Denis and I. Now the staff has grown to such a large number of staff that I can’t count. This is a testimony to the many hats you wore. And you wore them well. I recall vividly, there were days when you consulted on designs, days when you had to counsel others and calm them down, days when you said just give me that portion and you do this portion and he can do the cover and we can be done with this.

    Some days when you ran all over the building hand delivering documents to make sure that each person received a hand copy and you were teaching me to cover myself and our responsibilities. You were thorough, meticulous and foreword thinking. They may call it multi-faceted or multi-tasking now but you were just what I called “seasoned” and in your own way was teaching me what you knew was important…..I thank you for all the lessons learned and all the stories you stopped to share with me along the way about when you were younger and the experiences you had. I thank you for teaching so many of us to be proud of our heritage no matter what our background and to always remember our tragedies and triumphs so that history does not repeat itself.

    The thing I will remember the most about you is not the material things you may have acquired or personal accomplishments, but the fact that you knew who you were, you were happy in your own skin, you loved your authentic self, always kept it 100% REAL and taught others to do the same.

    Rest in Peace my dear friend. I will catch up with you when I get to Heaven!


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