WASHINGTON – Floyd Mori, a retired Japanese-American politician, was decorated by Japan last autumn for his decades-long contributions to deepening bilateral relations.
“My parents passed away a few years ago. They would’ve been very proud that the country of their birth has honored me,” the 74-year-old former head of the Japanese American Citizens League said as he choked up during a March ceremony held at the residence of the Japanese ambassador to the United States.
The Japanese government gave Mori the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette, in recognition of his contributions to improving the status of Japanese-Americans and promoting Japanese culture in the U.S., as well as strengthening economic relations between the two nations.
Mori was born in Murray, Utah, in 1939 to parents who migrated from Kagoshima Prefecture. He was only 2 when the Imperial Japanese Army attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
Following the U.S. entry into World War II, Japanese immigrants on the West Coast were sent to internment camps, and with American prejudice against Japanese surging, Mori’s parents said to him, “You’ve got to be an American.”
But Mori felt uncomfortable because the face he saw in the mirror never looked the same as that of many of his U.S. friends.
“I always wondered why I couldn’t be like the other kids in the neighborhood” he said, adding that he found it difficult to have pride in himself.
“It wasn’t always the case that I appreciated my heritage,” he said. “During that time, people made fun of who I was and did not look highly upon the Japanese race.”
But he said he began seeing things differently when he “came to understand” who he was, finding out more about Japanese culture and values. “Shame turned to pride,” he said.
As a former California state assemblyman and former president of the citizens’ league, the oldest and largest Asian-American human rights organization, Mori said he firmly believes in the power of the U.S. Constitution that provides equality for all.
He has also never forgotten the people back in his ancestral home, and in the aftermath of the devastating March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck the Tohoku region, he helped craft a fund that raised a total of over $6.5 million.