Grant Ujifusa

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On January 26, 2012, at the office of the Consulate General of Japan in New York, Grant Ujifusa, Redress Strategy Chair of the Japanese American Citizens League, was given the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays, by the Japanese government for his role in securing a measure of redress for 110,000 Japanese Americans forced into internment camps during World War II.

Grant Ujifusa was born on January 4, 1942, in Worland, Wyoming, and grew up with his younger sister Susan on a sugar beet and alfalfa farm not far from that altogether agreeable and friendly small town, one very much still located about 70 miles south and east of Heart Mountain, perhaps the most famous of the Japanese American internment camps. Grant's grandfather, Ujifusa Shuichi, came to northern Wyoming in 1905 to help to lay track for the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad. After the work was completed, Shuichi decided to break farmland out of the local desert and raise a family, including Grant's father Tom, in an isolated geological basin surrounded by the Rocky Mountains and three sister ranges. Through the basin flowed the Big Horn River from which water was diverted to irrigate Shuichi's farm.

So the Ujifusa family, a 1000 miles from the West Coast, was not interned during World War II. Nor was the family of Grant's mother Mary, whose father Okugawa Jukichi settled in La Junta, Colorado and found work as a machinist on the Santa Fe Railroad. Mary had the best grades in the La Junta High School Class of 1939, and was named the valedictorian. The teachers and the kids really liked her, but the administrators and the school board said, "No jap will speak at our commencement." And so she didn't.

But Mary could speak, read, and write Japanese with complete fluency, because she had attended a Japanese language school, established by local immigrants, for 3 months every summer for 12 years. Mary was a fine student, but her family was too poor to send her to college. And so a marriage was arranged for her, a marriage that became a love match between Mary and Tom.

When Grant was about 8, Grandpa Shuichi advised his grandson, called Masa in a three generation household, that "You have to be careful in life because you come from a dumb family." "Why would you say something like that, Grandpa?" the once bi-lingual Masa asked. "Because," Grandpa said, "I voluntarily chose to settle in a part of the world to which 11,000 people were involuntarily removed. Think about it."

Then they struck oil on Grandpa's farm.

Before the strike, Shuichi, besides raising sugar beets, ran cattle on the open range outside of Worland, ridin' and ropin' just like the other local cowboys, with one of them saying years later, "You know that Japanese man out there with us once. Pretty good little wrangler." Married to the Issei cowboy was gentle Grandma Yae, ever caring, a Buddhist saint, a bodhisattva, if ever there was one in the state of Wyoming.

Susan was close to Grandma and Tom, completely devoted to his family, was more like his mother than his father. Tom died in 2002. After Mary died in 2007, Ambassador Ryozo Kato said of her, "Mary was a woman of fierce academic and practical intelligence, and a woman who was immensely proud of her Japanese heritage. I mourn her passing."

As a high school senior and at 149 pounds, Grant was an all-league quarterback of a state championship football team -- ranked number one in the state in 1959, the same year he was elected Governor of Boys State.

Grant left Wyoming to receive a AB with honors in 1965 from Harvard University, where he was an editor of The Harvard Crimson, and an ABT from Brown University in American History and Literature in 1969. Some twelve years later Min Yasui and Mike Masaoka recruited Ujifusa to lead the Japanese American Citizens League in its successful effort to pass and enact HR 442, the Japanese American redress bill, in 1988. The legislation provided for an apology and monetary reparations from the federal government for the Constitutional outrage of FDR's incarceration of loyal American citizens during World War II. [1]

From 1982 to 1992, Grant served as JACL's volunteer Redress Strategy Chair. He watched Spark Matsunaga work three intense years to put together a 69-vote, filibuster-proof majority for Senate passage of the redress bill in 1988. Why the bi-partisan support? One reason: Sparky’s colleagues just loved him, someone who lived the Aloha understanding of life. Senate success, Daniel Inouye said, was ten parts Matsunaga and one part the other Senator from Hawaii. This means no parts for a Senator from Wyoming and a one-time Boy Scout who voted to strip all of the monetary reparations out of the bill, saying on the Senate floor that "the money sticks in my craw" and recently in the Washington Post that the money made the apology "insincere."

In 1990, Grant worked with Senator Inouye and with Janet Hale in the first Bush Administration's Office of Management and Budget to make the monetary reparations authorized in the bill an entitlement expenditure, not subject to the vagaries of the annual appropriations process.

In 2012, Grant was knighted by the Government of Japan for his work done in 1987 and 1988 that reversed Ronald Reagan's longstanding opposition to HR 442.

While lobbying the redress bill, Grant also worked as a Senior Editor of general interest books at Random House, earlier at Houghton Mifflin and later at Macmillan. Writers with whom he worked included Andrew Grove, Senator Sam Ervin, Governor Tom Kean, Lester Thurow, Robert Eisner, Kevin Phillips, Julian Jaynes, Judy Shelton, and Daniel Yergin.

Ujifusa was, as well, the founding editor and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics, called by Tim Russert and George Will "the bible of American politics." The 1600-page, pre-internet, biennial volume provided description and analysis, using words and numbers, for each of the 535 members of the House and the Senate and for all of the 535 constituencies represented in Congress. This meant The Almanac, a National Book Award finalist in 1973, twice encompassed the entire geographical expanse of the country and its people. Ujifusa co-authored the book from 1972 to 2000 when it was an everywhere presence inside the Beltway, used by everyone with any responsibility in the White House, Congress, the media, the cabinet and agency bureaucracies, and the lobbying and law firms.

The Almanac gave Grant access virtually anywhere he wanted in Washington during the 1980s, most importantly in the Reagan White House and among Republican members of Congress. Grant convinced Newt Gingrich and Dick Cheney to vote "yea" on HR 442, even while a Japanese American congressman from San Jose voted "present." [2]

For more on Grant's experience of redress, go to:

Grant is married to Amy Brooks, a graduate of Sarah Lawrence and the Juilliard School of Music. They have two biological sons, Steven, a historian who publishes with Simon and Schuster; Andrew, a journalist with Education Week; and an adopted son, John. Amy, Grant, and John live in Chappaqua, New York, a suburb about 35 miles north of New York City.


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  2. ^ "Grant Ujifusa - Densho Digital Repository". Retrieved 20 February 2018.

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