Veteran Ichikawa tells Naturalized US Citizens: Be Good Americans
By: Corazon Sandoval Foley (Chair, Fairfax County Asian American History Project)
Fairfax, Virginia–Grant Ichikawa, World War II US Army Military Intelligence Service veteran of Japanese American heritage, told 77 newly-naturalized citizens they have received a gift that money cannot buy: citizenship of the United States of America. He said citizenship brings with it obligations, privileges, honor, and responsibilities.
Ichikawa, 92, was the keynote speaker at the third naturalization ceremony at the Fairfax County Government Center on May 6, celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. The program also symbolized the nation’s progress in civil rights.
The program was organized by the Fairfax County Asian American History Project (FCAAHP), led by Fairfax County Chairman Sharon Bulova and this writer. (Editor’s note: Ms. Foley, a Filipino American, is FCAAHP Chair).
Ichikawa told the group, “America is made up of many people from many different countries, cultures and languages. Keep them, but remember you are American first. Learn to speak, read and write English well. Remember: English should eventually be your primary language. Look at me. I am an Asian American and English is my first language.”
Amanda Baran, senior advisor of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, offered the White House congratulations to the new Americans. Robert Nakamoto, immediate past president of the Japanese American Veterans Association (JAVA) also congratulated the new Americans. He also lauded Ichikawa ’s contributions to personify American patriotism, saying “Grant has made it his personal mission to publicize to the American public the Japanese American experience during World War II and the impact of that experience on future generations of Japanese Americans.
Nakamoto’s son Gary, the first Asian American Chairman of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, also participated in the event. The McLean Orchestra Brass Quintet, the Chinese American Silver Light Senior Association and Mark Baban, Filipino American president of Fairfax City Asian American Fire Fighters Union (Scottish bagpipe), provided entertainment.
Ichikawa traced the history of Asian Americans, noting that the Naturalization Law of 1790 excluded Asians from obtaining citizenship. Such exclusion remained for over 160 years until the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act 1952, which lifted racial restrictions.
In my remarks, I noted that Ichikawa’s life “exemplifies the very best in American values, and illustrates why the U.S. is such a great nation and world leader. He has been a resident of Fairfax County since 1955 and a veteran who volunteered to serve in World War II and the Korean War. He is a retired CIA officer, who rode the last helicopter from U.S. Embassy roof in Vietnam on April 30, 1975.”
Ichikawa said that like other Japanese Americans who served for duty with the 100th Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Europe and the Japanese American linguists in the Pacific, he volunteered to prove his loyalty to this country.
He told the new Americans he was among the 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, most of them U.S.-born citizens who, at the beginning of WWII, were forcibly relocated from their homes to horse stables that reeked of the smell of horse manure.
“That first night was the lowest point in my life and I wondered how we can prove that we are not enemy aliens, but loyal American citizens,” Ichikawa related. He described his voluntary enlistment for the Army Military Intelligence Service in November 1942, and “when I looked at myself wearing the US Army uniform, I felt my credibility and honor were restored. I had reached the highest point in my life.”