February 12, 2013
Written by Leighton Vila
Today, I’m taking some time to write about the late Senator Daniel Inouye: Medal of Honor Winner, President pro tempore, Hawaiian Statesman, and Asian American Icon. As an American of Asian descent, born and raised in Hawaii, Senator Inouye has been a familiar name, and his death was very personal to myself, and my family, and my state.
For those who aren’t familiar, Senator Inouye was born before WWII. After Pearl Harbor, he joined the famous 442nd Regimental Combat Team where his gallantry on the battle field took a back seat to his courageous leadership. (Forbes has a much better account of the heoric Daniel Inouye than I could muster, check it out here.) After the War, Inouye returned to Hawaii earned a degree from the University of Hawaii in Political Science. He then wen onto George Washington University to earn his law degree. He was elected to the Territorial House of in 1957, and became Hawaii’s first congressman upon statehood in 1959. Since then, Inouye had moved up the ranks to become the highest ranking Asian American in the history of the United States. This is only part of what I remember when I think of Senator Inouye.
Placing Sentaor Inouye into the Asian American experience is an all encompassing effort. He was born to poor Japanese immigrants in Honolulu, Hawaii. He worked and lived in territorial Hawaii, and survived both the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the Anti-Japanese Racism that ensued. He fought together, with his Japanese brothers, in a racialized war and created bonds that have improved life in Hawaii—alas, the link between Senator Inouye and Senator John A. Burns is another blog entry.
When I was first learning about Senator Inouye, I remember a distinct feeling… a feeling of ethnic pride. Prior to “the story of Dan Inouye,” I thought American War heroes looked like Duke (G.I. Joe), Captain Miller (Tom Hanks, Saving Private Ryan) or George Washington. Put simply, I though American war heroes were white men and “the Story of Dan Inouye” challenged that myth.
The purpose of a leader is to provide space, either physical, economical, or psychological. Senator Inouye, for me, provided a psychological space where the Asian American man could kick some but and be the hero. His story showcased that an Asian American can fight for America, be a statesman, and go toe to toe with an unjust president.
The death of Senator Daniel Inouye is sad, but it provides an opportunity for the 21st century Asian American leader to “step up.”
The nation is facing new and different challenges. As we graduate from college, the economy seems nevertheless daunting. As our families join us from over seas, the process of immigration becomes more and more flawed. As we talk with our unemployed family and friends, we see the brokenness of the welfare system, and witness the frustration of good people without good choices.
As time progresses, and the giants like Senator Inouye retire to a much deserved rest, there is an excitement surrounding the future of American leaders. Recently, a survey has shown that the Republican party has declined among Asian Americans. On the Democrat side, President Obama has seen a drop among his Asian American staffers, and outgoing cabinet secretary Christopher Lu says that it is time for “new blood” to step up to the challenge of leading.
It is time for us be the change.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Remembering Senator Daniel Inouye" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2013/02/remembering-senator-daniel-inouye/> ().
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