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Mako Nakagawa – A Remembrance

Mako Nakagawa. Photo: NVC Foundation

By Joy Misako St. Germain, For The North American Post

Mako Nakagawa passed away on April 4th at age 84. Mako was the President of the Seattle JACL chapter in 1983 and made lifelong contributions as an advocate and educator for social justice, and as an activist for anti-racism and human rights.

Mako would respectfully push everyone to take action and be involved, quoting the Chinese proverb, “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.”

When five-year-old Mako first learned to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, placing her hand over her heart and reciting the words “with liberty and justice for all,” she was a prisoner behind barbed wire at the Minidoka concentration camp. As an adult, Nakagawa earned an MA in Education from Seattle University, worked as an elementary school principal and as an expert in multicultural education for the Seattle Public Schools and at the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. She later founded Mako and Associates, a diversity training business.

On behalf of the Seattle chapter, at JACL national conventions in 2010 and 2011, Nakagawa brought forward resolutions for a campaign to eliminate euphemisms used to describe the Japanese American WWII experience and replace them with terminology that accurately describe the historical injustice. The handbook completed by the Power of Words II Committee was unanimously adopted on July 7, 2012, replacing misleading terms like “evacuation,” “relocation,” and “internment center,” with the more accurate “forced removal,” “incarceration,” and “American concentration camp.”

Mako spread positive energy to those around her through her love for her family and the JACL community, and her fantastic sense of humor.

On behalf of the Seattle JACL, thank you, Mako. We will miss you, hold you dearly in our hearts, and continue the work to build bridges of trust between people — acknowledging that we are interdependent and intertwined as a human race.

As Mako would say, “We are one, we are one.”

Editor’s notes. The above is excerpted from remarks Joy delivered at the Seattle JACL 2021 scholarships awards ceremony by Zoom in May. She was the chapter president in 1992.

Mako describes her “Power of Words” journey firsthand on DiscoverNikkei.org (Oct. 2010), among 70 other essays.