Keiro Chats: Meet Roy!

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Name: Roy Sakamoto
Age: 72
From: Japanese American National Museum, Little Tokyo

Q: What is your biggest accomplishment?

Great family life. I had a more than satisfactory family life. I still am best friends with my wife after more than four decades. My wife and I have grown together over the years. And for corporate life, I luckily came in the generation where all the work done in civil rights began to bear fruit; opportunities were open for me to have the career I had. 

What is your weekly schedule like?

In the morning I like to peruse a copy of the LA Times, and do exercises at home, like using an elliptical machine or walking for 30 minutes. I listen to music when I exercise. My iPod has the strangest set of music: rhythm and blues, pop, country western, classic rock, some Broadway shows, and symphonic music, especially Mozart, but one thing I never got into too much is rap. (laughs)

After lunch, I do chores like vacuuming. My wife and I split the house and I take care of some of the rooms and she does others. I also take care of the garden, pulling weeds and trimming.

Mostly on the weekends, we visit friends. We have a poker group that meets every two or three months, where we have a huge potluck. We have been doing that for at least 40 years. We also do various social things, mostly visiting friends. And I go to doctor’s appointments regularly, too.

I also volunteer at the Japanese American National Museum, which is a big part of my life.

What do you look forward to each week?

Volunteering and coming to JANM. It’s a social outlet and an intellectual stimulation that gives me a sense of purpose. Your work life takes up so much of your time, especially if you’re doing a demanding job. My plan after retirement was always to volunteer, because I never had time to give back to the community while I worked long hours for the Air Force.

This is a chance to tell our story so people can appreciate and understand the diversity in America, and what happens when you don’t respect that diversity. It’s rewarding to share that with the students at whatever level they can understand so that they can not only learn but also connect that with their own community in the present.

Do you have any goals you are working towards right now?

Giving back to JANM and volunteering again was actually a goal when I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. For about a year, I was not able to volunteer while I was recovering. I wanted to get better, and I had a goal. If I was just at home not doing much, my recovery would have been a lot worse, and I may have been more susceptible to depression.

Given that my life expectancy has been compromised … well, maintenance is one of my biggest goal. To maintain at least my current health.

What contributes to your happiness?

To share with others the history of Japanese Americans in JANM, and to empower the students with our own history. Here I can share my parents and grandparents’ story every week, and how they overcame their challenge.

Has your definition of happiness has changed over time?

Certainly, health concern is not a priority if you’re healthy. A lot of young people feel they’re invincible. But when you’re older, you start to think about the risks.

What sustain your quality of life?

Satisfaction is one. That your life has purpose. Family too. I’ve been married to my wife for 41 years now.

Also maintaining good health, knowing what bad health is. I know what bad health is like, it’s so limiting. I can see how people can get depressed, especially if you don’t see any hope for the future.

What is your biggest accomplishment?

Great family life. I had a more than satisfactory family life. I still am best friends with my wife after more than four decades. My wife and I have grown together over the years. And for corporate life, I luckily came in the generation where all the work done in civil rights began to bear fruit; opportunities were open for me to have the career I had.

In my private existence, JANM has been the most satisfying. I am proud of the fact that I was able to do what I wanted to do. I was also involved in the bureaucracy of the volunteer program and was able to make some changes, like how to teach new volunteers, coach prospective docents, etc. To me that was satisfying because we are the face of the museum, and it’s important to train volunteers to be able to welcome the visitors.

What is it in your life that most influenced the way you live today?

Probably my parents; we were really poor after the war. My parents had lost everything. My dad started over when he was 40, and worked until he was 78. From my earliest memories we lived in a shack, and we lived there for a long time. But that immigrant population was really resilient. I learned from my father’s survivor attitude.

My father had to put up with a lot of stuff; he could barely speak English. But one thing he always said like his mantra was, “don’t ever trust a white man.”  That was the one part that I was saddened by. And I know it was not a racial thing, it was a survival thing. He said “I’ll never work for a white man because last hired, first fired. I will never put my family in that position.”

But more than anything I was able to talk to my father a lot more than most children could talk to their parents. We worked with him on the farm and garden on Saturdays, Sundays, and all summer. He was more vocal than other Issei. He would tell me about his life, philosophy, and his experience while we ate lunch. And that stuck with me.

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