What Kind of Country Do We Want to Be?

As has been reported this week by the New York Times and others, Trump immigration advisers and advocates are now seriously considering a race-based registry and citing Japanese internment camps of World War II as a precedent – all in the name of security. Needless to say, this is a terrifying prospect for most Americans and especially for Japanese-Americans who know first-hand the damage such policies can inflict on families.

Manzanar Relocation Center, Manzanar, California. Street scene of barrack homes at this War Relocation Authority Center. The windstorm has subsided and the dust has settled.

Credit: U.S. National Archives. Manzanar Relocation Center, Manzanar, California. Street scene of barrack homes at this War Relocation Authority Center.

The Japanese imprisonment during World War II destroyed my father’s family for no reason except irrational fear, and tragically changed my family forever.  But thanks to the efforts of mentors and assistance from public aid programs in the 1970s, I flourished in spite of that tragic history.  The question facing the country now is “what kind of country do we want to be, one that turns back the clock to fear and hate like the 40’s, or one that works to help everyone succeed?”

The history of my philosophy has roots as far back as 1942, when President Roosevelt signed an executive order that resulted in the “exclusion” of 120,000 Japanese-American families from the west coast of the US, forcing families into prison camps and forcing them to sell any belongings they could not carry.

Credit: U.S. National Archives. Oakland, Calif., Mar. 1942. A large sign reading "I am an American" placed in the window of a store, at 13th and Franklin streets, on December 8, the day after Pearl Harbor. The store was closed following orders to persons of Japanese descent to evacuate from certain West Coast areas. The owner, a University of California graduate, will be housed with hundreds of evacuees in War Relocation Authority centers for the duration of the war

Credit: U.S. National Archives. Oakland, Calif., Mar. 1942.

This action followed years of discrimination, hate, fear mongering and popular misunderstanding of the Japanese Americans, a fiercely loyal community that was well documented to be no threat to America.

My father’s family was forced into the prison camp Minidoka, in Idaho, along with 9,000 other families – losing their home. At the time my father was six years old and of course, did not fully understand what was happening.  The extent to which this injustice contributed to my family’s later desperate struggles and tragedies is unclear to me, but surely was factor. For brevity’s sake, my grandfather never recovered from the imprisonment and subsequently hanged himself. My father, a stunning intellect, suffering from emotional instability, was unable to successfully put his talents to use, was unable to provide for his family and drank himself to death at the age of 62.

With my father unable to maintain employment, he gave up trying to provide for our family and gave up engaging in society as a productive person around 1975, at which point we lost our home. We became homeless briefly, and depended on Federal/State emergency food supplies (big white bags labelled “Cheese” and “Pancake Mix”, food stamps, and unemployment benefits.

Throughout most of high school, I worked after school and used the funds to buy clothing, supplies, transportation, etc., while my mother was able to provide food and shelter, and not much more. I started out babysitting at 50 cents per hour, moved up to dish washing at a health-food restaurant for $1.10/hour. I did not see that I had much of a future, and on plenty of occasions acted accordingly, which still today is a source of regret.

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Credit: Unknown. Programming at UW Computer Center in 1980, with mentor Wayne Erickson in the background, on a DEC VAX no less.

My big break came thanks to what I believe was a federally funded program to enabling low-income minority high school students to work in jobs at any non-profit organization, administered through Seattle Public Schools. In my senior year, and in 1980 landed a job at the University of Washington Academic Computer Center as a computer programmer (after a year-long FORTRAN programming class at my high school). While my skills at the time were embarrassingly rudimentary, several mentors at the ACC made the world of difference, particularly Wayne Erickson (shown behind me at the righ, in 1981) who would go on to hire me in my first real commercial software company, Microrim and Larry Gales, both to whom I am forever indebted.

Though I never finished college, the rest of my 35+ year and counting successful career in the computer industry is easy to see on LinkedIn, as are many of my activities related to contributing to the community, industry, and mentoring, etc. I’ve helped launch numerous high-tech, software and cyber security related companies, raising over $75 million in venture capital – hiring hundreds of people along the way.

Credit: PSU Communications. Advising an electrical/computer engineering capstone at Portland State University.

Credit: PSU Communications. Advising an electrical/computer engineering capstone at Portland State University in 2013.

For over 20 years I’ve been involved in numerous industry associations serving as volunteer board member focused on building the economy and creating jobs. I’ve mentored high-school and college students, run capstone projects, and helped create internships.

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Leading a session on MS Windows’ access control/file permissions at the 2016 PDX Cyber Camp for high school students.

Currently, in addition to my “day job”, I’m managing a hands-on cybersecurity summer camp for high school students in the Portland area, evangelizing the career opportunities in the field and helping inspire students to consider joining the cause of improving security for the nation.

I’m also serving on the Technology Association of Oregon’s (TAO) Cybersecurity committee, promoting education and awareness of cybersecurity throughout the Oregon business community, and working with the State to promote the development of a statewide cybersecurity center of excellence.

I count myself tremendously fortunate and I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had, and I think by all financial measures, the emergency aid our family received in the 1970s and early 80’s has been paid back many, many times over.  I’ve spent 20 years volunteering for projects and organizations creating jobs, mentoring students, and giving back to the community in ways that best take advantage of what I can offer, in an attempt to both pay back and “pay forward” for the assistance I received in my times of need.

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2016 PDX Cyber Camp Students (and me)!