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https://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/2023/10/31/al-muratsuchi/

Identity in both the United States and Japan - California Congressman Al Murato

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People of the Showa Era

Al Murato is known as the only Japanese-American member of the California State Legislature, and is committed to education, clean energy, and Japan-U.S. relations. I once heard him say at a North American Okinawan Association meeting, "My hometown is Okinawa. Kubasaki High School (a high school on the U.S. military base Camp Foster) is my alma mater," but he also said, "My roots are in Gifu Prefecture." I assumed that growing up on a U.S. military base meant that his Japanese-American parents worked in the U.S. military, but I was interested in what kind of background he actually had. And finally, I had the opportunity to hear about his journey so far. Here, I would like to introduce "Who is Al Murato?"

Al's father, Jiro Murado, is a so-called "Kiebeini." His grandfather, Genjiro Murado, immigrated to America in 1907 and returned to the US. After traveling back and forth between Japan and the US, he returned to Gujo Hachiman, Gifu Prefecture with his family in 1937. He spent the rest of his life there.

His father, Jiro, was born in the United States and returned to Japan at a young age, where he was educated. He met Al's mother, Nobuko, when his stepfather was in junior college, and later joined the US Department of Defense. Al was born in Okinawa, where his father was stationed.

"In my home, both Japanese and English were spoken. Growing up in Okinawa before its return to Japan, I not only spoke both Japanese and English, but I also felt like I was growing up in two countries, Japan and America. After Okinawa was returned to Japan in 1972, whenever I left the base, I was unmistakably in Japan."

Looking back on Okinawa's return to Japan, people from Okinawa still talk about how, "The day after the return, it was shocking to see cars suddenly change from driving on the right side of the road to driving on the left side." Perhaps Al also witnessed this scene.

And what made me feel closer to him was the following passage: "I also grew up watching both American and Japanese TV shows, so I was heavily influenced by Japanese culture. I had posters of Momoe Yamaguchi hanging in my room, and I was a fan of the Tokyo Giants baseball team. Yes, I am a Showa-era person."

At the urging of Senator Inouye

After graduating from high school, he returned to the United States and enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley. During that time, he spent a year as an exchange student at the International Christian University (ICU), giving him the opportunity to experience both American and Japanese environments at university.

Al also recalls that taking classes on Asian American culture and history at Berkeley, and learning about the Asian American civil rights movement in particular, was his first and biggest turning point.

"One of the instructors for the class was a lawyer who was a member of the Asian Law Caucus in Oakland (an organization that provides legal assistance to Asian American immigrants), so I started working there as an intern. I met many Asian lawyers who had been involved in the civil rights movement, including the Nikkei American internment compensation movement, and I was very inspired by them. I began to want to become a civil rights lawyer myself."

The next turning point came when, after working as a prosecutor, he entered politics in 2005. Senator Daniel Inouye, who was working hard to train successors to the Japanese American ranks, and his wife, Irene Hirano Inouye, the founding director of the Japanese American National Museum (JANM), contacted Al, who told him that "if more Japanese Americans get involved in politics, it will lead to a betterment of not only the country itself, but our community as well," and he decided to enter politics in the hopes of making a bigger impact on society.

He was first elected to the Torrance School Board in suburban Los Angeles, and then ran for the California Assembly in 2012, winning election to the House of Representatives.


The Future of Education in California

Al became interested in the rights of Asian Americans during his university days, and later entered politics as a Japanese American. Now, as a politician, he is focusing on issues such as Japan-U.S. relations, education, and climate change.

"I've always been conscious of building a bridge between Japanese Americans and Japanese people because I'm a product of both worlds. I grew up more connected to Japanese culture than many Japanese Americans, and I speak Japanese. My identity is in both Japan and the United States.

My current mission is to promote stronger ties between California and Japan, and I am working to bring an official California delegation to Japan, consisting of California state legislators. We will focus on Silicon Beach in Los Angeles County and Silicon Valley in Northern California, and aim to foster exchanges between the U.S. and Japan in the areas of clean energy, climate change, and economic reform.

Al, a former member of the Board of Education, says he would like to focus on education issues in California in particular, and as of October 2023, he will be serving as the chairman of the Assembly's Education Committee, a responsible position. "The committee formulates policies that affect six million public school students in the state, and I have been involved in efforts to double the state's education funding over the past decade."

Al spends his busy days commuting back and forth between Sacramento and his hometown of South Bay, a suburb of Los Angeles. When I asked him at the end, "Why do you feel so busy that you don't have enough time to spend with your family?" he expressed his gratitude to his wife, Hiroko.

"Because I lead a double life, my wife Hiroko has had to sacrifice her own career to stay very busy supporting my activities and raising our daughter. I am grateful that Hiroko, who was an international education expert in Japan, is now devoting herself to me and my family."

On the left is his wife, Hiroko Higuchi

Having grown up in Japan, Al is able to understand Japan, and because he is able to honestly express his gratitude to those close to him, I am sure he will be able to do his best to improve the educational environment, which has a major impact on the happiness of the people of California, especially the children who will represent the future. Above all, I wish Congressman Al Murato even greater success in the future as a key person in improving Japan-U.S. relations.

Al Murato's official website: https://a66.asmdc.org

© 2023 Keiko Fukuda

Al Muratsuchi California Daniel K. Inouye education Japan legislators Okinawa Prefecture United States U.S. Senate
About the Author

Keiko Fukuda was born in Oita, Japan. After graduating from International Christian University, she worked for a publishing company. Fukuda moved to the United States in 1992 where she became the chief editor of a Japanese community magazine. In 2003, Fukuda started working as a freelance writer. She currently writes articles for both Japanese and U.S. magazines with a focus on interviews. Fukuda is the co-author of Nihon ni umarete (“Born in Japan”) published by Hankyu Communications. Website: https://angeleno.net 

Updated July 2020

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