BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
Rattled by a nasty fight over the renaming of Jordan and Terman middle schools, a group that supported the rejected school name Fred Yamamoto is seeking to form a committee to discuss diversity and inclusion in the Palo Alto school district.
Yamamoto was a Palo Alto High School graduate who was held in internment camps, then died in combat while fighting for the U.S. in World War II.
But in March, dozens of mostly Chinese parents dissuaded the school board from choosing the name in letters and with comments at board meetings.
They said Yamamoto would be offensive as a school name because they associate it with the Japanese Pearl Harbor mastermind Isoroku Yamamoto.
On Tuesday (June 5), the school board will discuss a resolution entitled “Renaming” proposed by Michelle Higgins, Buddhist Women’s Association co-chair Eimi Okano, Satomi Okazaki, Kim Shimazaki and Rika Yamamoto, who works in the district as a student attendant.
Palo Alto Human Rights Commission member Steven Lee, a third-generation Chinese-American, also supports the effort, Higgins said.
The resolution officially declares that “Fred Yamamoto is an American name deserving of respect and admiration” and “conflating the American name Fred Yamamoto with the name of an unrelated Japanese Imperial admiral is the kind of thinking that led to the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.”
Higgins said the goal is to address the pain that was caused for Japanese-American families who watched the debate over the Yamamoto name unfold. Yamamoto is a common Japanese surname held by several families in the district, Higgins pointed out.
“You can imagine how this felt for them,” Higgins said. “It sets a dangerous precedent that we wanted to point out when we talk about demonization of immigrants.”
It also sets out the goal of forming a standing committee to promote multicultural values and attitudes.
Higgins said the committee would aim to bring together district residents representing many types of diversity, including ethnic, gender and sexual orientation and socioeconomic background.
A lack of representation
A number of Chinese parents pointed out in March that the Recommending School Names Committee that proposed the name Yamamoto didn’t include any Asian members, though the district is 36% Asian.
Others, including board member Melissa Baten Caswell, said the district had specifically sought out Chinese parents for the committee, but that no one came forward.
Higgins said the work of the committee would be to bring people from different backgrounds around a table to discuss multiculturalism and inclusion and to hold events on these topics.
The PTA Council, Asian Americans for Community Involvement, the Japanese American Citizens League and the Palo Alto Human Rights Commission have all expressed interest in being involved, Higgins said.