|Born||May 5 1922|
|Died||November 19 2009|
|Birth Location||Oxnard, CA|
Nao Takasugi (1922–2009) emerged from his family's wartime incarceration to successfully run his family's retail business, later becoming the mayor of his hometown of Oxnard and a member of the California State Assembly.
Nao Takasugi was born on April 5, 1922, the only son in a family that had run the Asahi grocery store in Oxnard, California, since the early 1900s. He grew up in Oxnard and graduated as valedictorian of Oxnard High School. He went on to UCLA, studying business and working at the family store.
He was a junior at UCLA when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Facing a curfew and travel restrictions—and eventually mass exclusion of all Japanese Americans from the West Coast—he was forced to abandon his studies. Upon forced removal, the family was sent to the Tulare Assembly Center, where they shared a converted horse stall. They were fortunate in that they were able to leave the store with a family friend, Ignacio Carmona, who ran it in their absence. At Tulare, Takasugi worked as a teacher's aide in the high school, teaching business and Spanish language.
From Tulare, the family moved on to the long term concentration camp at Gila River, Arizona. Like many Nisei who had been in college, Takasugi was able to take advantage of a program run by the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council to attend college outside the West Coast in February 1943, securing a slot at Temple University in Philadelphia. Graduating from Temple in 1945, he went on to graduate school at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, studying business and accounting and earning an MBA in 1946. Upon his graduation, he applied to various accounting firms in Philadelphia, and was rejected by all. "They'd say, 'With that Asian face, we can't put you in the field,'" he told an interviewer.
In the meantime, his family was released from confinement and returned to Oxnard. Upon their return, Carmona returned the store to the family. Takasugi returned from Philadelphia to take over operations of the store. The store flourished under his management. When a buddy from Wharton visited and inquired about his working there, Takasugi joked that his MBA stood for "Master of Butchery Arts." He married and had raised five children.
Years later, a dispute over a sign outside the store led him to serve on the City Planning Commission in Oxnard. It was the beginning of an improbable political career. He was elected to the Oxnard City Council in 1976, and in the middle of his second term, he ran for mayor, winning the post in 1982 and serving for ten years. In 1992, at the age of seventy, he won election to the California State Assembly as a Republican, despite running in a district where Asian Americans made up just 6.5% of the population. He won reelection twice before being termed out in 1998. Though he suffered a heart attack in Sacramento before his term ended, he continued in public service, serving on the board of the Oxnard Harbor District from 2000 to 2008.
Featured in Tom Brokaw's best selling book The Greatest Generation, he told Brokaw, "I find that I am compelled to remember the best—not the worst—of that time. To focus not on the grave deprivation of rights which beset us all, but rather on the countless shining moments of virtue that emerged from the shadows of that dark hour."
He passed away on November 19, 2009.
For More Information
Brokaw, Tom. The Greatest Generation. New York: Random House, 1998.
Gladstone, Mark. "A Long Journey From Internment Camp to Assembly, Legislature: Nao Takasugi plays it down, but his arrival in Sacramento is a milestone for Asian-Americans.” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 8, 1992. http://articles.latimes.com/1992-12-08/news/mn-1855_1_nao-takasugi.
Herdt, Timm, and Stephanie Hoops. "Nao Takasugi, Former Oxnard Mayor, Remembered for His Dignity." Ventura County Star, Nov. 21, 2009. http://www.vcstar.com/news/2009/nov/21/nao-takasugi-former-oxnard-mayor-remembered-for/.
"Obituary: Nao Takasugi, 87: Former Internee Was a Popular Oxnard Mayor, State Assemblyman." Rafu Shimpo, Nov. 24, 2009. http://rafu.com/news/2009/11/obituary-nao-takasugi-87-former-internee-was-a-popular-oxnard-mayor-state-assemblyman/.
- Mark Gladstone, "A Long Journey From Internment Camp to Assembly, Legislature," Los Angeles Times, Dec. 8, 1992. http://articles.latimes.com/1992-12-08/news/mn-1855_1_nao-takasugi.
- Tom Brokaw, The Greatest Generation (New York: Random House, 1998), 224.