Charles “Chuck” Kato (pronounced CAT-o) was born in Seattle in 1932. During World War II, he and his family were briefly incarcerated in Camp Harmony, in Puyallup, WA in 1942, and then sent to Minidoka, Idaho, where they remained until 1945. Kato returned to Seattle after the War, graduated high school, served in the U.S. army for two years (stationed in Japan), after which he returned to Seattle to get a BS in Civil Engineering from the University of Washington in 1958. He worked in the federal government’s Corps of Engineers and Commerce Department for three decades, and retired in 1992.
In the early 1970s, Kato became close with Ed Miyatake, who has been credited as the intellectual father of the Japanese American redress movement, and Ken Nakano, both of them leaders in the Asian Engineers and Technical Employees Association. The three joined the Seattle Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) around 1973, and, inspired by Miyatake’s research and vision, co-founded the Seattle Evacuation Redress Committee (SERC) to push the JACL to demand redress for internment. SERC’s tireless advocacy proved critical to shifting the culture of the JACL and successfully getting redress legislation introduced in Congress.
In the early 1980s, once redress legislation was introduced, Kato served as Co-Chair for the Washington Committee on Redress, where he helped mobilize support for and participation in Congressional hearings that proved critical to educating the public and elected officials about the need for redress.
Kato was one of the first people to receive a redress check from the government. He commented to the Seattle Times at the time that after nearly two decades of activism, “I’m tired, but it’s a happy tiredness. All our efforts have paid off.”
Kato remained active in the Japanese American community after redress passed. According to the International Examiner, he, “Dell Uchida, Margaret Yasuda and Dee Goto self-published a series of books called “Omoide” (Japanese for “memories”): “Omoide I” in 1993, “Omoide II” in 1995 and “Omoide III” in 2001. In 2004, the writing group, with more and different members, began meeting again twice a month at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington (JCCCW) in the Seattle Japanese Language School. The group concentrated on childhood memories before, during and immediately after the war. The result is “Omoide IV,” published in 2005.”
Chuck Kato shared his memories of his redress movement activism in an interview conducted by Trevor Griffey on April 6, 2006. Video editing by Steven Beda. Work on this interview was made possible by a grant from 4Culture/King County Lodging Tax.