Legacy of the Sansei – Forging Character Through Idealism and Nisei Value

Legacy of the Sansei – Forging Character Through Idealism and Nisei Value

Photo of 2016 U.S.-Japan Council Emerging Leaders Program

Colbert Matsumoto
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” This call to action of newly elected President John Kennedy in 1961 inspired my generation of Sansei. Even as a young boy growing up on Läna‘i, his words resonated with me. But so did the examples of my Nisei parents and their peers.

My father, Yukio Matsumoto, served in Europe with the 442nd Infantry only to return after the war’s end to encounter a new battle on his home front of Läna‘i. He and men like Shiro Hokama, Pedro Dela Cruz, Goro Hokama and Catalino “Pete” Agliam, at great personal risk to their employment, organized the Japanese and Filipino plantation laborers on the pineapple plantation, convincing them to put aside their differences and join together for the cause of economic and social justice. Their efforts under the mantle of the ILWU led to changes in working conditions and new opportunities for the residents of that isolated community. Listening to the stories of their struggles and the courage that underlay their actions inspired me and gave me an appreciation of the impact leadership can have on the lives of others.

Photo of Colbert Matsumoto is chairman and president of Island Holdings, Inc., the parent company of several Hawai‘i-based companies.

Colbert Matsumoto is chairman and president of Island Holdings, Inc., the parent company of several Hawai‘i-based companies.

Growing up during the 1960s, my Baby Boom generation witnessed other examples of such community leadership in the struggle for equality and civil rights by the African American community, the resistance to America’s war in Vietnam, the campaign for economic justice dubbed the “War on Poverty” and the first “Earth Day” that launched the environmental movement. So it was that I entered college and law school, filled with idealism and ambition to personally make a difference in society. But after graduating, I quickly encountered the mundane realities of life. Hard work and commitment were essential building blocks to develop professional skills and cultivate my character. Seeking those qualities demanded that I immerse myself in my career.

The years went by quickly and my life devolved into a daily routine. Then, in 1996, I found myself thrust into the middle of the “Broken Trust” controversy involving the trustees’ administration of Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate. I had been appointed as the court’s master and tasked with investigating the trust. As the acrimony surrounding the controversy grew more heated and intimidating, I considered stepping down from my post.

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