Written by: Kanji Sahara, PSW Civil Rights Chair
On Tuesday, June 4, 2013, the City of Carson California held a ceremony to name its City Council Chamber after Helen Kawagoe. Helen was the long time City Clerk of Carson and was a beloved figure in the city and known as the “Mother of City Hall”. Helen is a dedicated JACLer serving as Gardena Valley Chapter President, PSW Governor and National President.
Helen suffered a stroke in September of 2011 which left her partially paralyzed. She has difficulty swallowing and speaking but can hear and understand what is going on. She now lives in South Bay Keiro on Vermont Ave. in Gardena and loves to receive visitors. Her daughter Sheryl Miyamoto brings her to public events in a wheel chair.
At the Carson City Council meeting on Dec 20, 2011, Mayor Jim Dear introduced a resolution to name the Carson City Council Chamber after Helen Kawagoe. Ten people spoke in favor of the motion. The “Opposition”, which then controlled the Carson City Council, said they wanted the naming to be after Helen passes. After the speeches by the public, Mayor Pro Tempore Julie Ruiz-Raber moved to essentially put off voting on this motion. She did this by saying she wanted something bigger, such as a park, named after Helen. Her motion to continue this topic to the Jan 17, 2012 meeting of the Carson City Council passed 3 to 2.
Then Mayor Dear asked the Assistant City Clerk Wanda Higaki to repeat Helen’s wish. Wanda worked for Helen for over 30 years. Wanda said that Helen wanted the Council Chamber named after her and not a park. I think everybody already knew that.
A recess was called and Helen’s stepdaughter Sheryl Miyamoto started sobbing. It was Sheryl’s task to go to the nursing home to tell Helen of the council decision. Julie Ruiz-Raber tried to console Sheryl.
On Thursday January 5, 2012 there was a meeting of about 20 of Helen’s friends. Sheryl was the main speaker and brought us up to date. Helen fell on January 1 and her face became black and blue. She did not suffer any broken bones. We decided to circulate a petition. We hoped to get 1,000 signatures to present to the Council on January 17.
At the Carson City Council meeting on Jan 17, 2012, PSW Governor Ken Inouye, then National President David Kawamoto and several others JA’s spoke. The Opposition in the Council won again by a vote of 3 to 2. This was also the day of the LA City Election when Warren Furutani lost his bid for the LA City Council seat.
“Helen’s Dream Coalition” was formed by activists who lived in Carson. They held rallies, petition drives and meetings every month. They went to the Carson City Council Meetings all the time wearing their yellow T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Helen Dream Coalition”. No matter what they did, the Opposition always won by a 3 to 2.
On Mar 5, 2013, City of Carson had a municipal election. Mayor Jim Dear won by a landslide and another pro-Helen candidate won. Now the pro-Helen group had a majority on the City Council. On Mar 27, 2013, Carson installed the new City Council and the first order of business was to name the Carson City Council Chamber after Helen “today”. It passed unanimously. It took a year and a half and an election to name the Carson City Council Chamber after Helen Kawagoe.