One of my personal heroes, Daniel Inouye, passed away this week. My parents spoke about him when we were still living in California, and he was held up as model, not as a Japanese American, nor Asian American, but as a plain old American. He was a model I was to look up to. But the truth was in the 70’s, there weren’t many Asian American or Japanese American role models who had such a powerful position. He was a US Senator. At eight, I wasn’t really sure what a senator was, but that wasn’t really important. Here was a Japanese man, who looked like we did, and people had to listen to him. That meant a lot.
As I grew older, I could better appreciate who he was and what he had accomplished as a citizen, a politician, and as a soldier. At the time of his death, he was the highest ranking elected Asian American in the US, third in line for the presidency. I’ve acquired other Asian American heroes over the years, but Dan Inouye held a special place with me.
It’s good to have heroes. These days, heroes feel smaller. In our effort to have more “human” heroes sometimes the benchmark can shift. The standard should be high, but it doesn’t mean that heroes are perfect. They have foibles and problems, and they achieve their greatness often no in spite of those weaknesses but rather because of them. Heroes should be people who inspire us to do be greater than we think we can be, not because we can achieve the same feats, but because they have opened up the possibilities and the opportunities for us to have greater dreams. Dan Inouye made me proud to be Japanese American by achieve things that other Japanese Americans couldn’t before him. Looking up to him as a boy, he showed me that my life was not confined to the narrowness of what I saw around me. My life would be what I would make of it, what I would decide I would want from it. It’s a lesson I hope my Jewpanese children will understand.