ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- Some fortunate people have mentors that enlighten them and show the way forward in life. Such is the case with the guest speaker for this year's Rock Island Arsenal Asian-American Pacific Islander Observance held May 21 at Heritage Hall.

Mat Matsuda shared the story of his mentor -- Mikiso Hane or "Miki" as he called him -- a professor who also taught at Knox College and was an internationally renowned scholar of Japanese history among other subjects.

Knox College is a liberal arts college in Galesburg, Ill.

This year's theme is "I Am Beyond" and speaks of the many sacrifices Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have endured throughout America's growth and development.

Although Hane was born to immigrant parents in California and educated in Japan, he came back in 1940 -- a time of major turbulence between the two countries that would be at war beginning Dec. 8, 1941, a day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Following the war's outbreak, Hane was "sent to a camp in Arizona for 18 months," said Matsuda, who was born and raised in Japan and is a naturalized U.S. citizen. The camp was an internment camp for Japanese people living in the United States -- many of them U.S. citizens -- to prevent them from colluding with Japan during World War II. Hane was released in 1943 after applying to teach Japanese for an Army program at Yale University.

"He started the [Japanese] language program during the war," Matsuda said in an interview after the observance. "He's an inspiration," he said, adding that Hane was "was one of the most liked professors" at Knox.

Hane went on to earn his doctorate degree and eventually taught a wide-range of history at Knox College from 1961-1992. He then taught part time for the next 13 years. Following in his footsteps was Matsuda, who also achieved the same level of education as Hane, eventually teaching at Knox College in 1999.

"I didn't even know he was at Knox College," said a surprised Matsuda. By the time he met Hane, Hane was now teaching only a class per semester due to failing health. He died in 2003 at 81.

But what attracted Matsuda to Hane was Hane's books -- a total of 14 -- which addressed women, the oppressed, peasants and the outcasts in pre-war Japan.

He "let the oppressed [be heard] in their own voices" through his books via personal narratives based on interviews Hane conducted, Matsuda said.

"No scholar has done more than Mikiso Hane to enable Westerners to understand what Japan's modern history has really meant to the Japanese people," wrote historian John Dower of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology about Hane's books in 1992, according to Hane's obituary on the Knox College website.

Following Hane's death, Matsuda proudly carried the torch to expand Asian and Japanese studies specifically, but it came at a cost.

"I worked overtime until I almost ruined my health," Matsuda said. "We walked the road Professor Hane paved for us."

Matsuda concentrated his efforts in two main areas: Developing an exchange program with Japanese universities and starting an Asian Studies curriculum at Knox.

"Professor Hane is the role model," Matsuda said. He "taught me to be 'beyond,' " referring to this year's theme.

In 1991, Hane became a member on the National Council on the Humanities after being nominated by President George H. W. Bush, Matsuda said.

Following his speech, two young ladies from "Aloha Chicago Entertainment" danced in costume to a few Asian/Pacific-styled musical selections.

After this, Col. Darren Werner, chief of staff, U.S. Army Sustainment Command, and Command Sgt. Maj. James Spencer, ASC, presented Matsuda with a certificate of appreciation for his participation in the observance.

One attendee, Yancy Bolden, a systems analyst with the Joint Munitions Command, praised to the observance.

"It was great," he said, of learning about Hane and his writings of "humanist beliefs, writing about the oppressed, and the not-well represented.

"I was glad to see the professor wanted to pick up the baton," Bolden said of Matsuda.


On May 2, 1978, a joint Congressional resolution established Asian-Pacific American Heritage

The first 10 days of May were chosen to coincide with two important milestones in Asian Pacific American history: The arrival in the United States of the first Japanese immigrants on May 7, 1843, and contributions of Chinese workers in the building of the transcontinental railroad, completed May 10, 1869.

In 1992, Congress expanded the observance to a month-long celebration. See this link for more:

Each May, the Department of Defense joins the nation in honoring the history of Asian- and Pacific-Americans and their important contributions. The vast diversity of languages, religions, and cultural traditions continue to strengthen America.

For more on observance-related topics: