Rose Ochi was a powerful and widely respected legal personality who spent her career advocating civil rights. When she died late last year, the loss was felt by many who inspired her to follow her path, including myself.
From a young age, Ochi and her family were confronted with the devastating cruelty of being imprisoned with tens of thousands of other Japanese Americans at Rohwer concentration camp in Arkansas during World War II. But instead of making them bitter for a world that persecutes them because of their race, that injustice catalyzed Ochi’s passion for creating and advocating policies that built a more just and just society so that others would not have to know what she was doing. Indeed, Ochi played a key role in securing an apology and federal redemption for the survivors of the Japanese American internment camp. And because of her pivotal work with the Manzanar Committee, the former California internment camp has been designated a National Historic Site so that the injustices inflicted on the Japanese-American community are not forgotten or erased.
Despite her childhood experience – or perhaps because of it – she kept breaking through one barrier after another. This led Ochi to a long and successful career in which he not only battled injustices but also healed them. She was selected to serve on President Jimmy Carter’s Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy, through which she advocated immigration reform and helped secure thousands of undocumented immigrants en route to citizenship. And she worked with President Bill Clinton’s administration on drug policy and racial relations. Ochi also served in several roles for the City of Los Angeles, helping reduce gang violence, supporting programs for youth at risk, designing successful community policing methods, and even increasing the number of women and colored officers in the Los Angeles Police Department.