The Life of Russell Iwanaga

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Gaman is a Japanese word that means “enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity”.

My grandfather, more than anyone I have ever known, embraced this.

The story I will tell you is about Russell Yukio Iwanaga and how

the philosophy of gaman formed the cornerstone of his life and gave him the strength not only to preserver but to surpass the hardships and have an exceptional life.

My grandfather passed away this last Saturday.

But this is a story of a life, not a death; a life that was more accomplished and more impressive than any other I know of.

My grandfather was born in 1923, almost one hundred years ago. From the time he was born he faced hardship and discrimination. When his mother died when he was a child, he and his brother were forced to leave his sisters in Japan and move to America with their father.

Growing up as a Japanese American in California, he faced prejudice.  At the age seventeen, right before his high school graduation, he was given twenty-four hours to pack two bags of his things things and had to leave the rest behind. He and his family were just picked up from the streets of Los Angeles and were shipped away to be imprisoned in the Gila River Relocation Center in Arizona. Who would have known that this terrible event would change his life for the better. Because it was there that he met my grandmother.

During his time in the Internment camp, my grandpa somehow looked past his imprisonment and made the best of his situation.He lived life to the fullest and  even went to serve the country that betrayed him by becoming an interpreter in the war.

After the war, it would have been so easy to give up. But my grandfather didn’t let the camps bring him down, rather, he learned from it and became even stronger. He used these things that could break a person and used it as motivation to make something of himself. He was so brilliant and graduated from USC with a degree in Architectural design after he was released from the camp. He started his own business and achieved success.  He married the love of his life, and had four children. They traveled and and spent time together and knew what it meant to be a family. Even after the devastating event of losing their six year old daughter, he embraced gaman and kept going. He was so proud and dignified and was one of the strong men I knew. Still, he was the most amazing architect and was filled with creativity and artistic abilities. He truly was a man of many talents. Despite all the discrimination and despite the attitudes of people toward him, he held his head high and showed the world what he could do.

My Grandpa Russel had an impressive life. Despite everything that he had gone through, he made his life exactly what he wanted it to be. And in the end, He was comfortable, surrounded by the people whom he loved and who loved him. Even then, he had a spirit. The week before he passed, he radiated peace and happiness. There was constant laughter and sharing of his life’s event.

Now that I know he is in heaven with his wife, brother, best friend, and one of his daughters I know he is happy. I am at peace. The best thing for me now is that I can see him everywhere I go. He designed an island in Singapore and one in South Africa, he was one of the landscape architects in designing Dana Point on the coast of California, and parks all around around LA. He is all around me, and his legacy will live on. He is left in the trees and the plants and the flowers everywhere i go.

In a sad time like this, I don’t want this to be a eulogy. I want this to be a toast in celebration of his life. So here’s to 90 years of life. Here’s to the countless number of smiles your brought to peoples’ faces-To the stories you had to share. Here’s to the bravery and dignity that you carried with you through your life- To enduring. Here’s to someone who made something out of yourself when all odds were against you.

Here’s to you grandpa.


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