2017 Grand Marshal

Rose Matsui Ochi, Juris Doctor

Along with 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, Rose Matsui Ochi’s family was incarcerated in one of America’s concentration camps. This tragic episode in our lives, taught her about injustices and our duty to seek to right the governmental wrongdoings. She dedicated her career to ensuring fairness and equality for all. First as a Reginald Smith, Poverty Lawyer at USC’s Western Center on Law & Poverty, she was the co-counsel in the landmark equal education law reform trial Serrano v. Priest. After winning the law suit, Ochi joined Mayor Tom Bradley’s new administration, serving as program coordinator, then deputy director before succeeding Terry Hatter when he became a judge. As director of the Criminal Justice Office, Ochi advised Mayor Tom Bradley on justice-related policies and programs, including writing the Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) deadly force policy after Eula Love’s death; and told the mayor and council to settle the Blake discrimination case, which resulted in a more inclusive LAPD.

Ochi was proud to have served two presidents. First, she was appointed to serve on President Jimmy Carter’s Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy. Next, under President Bill Clinton, Ochi was initially appointed to the White House Office of Drug Control Policy, as associate director. Then Attorney General Janet Reno hired her. Ochi became the first Asian American woman to serve at the assistant attorney level, as director of the Race Relation arm in the Justice Department. She oversaw hate crimes cases, such as the brutal dragging death of James Byrd Jr., the arson of black churches, and her agency designed President Bill Clinton’s Initiative on Race, “Bridging the Racial Divide.” Upon Ochi’s return to the Los Angeles, Mayor James Hahn appointed her to serve as a LAPD police commissioner, the first Asian American woman on the commission and to hold the position of vice president.

Growing up in the Japanese American community, Ochi played in the AA women’s basketball league for Yamato Employment earning an all-star selection. She was the East Los Angeles Japanese American Citizens League Queen of the Emerald Ball, becoming its Nisei Week queen candidate. Later, she modeled in the Nisei Week fashion shows, and also served as a judge for both the Nisei Week queen coronation and the baby shows. For the wartime redress campaign, Ochi takes great pride in President Ronald Reagan’s acknowledgement of her role in securing passage of the redress bill at the White House signing ceremony.

Ochi also feels very personally rewarded to have helped Sue Kunitomi Embrey, chair of the Manzanar committee, as pro bono legal counsel in advocating passage of the federal law that authorized the establishment of the Manzanar National Historic Site (MNHS), which was the first to be congressionally authorized.

Today, Ochi is very gratified to learn that more than one million visitors have been to Manzanar and learned about the travesty of injustice the Japanese American community had to stoically endure. Now, as we celebrate the 77th Nisei Week Japanese Festival, we all can pause to celebrate our collective accomplishments and contributions to our nation, the City of Los Angeles, and Little Tokyo.