A Mountain View school district has renamed an elementary school after an iconic figure with the Mountain View Buddhist Temple who had extensive ties with the Mountain View community.
There’s an added significance in the decision to rename Frank L. Huff Elementary School in honor of Amy Imai — outside of Hawaii, there is no public school named in honor of a Japanese American Buddhist woman.
The Mountain View Whisman School District made its unanimous decision June 17 to rename Huff Elementary School after former students pointed out that Frank L. Huff had advocated racist and anti-immigrant views.
The vote came after a yearlong search for a new name for Huff Elementary School. Imai emerged as the clear favorite because of her extensive involvement with Mountain View, as well as her own personal values to educate others, encourage tolerance and cultural understanding.
Other names considered were U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and NASA scientist Katherine Johnson.
Imai was nominated by Margaret Abe-Koga, a former Mountain View mayor and current council member, and seconded by Art Takahara, also a former mayor of Mountain View.
“The entire family is very proud of her, and pleased that she has received this great honor,” said Shawn Imai, daughter-in-law of Amy Imai. “It is very gratifying to know that all of her efforts to help others, and to combat racism and injustice have made a difference. We are also pleased that her legacy of respect and compassion for others will continue because of this honor.”
Imai was born in 1930 in San Jose and spent her childhood years in Mountain View before she and her family were forcibly relocated to the Heart Mountain, Wyoming, internment camp during World War II. After the war ended, she returned to the Bay Area and graduated from Fremont High School in Sunnyvale.
She moved back to Mountain View and married Robert Imai in 1957 and she and her husband ran a carnation business for more than 30 years. Amy Imai passed away at the age of 83 in 2013.
Imai was a lifelong member of the MVBT for more than 60 years, and she and her husband were members of the church when it was called the Mountain View Buddhist Church. In 1970, the name was changed to the Mountain View Buddhist Temple.
She served as a Dharma School teacher for 45 years, including a tenure as superintendent. She was: co-editor with Toshiko Kawamoto of the Echo temple newsletter for 20 years; a member of the funeral committee; chair of the Otoki committee; co-chair with Aiko Sugimoto-Miyamoto for the MVBT’s 50th anniversary; and Senior Activities Group coordinator and helped organize the annual Old Timers Luncheon that brought together the internees to talk about their experiences. She also worked in the temple office.
Her husband’s father, Takahiro Imai, was a founding member of the MVBT.
Imai was also involved with local schools in Mountain View and Palo Alto, participating in the PTA. She served as a fundraiser for the Sister City Affiliation of Mountain View (an exchange program between Mountain View and Iwata, Japan) and helped run the organization for 35 years. In addition, she was a senior advocate with the Mountain View Committee Services Agency.
“Amy was a very accepting, respectful, and compassionate person,” Shawn Imai said. “She took a genuine interest in others and accepted them as they were. Education was of particular importance to her. She encouraged her children to do well in school, and participate in many community and church activities. She believed that having an education would give them a better life, and that the skills they learned through their activities would help them succeed in future endeavors.
“Amy also believed that an educated populace would help eliminate prejudice and injustice,” Shawn Imai continued. “That was one reason that she frequently spoke about her internment camp experience at schools, colleges, libraries, and other venues. Amy wanted younger people to understand why what happened to the Japanese American people was unjust, so that it would never happen again.”
About 25 people wrote to the school board in support of Imai and others spoke on her behalf at school board meetings on the name change, including MVBT President Bob Matsumoto.
There was a concerted effort by MVBT Sangha members for Amy Imai, according to Shawn Imai. Retired Rev. LaVerne Sasaki and his wife, Helen, Martha Okamura, Kimiyo Nishimura, Casey Katayama, Aiko Sugimoto-Miyamoto, Bruce Morimoto and Toshiko Uyehara were a few of the individuals who were part of the effort.
Last year, former students pointed out Frank L. Huff’s racist and nativist views. Huff’s biography in 1922’s "History of Santa Clara County, California" indicated that he was "strongly opposed to the immigration into our country of people who are out of harmony with American institutions and ideals, particularly those of such blood as cannot be assimilated by the Caucasian race to its benefit."
The timing of the renaming is also significant in light of the growing wave of anti-Asian hate and violence in the United States, according to school board member Chris Chiang.
“It’s powerful right now that we have this chance to tell this story,” Chiang told the Mountain View Voice, referring to the school name as a means to discuss the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
MVBT President Bob Matsumoto praised the decision and noted its significance.
“Amy Imai was a true servant leader of her community,” Matsumoto said. “Although she is no longer physically with us, her Dana spirit lives on in the naming of the former Huff Elementary School to the Amy Imai Elementary School.
“Amy’s passion for education and service to her community will continue as the new school name will serve to educate students and community about the histories of the Japanese American and Asian American communities in Mountain View,” Matsumoto continued.