After a year of deliberation, the Mountain View Whisman School District Board of Trustees voted unanimously June 17 to rename Frank L. Huff Elementary School after Amy Imai, a Japanese-American woman who was a prominent figure in the local community.
The move follows the board’s decision last year to rename the school after former students brought to light Huff’s racist and anti-immigrant views.
“His intolerance toward fellow humans who were merely of different backgrounds shocked and horrified me,” said a former student, whom the district kept anonymous at the recent board meeting. “Huff’s views did not represent us, and because he was the namesake of the school, we felt a change should be made.”
That change was to honor Imai.
While the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and NASA scientist Katherine Johnson were also considered, Imai was chosen because of her significance to the community.
“To the city of Mountain View ... this is major,” trustee Ellen Wheeler said in an earlier meeting held June 3.
Imai, born in 1930, spent her childhood in Mountain View before she was forcibly relocated to an internment camp with her family during World War II. After returning to the Bay Area and graduating from Fremont High School in Sunnyvale, she moved back to Mountain View and ran a carnation business with her husband. Imai died in 2013 at age 83.
Righting an injustice
Within the community, Imai was an avid volunteer with many local organizations, including the Mountain View Buddhist Temple, Mountain View’s Sister Cities International program and Community Services Agency. She also made an effort to speak about her time in the internment camp.
“She was never bitter about it ever,” daughter-in-law Shawn Imai said. “She wanted people to understand why it was unjust so something like that would never happen again.”
Shawn Imai recalled that her mother-in-law was not only driven herself, but also encouraged others to participate in the community so Asian Americans would be represented and could be a “positive catalyst” for change.
With approximately 45% of the school’s students identifying as Asian or Pacific Islander, Shawn Imai hopes that students at the newly rebranded Imai Elementary School will have a “representative and voice” through the namesake.
“The family is very proud of her and very pleased that she was nominated,” she said. “We’re happy that her legacy will be carried on because of this honor.”
Board trustee Christopher Chiang said he hopes Amy Imai’s name will “be a launching point to talk about Asian-American history.” He wants to see an educational component added to the school site – adding that Mountain View has a long Asian-American history.
The timing of the renaming also coincides with a rise in anti-Asian racism. According to San Francisco State University’s Stop AAPI Hate reporting center, there have been at least 2,808 self-reported incidents of anti-Asian hate in the U.S. since the pandemic began – 708 of which occurred in the Bay Area. Locally, residents have rallied against the increase in hate crimes and violence, with a crowd gathering in downtown Mountain View in April to protest anti-Asian hate.
While Chiang acknowledged that Frank Huff did a lot of good for the district and his anti-Asian views were very common at the time, they are no longer representative of the community the district serves.
“It closes an injustice,” Chiang said. “To have a school whose name represented a period in Mountain View history that was anti-Asian, then to rename the school after somebody who turned her own anti-Asian experiences into a form of community leadership, is a form of justice.”