Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Keith Takata



By Keith Takata, Deputy Regional Administrator

I’m a child of ‘50s, born and raised on a small farm in the Santa Clara Valley, long before the term Silicon Valley was coined. I graduated from a country elementary school, kindergarten through 8th grade, with 16 kids. I spent a lot of time at the Buddhist Church in San Jose’s Japanese American community.

After high school, I went to U.C. Berkeley during the years of social protest. I was heavily involved in the “Third World Strike” to establish an Ethnic Studies Department and stop the Vietnam War.

Figuring I eventually needed to get a job, I went to law school at U.C. Davis, passed the bar, and went to work for EPA’s regional Enforcement Division in San Francisco. My early career at EPA was lackluster until I switched to management, and found my calling.

I started the Superfund program here in 1981, and that’s where I’ve spent the bulk of my career. I liked the direct federal responsibility for Superfund sites and I love the action of emergency response. Last year, duty called and I am now Deputy Regional Administrator.

Every now and then there is a nice confluence of work and life. Recently I took part in the groundbreaking for a cleanup in Richmond, Calif. funded by an EPA Brownfields grant. The money is being used to clean up an area where 17 Japanese American families operated flower nurseries for over a century. After the cleanup, Richmond will develop new housing, preserve an original home and greenhouse, and create open space for the community.

The project is close to my heart because I grew up with farm families who went through some of the same experiences as Japanese Americans in Richmond. My family was interned during World War II just as they were. My father served in the military just as many of their young men did. After the war, my parents returned to San Jose to start farming again just like they did in Richmond.

This generation of Japanese Americans—my parents and grandparents–had the strength to rise above the challenges, just as I know the Japanese people will rise from the recent tragedy of earthquake and tsunami.

As I reach the end of my career, I reflect on the gains we’ve made in environmental protection, but more importantly, I think about what we’ve left undone. Every day a new threat appears, like hydrofracturing and the BP oil spill. We should have more aggressively protected the environment, but now it’s time to pass the torch to the next generation. Are you ready?

About the author: Keith Takata is the Deputy Regional Administrator for EPA Pacific Southwest Region (Region 9). Keith is a Sansei (third generation) Japanese American.

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