BY JACKIE GRAESSLE – On February 5, UH Mānoa’s Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work alumnus Masaru Oshiro ’54 was named a Living Treasure of Hawai`i by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawai`i at their 36th annual awards ceremony.
Oshiro joins a presitgious honor roll, including past recipients Irmgard Aluli, Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell, Gladys Brandt, Father Claude Du Teil, Maxine Hong Kingston, Likeke Paglinawan, Gabby Pahinui, Mary Kawena Puku`i, Nainoa Thompson, and Myron “Pinky” Thompson, to name a few.
His first experience helping others was as a volunteer case aid with the American Red Cross assisting families of Korean War veterans. Oshiro found that he loved the work. Following his service in WWII, he obtained his master of social work degree from UH Manoa on the GI Bill. Oshiro’s career has since spanned 40 years, much of which included unpaid service.
One fortuitous decision was accepting a position as a social worker at the Queen Lili`uokalani Children’s Center in 1963 where he remained for twelve years, being promoted to executive director in 1967. It was here that Oshiro’s association with renowned social workers Myron “Pinky” Thompson (social work alumnus & 2002 Living Treasure recipient), Likeke Paglinawan (social work alumnus and 2006 Living Treasure recipient), and psychiatrist Jack Haertig helped sharpen his clinical and administrative skills.
This was a period of time in Hawai‘i when there was a resurgence of pride in “things Hawaiian,” including traditional music, dance, and other cultural practices such as lo`i farming. It was also a time of intense land and water rights struggles. Noticing that classic western social work was not effective with some of the Hawaiian children, the workers brought their concerns to Oshiro. He encouraged them to explore other practices. They created the “culture committee” – the purpose of which was to examine the cultural aspects of conflict in Hawaiian families. Kumu Mary Kawena Puku`i was generous enough to observe their case presentations and provide advice and mentoring.
The committee (including Lynette Paglinawan, also a social work alumna) resurrected ancient healing practices, including ho`oponopono. These had been forced underground or discredited when early missionaries prohibited Native Hawaiians from engaging in many indigenous practices, including speaking in their native tongue. Out of these consultations, the classic two-volume Nana I Ke Kumu (Look to the Source) was published and is still in use today.
Throughout his career, Oshiro never lost contact with the American Red Cross. He provided mental health support services in numerous Hawai`i disasters. He also provided mental health services in the 9/11 World Trade Center Attack in New York City, the California Central Valley Flood, the Korean Airlines Flight #801 crash in Guam, and the TWA flight #800 crash off the coast of Long Island.
A few of his accolades include being selected as Social Worker of the Year by the National Association of Social Work three times, recognition from Elizabeth Dole (former president of the American Red Cross) for his outstanding mental health services to disaster victims, and being listed in Men and Women of Hawai‘i twice.