Celebrating Agents of Asian Ancestry: JoAnn Sakato

JoAnn Sakato served from 1978 to 2002. She was the first female FBI agent of Asian ancestry. Her assignments included Los Angeles and Phoenix, where she coordinated training and the National Academy.

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I am JoAnn Sakato and I entered on duty in 1978. And I retired in 2002. I am fourth-generation Japanese American born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. I was the first Asian female FBI agent. I was also the first female agent from the state of Hawaii.

One Sunday I read an article about women in the FBI and I thought, "Oh, I can do that." So I applied and they were very happy to see me and I was very naïve. And of course I didn’t realize that would be the first Asian female agent.

In terms of being—the advantage to being a minority female in the FBI was that even I had the vision of a FBI agent as Efrem Zimbalist Jr. And so I could do interviews, I could work undercover and no one, it never crossed anyone’s mind that I would be a FBI agent. So that was a great advantage and I did work undercover in a number of roles and it was a good career.

I think I busted a couple of bubbles in the sense that as the first Asian female and as a Japanese female I think some of the agents expected a geisha. They expected someone to, who was very shy and retiring and reserved and soft spoken. And would say yes and not challenge people. Well, that’s not what they got when they hired me.

I’m pretty independent; always have been. And a funny story is that in the Los Angeles Field Office they would call me Dragon Lady. And I suppose in some context it could be a derogatory term. I decided to adopt that as my moniker. And I made it my own to the extent that I even had a personalized plate that said DRGNLDY and I guess I established a certain reputation for taking no prisoners. You know if you wanted to, I expected high things of myself. I expected good work, hard work. And I expected the same of others who interacted with me. And I think that I established a certain reputation of being rather harsh so others can probably tell you. But I adopted that and that was my persona. That was who I was and I wasn’t afraid of that. So I made it my own.

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