[R.I.P.] Yuji Ichioka, 66; Led Way in Studying Lives of Asian Americans
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FOR IMMEDIATE USE September 6, 2002
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'UCLA PROF YUJI ICHIOKA, THE CREATOR OF ASIAN AMERICA, LEAVES MAJOR
The faculty, staff, students, and alumni of the UCLA Asian American
Studies Center mourn the loss of their renowned scholar, teacher,
colleague, mentor, activist, and friend -- Professor Yuji Ichioka --
who passed away in Los Angeles on Sunday, September 1, 2002.
YUJI ICHIOKA: Renowned UCLA Historian (1936-2002)
Internationally renowned historian and Asian American Studies pioneer
Yuji Ichioka died on Sunday, September 1, 2002, in Los Angeles. He
was born on June 23, 1936 in San Francisco. During part of his
childhood, Ichioka and his family were forcibly removed and
incarcerated in the USA Topaz concentration camp during World War II.
Prof. Ichioka dedicated much of his life to social justice and
scholarly research in the U.S., Japan, and Latin America. He is
survived by his wife, Emma Gee.
Prof. Ichioka created the term "Asian American" in the late 60s.
While at U.C. Berkeley, where he organized the Asian American
Political Alliance in 1968, he was an activist for Civil Rights and
against the Vietnam War. Prof. Ichioka was a key founder of the ASIAN
AMERICAN STUDIES CENTER at UCLA, where he taught its first Asian
American Studies class in 1969. For nearly thirty-three years, Prof.
Ichioka was a Senior Researcher at the Center and an Adjunct
Professor in the Department of History. He was a dedicated instructor
who mentored both undergraduate and graduate students, many of whom
went on to become leading researchers and university professors.
"Our Center and the fields of U.S. history, Asian American Studies,
and immigrant studies," said Professor Don T. Nakanishi, DIRECTOR OF
THE UCLA ASIAN AMERICAN STUDIES CENTER, "will forever benefit from
Professor Ichioka's path-breaking intellectual contributions, his
courageous leadership, and his fiery social commitment. He was a
giant presence. He was also an avid basketball player."
The preeminent scholar of Japanese American history, Prof. Ichioka
authored the seminal book,The Issei: The World of the First
Generation Japanese Immigrant, 1885-1924, which was nominated for the
1988 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in History and awarded the 1989
U.S. History Book Award of the National Association for Asian
American Studies. Prof. Ichioka, an important historian of the
Japanese American internment during World War II, testified at the
Congressional hearings that resulted in the official Presidential
apology and redress of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.
Prof. Ichioka emphasized the importance of using both Japanese- and
English language sources to recover what he labeled the "buried past"
of Japanese American history. Over three decades, his extensive
collaborative work in compiling the JAPANESE AMERICAN RESEARCH
PROJECT (JARP) COLLECTION at UCLA-the largest and most significant
historical archive on Japanese Americans in the U.S. His numerous
articles and books, A Buried Past (1974) and A Buried Past II (1999),
provided the foundation for the field of Japanese American studies.
Prof. Ichioka also served on the editorial board of the Amerasia
Journal, the leading international journal in Asian American Studies.
In 1971 Prof. Ichioka observed that like the history of many other
racial minorities in the U.S., "Much of Japanese American history
remains unwritten." He saw his mission to help write that history,
which involved "the debunking of old distortions and myths, the
uncovering of hitherto neglected or unknown facts, and the
construction of a new interpretation of that past." Because of Yuji
Ichioka's pioneering scholarship and vision, his dedication to
teaching, and his commitment to make known the long legacy of working
peoples' resistance to injustice, new interpretations of the past
were made possible.
Prof. Ichioka was not a "scholar in the ivory tower," but throughout
his life was active with social justice issues. San Francisco civil
rights attorney Don Tamaki states: "In a modern day 'Alien Land Law'
dispute in which the San Francisco YWCA claimed sole title to an
historic building erected in the 1920's in S.F. Japantown (Soko Bukai
v. the Y.W.C.A of S.F., Sup. Ct. Case No. 269330), Prof. Ichioka
uncovered a crucial 80-year-old diary proving that the property was
actually held in trust by the YWCA for the benefit of the Japanese
American Community, and that the SF YWCA merely held 'paper title' in
order to circumvent racist laws barring Issei (immigrant Japanese
Americans) from owning real property. Even during difficult times,
Yuji selflessly continued to work on this case, volunteering his
expert historical analysis. Horace Mann once told graduating
students: 'Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for
humanity.' Yuji's indomitable spirit answered this calling."
Recently for his lifetime work in Asian Pacific Labor History,
Ichioka received the 2002 International Longshoreman and
Warehouseman's Union (ILWU) Yoneda Award at the annual conference of
the SOUTHWEST LABOR STUDIES ASSOCIATION.
The UCLA Asian American Studies Center plans to establish "THE YUJI
ICHIOKA ENDOWED CHAIR IN SOCIAL JUSTICE STUDIES" to continue the
activist scholarly work of Prof. Ichioka. Such an Endowed Chair would
recognize and support the research, teaching, and community service
activities of leading scholars, who are pursuing research that
provides new analysis of the significant historic and contemporary
role of racial, ethnic, and gendered minorities in American life.
A private family service and a later public memorial, celebrating his
life and work, will be held. The family requests that any donations
be made to: "THE YUJI ICHIOKA ENDOWED CHAIR IN SOCIAL JUSTICE
STUDIES." Please send cards or donations to:
YUJI ICHIOKA FUND
c/o UCLA Asian American Studies Center
P.O. Box 951546, 3230 Campbell Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1546
For more information, please contact Don Nakanishi, Director,
UCLA Asian American Studies Center, (310) 825-2974, or
Don T. Nakanishi, Ph.D.
Director and Professor
UCLA Asian American Studies Center
3230 Campbell Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1546
web site for Center: www.sscnet.ucla.edu/aasc
Yuji Ichioka, 66; Led Way in Studying Lives of Asian Americans
By K. CONNIE KANG, TIMES STAFF WRITER
Yuji Ichioka, a UCLA historian and community activist who coined the
term "Asian American" in the late 1960s to advance the rationale for
bringing diverse Asian groups together, has died. He was 66.
Ichioka died Sunday of cancer in Los Angeles.
A founder of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center in 1969, Ichioka
was considered by many to be the nation's foremost authority on
Japanese American history.
A man of many dimensions, the San Francisco-born scholar was known
not only for his pursuit of social justice and research to recover
the "buried past" of the early Japanese settlers, but also for his
zest for life: playing basketball, eating, drinking and traveling.
Ichioka mastered Japanese to tackle the original sources of immigrant
life, such as diaries, letters and old newspapers. His seminal
work, "Issei: The World of the First Generation Japanese Immigrants,
1885-1924," won the 1989 U.S. History Book Award of the National
Assn. for Asian American Studies.
"Yuji was a complex man who had just a wonderful thirst for life,"
said Don T. Nakanishi, director of the UCLA Asian American Studies
Center, the nation's largest facility for Asian American studies
research. "On one hand, Yuji spent a lot of his time in quiet
contemplation of going through records [in Japanese] that nobody went
through, and on the other hand, he loved to interact with people."
Nakanashi said Ichioka could be "cranky" at times, but at the same
time was "an incredibly supportive mentor" to many doctoral students,
professors and scholars.
Scholars say Ichioka's contributions in compiling the Japanese
American Research Project Collection at UCLA has made it the nation's
largest and most significant historical archives on Japanese
They say his many articles and two of his books, "A Buried Past"
and "A Buried Past II," provided the foundation for Japanese American
Ichioka was a man ahead of his times.
In the 1960s, when people of Asian ancestry totaled fewer than 1
million, compared to nearly 11.9 million in the 2000 census, the idea
of Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos and Koreans joining together for a
shared political purpose was unheard of. And the proposition that
Asians needed to forge an alliance with blacks, Latinos and Native
Americans to work on a common agenda was even more strange.
Yet Ichioka created the first inter-ethnic pan-Asian American
political group. And he coined the term "Asian American" to frame a
new self-defining political lexicon. Before that, people of Asian
ancestry were generally called Oriental or Asiatic.
In 1968, when Black Panther leader Huey Newton was on trial in
Oakland, charged with killing a police officer, Ichioka marched with
the members of his newly created Asian American Political Alliance.
He did not agree with Newton's politics, he told The Times in a 1997
interview, but he thought Newton, like all citizens, deserved to be
treated fairly by his government.
The next year, UCLA established the Asian American Studies Center and
Ichioka taught the first course.
His role in creating the academic discipline was a logical outgrowth
of his commitment to teach histories that weren't part of the
More than 120 years after the first Japanese immigrants came, Ichioka
stands out as the researcher who documented and analyzed the Japanese
American experience from the immigrants' perspective.
He gathered his materials over many years by talking families into
turning over from their garages and attics dusty trunks and boxes
left by their ancestors.
"Yuji loved the people he wrote about," Nakanishi said. "He wanted to
capture what their life was really like."
Contrary to the popular view, Asian immigrants weren't docile people
who only worked hard and kept to themselves, Ichioka once said, but
instead they fought the injustice of exploitive employers with
strikes and demonstrations.
Ichioka's firsthand experience with racism influenced his outlook on
social justice. His family was interned during World War II. He also
lived among blacks in Berkeley, and picked fruit alongside Mexicans
in the Central Valley.
After undergraduate studies at UCLA, he earned a master's degree at
UC Berkeley and did graduate work at Columbia, but decided not to
pursue a doctorate because he thought it was a "waste of time."
For 33 years, Ichioka was senior researcher at the Asian American
Studies Center and an adjunct professor in the history department.
"Yuji was not a scholar in the ivory tower," said San Francisco civil
rights attorney Don Tamaki.
In a modern-day "Alien Land Law" dispute in which the San Francisco
YWCA claimed sole title to a historic building erected in the 1920s
in the city's Japantown, Ichioka uncovered a crucial 80-year-old
diary proving that the property was actually held in trust by the
YWCA for the benefit of the Japanese American community.
His research showed that the San Francisco YWCA merely held "paper
title" to circumvent laws barring Asian immigrants from owning real
estate, Tamaki said.
"Even during difficult times [after the onset of cancer], Yuji
selflessly continued to work on the case, volunteering his expert
historical analysis," he said.
Emma Gee, Ichioka's wife of more than 25 years, said Ichioka remained
himself no matter where he went.
When he was a visiting professor at Tokyo University in 1999, he kept
a basketball in his office and dribbled in the room. It was an
unthinkable thing for a respected teacher in Japan.
In addition to his wife, Ichioka is survived by his mother, Sei, and
brothers Eddie and Victor, all of the San Francisco Bay Area; and
sisters Pat S. Traylor of La Jolla and Yowko Richardson of Portland,
Gee said a public memorial will be held in October. The family
requests that any donations be made to the Yuji Ichioka Endowed Chair
in Social Studies at UCLA, c/o UCLA Asian American Studies Center,
P.O. Box 951546, 3230 Campbell Hall, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1546.