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Remembering an Asian American Pioneer PDF Print E-mail

Yuji Ichioka, 66, Coined Term "Asian American," Founded UCLA Center

UCLA Asian American Studies Center
September 2002

Internationally renowned historian and Asian American Studies pioneer Yuji Ichioka died on Sunday, September 1, 2002. 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 orga-nized the Asian American Political Alliance in 1968, he was an activist for Civil Rights and against the Viet-nam 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 Re-searcher 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 nomi-nated for the 1988 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in History and awarded the 1989 U.S. Book Award of the National Association for Asian American Studies. Prof. Ichioka, an important histo-rian 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, celebrat-ing 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:

c/o UCLA Asian American Studies Center
P.O. Box 951546
3232 Campbell Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1546

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