Glenn Omatsu to Receive Kiriyama Education Award


Glenn Omatsu (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto/Rafu Shimpo)

The George Kiriyama Educational Excellence Award committee of the Cherry Blossom Festival Southern California has announced Glenn Omatsu as the 2011 honoree.

The festival will be held on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 24-25, in Little Tokyo. A ceremony for this and other awards will be held Saturday at 12:30 p.m. on the Blossom Stage.

Omatsu is a lecturer in Asian American studies and the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) and also teaches classes at Pasadena City College and UCLA.

At CSUN, he teaches EOP freshmen who are the first in their low-income families to attend college and who have high academic potential despite doing poorly in high school.  He also serves as coordinator of the Faculty Mentor Program.

At UCLA, he teaches service-learning classes focusing on Asian American social movements and Asian immigrant labor struggles.

He is co-editor (with Steve Louie) of “Asian Americans: The Movement and the Moment” and co-editor (with Edith Chen) of “Teaching About Asian Pacific Americans: Effective Strategies, Activities, and Assignments for Classrooms and Communities.” He also has written articles on Freedom Schooling, liberatory pedagogy, anti-colonial mentoring, immigrant labor campaigns, and other social movements for justice.

The award committee annually considers candidates who are administrators in the K-12 public school system or instructors in higher education.  George Kiriyama’s areas of educational leadership included multicultural diversity and curriculum development, training teachers and administrators in the Japanese American experience and mentoring for leadership roles in education.

The committee— retired Los Angeles Unified School District administrator Kiyo Fukumoto and Iku Kiriyama, retired LAUSD educator and widow of George Kiriyama — selected Omatsu as he especially stood out as a longtime mentor of students in higher education. Among his students at UCLA and CSUN, Omatsu has been admired and respected for encouraging and guiding his students to always look forward to the possibilities they can accomplish.

It was for his mentorship that he was recognized by the Japanese American Historical Society of Southern California in 1993 as a Community Heritage Award honoree.

Hitting close to home, it was also Omatsu who challenged George and Iku’s daughter, Traci — a long-time admirer of the Asian American studies program at UCLA — to work towards establishing a similar program at CSU Fullerton.  Because of his encouragement, she helped to lead the effort to establish Asian American studies as a minor at CSUF; it subsequently became available as a major.

“I definitely consider him one of my mentors in encouraging me and others to work with students and faculty at CSUF to get Asian American Studies off the ground at school,” stated Traci Kato-Kiriyama.  “He was a part of the reason that I didn’t just keep hanging around at UCLA every week. I’m just a tiny example of the many Asian American and JA students that he’s inspired and mentored to continue not just as activists and organizers, but as educators.”

Festival hours are 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday, 10:30 a.m .to 5 p.m. Sunday. Entrances are at Temple at Alameda and Hewitt at First Street. Admission is $1 general, free for kids 3 and under.

The festival will feature a martial arts arena, a cultural pavilion, a Hawaiian village, a J-pop stage, a kids’ fun area, a good court, a beer and sake garden, a kimono fashion show, and a “Most Photogenic Dog” contest. For more information, visit or


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