History Repeats Itself for CSUDH Alumna

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Eileen Yoshimura (Photo courtesy of Port of Los Angeles)

Eileen Yoshimura (Photo courtesy of Port of Los Angeles)

CARSON – It is often said that history repeats itself. This is true for CSU Dominguez Hills alumna Eileen Yoshimura. At least in one context.

In the mid-1970s as an undergraduate student initially majoring in English at CSUDH, Yoshimura enrolled in a general education history class taught by Donald Hata, now emeritus professor of history.

“[Hata] made history so exciting that I decided to major in history,” the Los Angeles native and Montebello resident recalled. “He also gave me the opportunity to work on the Dominguez family papers doing research. That further excited me.”

When some of the Dominguez family businesses came to an end, such as the Dominguez Estate and Del Amo Estate companies and the Dominguez Water Corporation, Yoshimura explained, many of pre-1920s to post World War II documents regarding their lease and business records were donated to the CSUDH University Library Department of Archives and Special Collections.

According to Thomas Philo, an archivist for the university’s archives and special collections, documents donated to the archives also include early records from other companies, including the Carson Estate Company and Watson Land Companies, which are still in existence today.

“The leases, the correspondences, all the files, are sitting there today,” Yoshimura said of the university’s special collections.

Through one of her classes with Hata, Yoshimura was granted access to the archives to conduct research “as they related to Japanese and Japanese Americans on the Dominguez land.” She expanded upon the research established by a prior student and wrote a research paper on her findings.

Working full-time at a commercial bank to support herself while in college, Yoshimura was also honing her math and finance skills as well as her research skills, and equally enjoyed both. But an opportunity to put her research skills to work arose, and before graduating in 1980 with a bachelor’s in history and a minor in East Asian studies, Yoshimura left the bank to take on an administrative internship assisting with historical research at the City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

After about a year with the LADWP, an opportunity presented itself, leading Yoshimura back to finance. After serving in deputy treasurer and assistant treasurer positions with the Los Angeles City Treasurer’s Office, she went on to the Los Angeles World Airports as the head of financial management systems group, and ultimately, in 2008, as the director of financial management at the Port of Los Angeles, the number one container port in the nation, a position she still holds.

The field of history all but a distant memory for Yoshimura, some 30 years later she was again inspired by her former professor to delve into the Dominguez family’s historical documents. Hata was organizing a presentation on the topic of Japanese Americans on the Dominguez lands to be offered as part of a joint project between the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute (GVJCI) and the Dominguez Rancho Adobe Museum (DRAM).

“[Hata] was putting together a panel and he, I guess, remembered my paper and found it, from over 30 years ago,” Yoshimura said.

Hata located Yoshimura and asked her to participate on the panel to discuss the findings of her earlier research of documents and correspondence on Issei and Nisei archived in the Dominguez family collection.

“At first I thought, ‘I’ll need to recall what I wrote,'” Yoshimura said.

In preparation for the presentation, she reviewed her stowed-away files and documents she had once compiled when she was a student.

“I was going through that and I was thinking, ‘Now I remember why I was so excited by this,'” said Yoshimura, a board member of the Japanese American Optimists Club of Los Angeles.

Along with Hata and Philo, Yoshimura presented at the Dominguez Rancho Adobe Museum in September 2013.

Hata said the university’s archives and special collections played a key role in what was the first GVJCI and DRAM co-sponsored event not only by providing the materials for Yoshimura’s research but also, as demonstrated in Philo’s presentation, because the university is building a multicultural local history collection that includes the diverse groups that characterize the region surrounding the campus.

Additionally, Hata provided an overview of Nikkei history, and serving as a discussant was Lane Hirabayashi, professor and George and Sakaye Aratani endowed chair of Japanese American Incarceration, Redress, and Community in the Asian American studies program at UCLA.

“The co-sponsored program was a huge success, with some 150 attendees, many of whom had never visited the beautiful grounds of the Dominguez Rancho Adobe,” Hata said.

The experience of presenting was so fulfilling for Yoshimura that it rekindled her interest in historical research, particularly in regard to Japanese Americans on Dominguez lands. Yoshimura, a Sansei, has signed on to continue the research project where her undergraduate research left off.

Working on it — once again on top of her full-time work commitment — she hopes to finish the project by 2015 and is even considering pursuing a master’s degree in history.

“I’ve been fortunate. I’ve been able to pursue my interest in the finance field and at the same time enjoy my passion for history,” Yoshimura said.

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