Generations Gather at CSULB Asian American Studies Reunion

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Speakers and honorees (from left): Yoko Pusavat, Megan Ono, Jim Matsuoka, Lloyd Inui, Alan Nishio, Chris Aihara, Carrie Morita, Evelyn Yoshimura.

Speakers and honorees (from left): Yoko Pusavat, Megan Ono, Jim Matsuoka, Lloyd Inui, Alan Nishio, Chris Aihara, Carrie Morita, Evelyn Yoshimura.

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — It was an evening of both nostalgia and hope for the future as nearly 200 people gathered at Cal State Long Beach’s Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden on Sept. 27 for the CSULB Asian American Studies (AAS) Reunion.

The event was open to past or present students, faculty, staff and anyone else connected with the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies (as it is now known) since its inception in the late 1960s.

Reunion committee members Audrey Yamamoto Kamiya and Diana Ando Ono.

Reunion committee members Audrey Yamamoto Kamiya and Diana Ando Ono.

Audrey Yamamoto Kamiya, a member of the event committee, worked with Lloyd Inui, then director of AAS, as department secretary. She also recalled two mentors, Chris (Iwanaga) Aihara and the late Duane Ebata. “They were very supportive and even inspirational to me throughout my years with the program. In 1979 before I graduated, Lloyd and Chris approached me and asked if I’d be interested in taking Chris’ place in the office because she wanted to pursue her education on a full-time basis … I started working in the department for five years, and I cherish those five years.”

The reunion committee also included alumni Patty Ito Nagano, Sue Oda Omori, Diana Ando Ono and Kathy Tokudomi.

Aihara, who went on to serve as executive director of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, said, “All of us who went through the program have to say that was a very important time for each of us. For me it really … exposed me to Japanese American history and experience … really impacted the person I am today … I was especially lucky to be the Asian American Studies secretary because I did have an opportunity to work with … Lloyd Inui, and I really, truly see him as a mentor. I think that it’s because of Lloyd that I have the perspective that I do hold about community.”

Dan Kuramoto, Kimo Cornwell and June Kuramoto of Hiroshima performed. Dan Kuramoto was also an honoree.

Dan Kuramoto, Kimo Cornwell and June Kuramoto of Hiroshima performed. Dan Kuramoto was also an honoree.

“Reaching a Boiling Point”

Evelyn Yoshimura and Carrie Furuya Morita, who continue to be active in the Little Tokyo community today, were recognized for their role in establishing AAS and their lifelong commitment to social justice.

Recalling 1968, Yoshimura said, “America was reaching a boiling point at that time. The civil rights movement, especially in the South; passage of the Voting Rights Act … legal segregation, which also affected us as Asian Americans, began to crumble … Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in April of that year and cities across America were going up in flames … The government was drafting more and more young men to fight in Vietnam at that time and everyone was getting drafted …

Reunion committee members Kathy Tokudomi and Sue Oda Omori.

Reunion committee members Kathy Tokudomi and Sue Oda Omori.

“Four hundred miles to the north of us at San Francisco State and UC Berkeley, black, Latino, Native American and … Asian American students together had gone out on strike demanding ethnic studies and minority admissions, unheard of at any college at the time.”

Yoshimura and Morita dedicated the program to activists who have passed away, including Charlotte Murakami, “Big Bob” Uno and Art Sumi.

“I arrived in Long Beach in the fall of 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War, and it was actually during my freshman year when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated,” Morita said. “My education came not from the lecture halls or the classrooms or the labs but rather from the many sit-ins and other protests against the Vietnam War …

“I was 19 years old when I met Lloyd … We were all thrilled back then with our brothers and sisters who were part of brown studies and black studies because we got a trailer, we got a place to call our own. Certainly at that time I had no idea of the significance of those first Asian American studies courses … I graduated from Long Beach in 1971 and 36 years later my son Ty, sitting right there, graduated from Long Beach with an Asian American studies degree.”

Megan Ono gives a tour of the Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden.

Megan Ono gives a tour of the Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden.

“Bringing Significant Change”

Inui, one of the evening’s honorees, remarked, “One of the best things … about an event like tonight is that it gives us a chance to enjoy each other and renew some of the times we had with people that we seldom have a chance to interact with. But besides that it also reminds us of that era, a time and events which … compelled us to get involved. And that resulted in us becoming students and social activists in that period.

“So much has transpired since that time, but having a reunion here in 2015 at Cal State Long Beach’s Japanese garden … is quite appropriate because I think we can claim that we had a part in enabling the garden site that we’re enjoying this evening to become a valued part of the university. A very different garden would be here today if student activism didn’t continue in compelling the university to seek the funds and make the fundamental changes of the original design and layout of the garden.

Reunion committee member Patty Ito Nagano.

Reunion committee member Patty Ito Nagano.

“Although it was done with the best intentions, unfortunately, it was culturally deficient and even insensitive. That kind of activism made it possible for it to be a more truly Japanese garden rather than simply a garden that mimicked what Japanese tried to do. Likewise, your student activism … was responsible for initiating a single class in the fall of 1969 (and) launched an experimental program that has developed today into the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies. It is now a unit that has a 45-year history and has become a vital part of the curricular offerings here at the university …

“I don’t think any of us here needs to claim credit for this achievement, but I think we can all be proud of bringing significant change to higher education and … ensuring the experience and role of Asian Americans, that their voice, their presence, would be a part of the educational options of today’s students.”

Dan Kuramoto, leader of the band Hiroshima, was recognized as the university’s first AAS instructor. Describing the era when AAS was formed as “kind of a golden age,” he said, “I met a lot of very cool people … I felt very lucky to be part of that … It was a great experience. I’m glad that everyone’s here.”

Later in the program, Hiroshima songs were performed by Dan Kuramoto on flute, June Kuramoto on koto and Kimo Cornwell on keyboards. Dan Kuramoto explained how one of the songs came about. “Our mother, she told us a story about being in camp at Manzanar as a young woman, about how it was so surreal … The thing that struck her the most was what it was like at night … The wind would howl and at the same the stars would be so clear up in the sky … June had this idea that we would do this song in Japanese terms … The shakuhachi is the wind and the koto is the stars.”

Miko Shudo and Friends performed.

Miko Shudo and Friends performed.

“It Ain’t Over”

Another honoree was Alan Nishio, former CSULB associate vice president for student services and a leader in many community organizations, including Little Tokyo Service Center. He was introduced by Jim Matsuoka, former EOP (Educational Opportunity Program) director at CSULB, who was recruited from UCLA by Nishio.

“I’ve always considered Lloyd kind of the Yoda of Asian American Studies,” Nishio said of his fellow honoree. “The quiet conscience, the guiding force that really gave us a sense of spirit and direction for what Asian American Studies was all about.”

Steve Nagano posts CSULB AAS flyers from the 1970s.

Steve Nagano posts CSULB AAS flyers from the 1970s.

Nishio remembered the first class that he taught at CSULB in 1972 as an inauspicious beginning. “It was called ‘Asian Philosophy and Religions.’ Trust me, I didn’t know what Asian philosophy and religions was, but I said I would teach the course, so I tried to stay about a week ahead of the students.”

He described the late ’60s and early ’70s as “a time that engaged and empowered students in developing our own sense of identity, in developing our story of who we were and why it was important for our stories to be taught, a time when we truly felt optimism for the future but more a sense of responsibility for what we needed to do to change the university and in many ways change society so it became one that welcomed and understood people of color and low-income people.”

Recalling his interactions with the Asian American, African American, Latino and Native American student organizations on campus, Nishio said, “This place has always been special in terms of … the fact that students of color worked together, and they spent time in EOP and ethnic studies (and events like) the Third World Drum Festival. We had a lot of things going on where there was a lot of unity among students of color.”

Looking to the future, Nishio said, “It’s important for those of us that are here for the reunion … to understand that it ain’t over. In many ways we were privileged to be part of a very special time and place in society and the university, but you know there’s still a lot of mileage left in us … Rather than looking back at what was, we need to look forward on what we can continue to do to pass on the legacy of engagement, empowerment and people working together for community and social justice.”

Franklin Odo, who taught at CSULB from 1972 to 1978 and is currently a visiting professor at Amherst College, was unable to attend but sent a tribute to Inui and Nishio that was read during the program.

Jeanette Schelin of the Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden gives a tour.

Jeanette Schelin of the Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden gives a tour.

“Support the Garden”

The younger generation was represented by Megan Ono, a second-generation CSULB grad who has been a docent and membership/marketing assistant at the garden and has been active with Nikkei Student Union and Kizuna.

“Built for more than its beauty, this garden is a learning laboratory,” she said. “We promote educational and cultural engagement and I think tonight is a true testament to that, being here and learning about the stories of our pioneers … I was able to be so involved and active on campus because of the hard work of those who came before us, making opportunities available for everyone of every skin color, every ethnicity.”

Honoree Yoko Pusavat with Barbara Kim of the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies.

Honoree Yoko Pusavat with Barbara Kim of the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies.

The garden provides “a pipeline and pathway for students to success” through its internship program and hosts “different events that promote the Japanese culture and education,” Ono said. “We have gotten support from various donors … to create an educational facility and to revamp some of our existing facilities here on our campus. I want to invite all of you to be a part of that … Come back and support the garden to grow even further …

“As a Yonsei … I feel that our generation has a real calling and a responsibility … to bring our community together, and I think the Japanese garden is a perfect place to promote that coming together. But most importantly we have the responsibility to pass on the stories and legacies of those like Alan and Lloyd.”

The evening’s final honoree was Yoko Pusavat, professor emerita in Japanese linguistics, a board member of the Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden Educational Outreach Committee, and vice president of the Long Beach-Yokkaichi Sister City Association.

Pusavat recalled her efforts to keep a Japanese language program on campus. “This particular university did not have a department of foreign languages … We were initially housed in the Department of German and Classical Languages. When the time came to restructure the language programs … we became homeless.”

“Asian Studies and Asian American Studies were separate programs. We were very fortunate that Lloyd and the Center for Asian American Studies accommodated the Japanese language program in their office … so we had a roof over our head… I’m very grateful for that opportunity.”

Evelyn Yoshimura and Carrie Morita gave a rhyming introduction of fellow honoree Lloyd Inui.

Evelyn Yoshimura and Carrie Morita gave a rhyming introduction of fellow honoree Lloyd Inui.

Years later, the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies was created and Asian languages were included, Pusavat said. “It’s a very unique department. You won’t find one like that across the nation … combining them together culturally and linguistically, and language plays a very important role.”

In the 1970s, Pusavat developed a Japanese curriculum based on the communication-based approach used to teach Spanish and German. She was instrumental in launching a Japanese BA program at CSULB and later a Japanese credential program that has produced teachers at the high school level.

“By teaching, I learn, and then by learning I can do something for myself as well as do something for others … I can make a little bit of difference in somebody’s life,” she said.

Now retired for eight years, Pusavat said that among the programs she is involved with as a volunteer, “this particular garden is very close to my heart … a place to nurture people … If you’re going to continue to be involved in Asian American Studies, also consider to be involved in the Japanese Garden.”

The event, which was catered by Cherrystones in Gardena, included tours of the garden led by Ono and Jeanette Schelin, senior director of the garden, and music by Miko Shudo and Friends. Proceeds will go to provide an opportunity for a student to work on an Asian Pacific Islander community project.

J.K. Yamamoto is a 1981 graduate of CSULB and a member of the reunion planning committee.

Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo

The Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden provided a tranquil setting for the event.

The Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden provided a tranquil setting for the event.

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