SANTA ROSA — Mei Takaya Nakano, a longtime community activist and advocate in the Bay Area, passed away peacefully on March 26 after a brief decline from an accidental fall. She was 92.
Born in Olathe, Colo. on Dec. 1, 1924, Nakano was one of eight children of Japanese immigrant writer parents who worked as tenant farmers in the 1920s. Eventually moving to Los Angeles with her family, she attended high school and met her husband, Shiro (Shi), whom she married in 1942 while incarcerated in a War Relocation Authority camp at Amache, Colo. Her husband was drafted out of camp to serve in the Military Intelligence Service.
After the war, the couple returned to California and raised three children — son Chris Nakano, daughter Nikki Nakano Omi (Philip), and son Philip Nakano. Mei Nakano is survived by them as well as grandchildren, great-grandchildren, a sister and two brothers.
At age 46, she studied at San Francisco State University and graduated summa cum laude in language and literature. She subsequently earned an MA from Cal State East Bay, and taught English at Laney and Diablo Valley colleges.
Finding a passion for writing, Nakano co-founded Mina Press Publishing and published a children’s folk tale, “Riko Rabbit,” later authoring a description of her experiences being incarcerated as a U.S. citizen and documenting the struggles of Japanese Americans, women in particular, in her book “Japanese American Women: Three Generations,” first published in 1991. She also wrote a monthly column for the JACL’s newspaper, Pacific Citizen.
She organized an Asian American women’s conference in Oakland in 1992, served as a delegate to the White House Conference for Asian Pacific Women, and attended the 1995 Women’s Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in Beijing.
By the mid-1990s, focusing her concerns on human and civil rights issues, Nakano engaged in a range of activities centered largely in the Sonoma County area, where she lived, while continuing to share her experiences and opinions in articles, essays and public speaking. She helped to establish and chair the first Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights, participated on the board of the Sonoma County JACL, and was active in the Peace and Justice Center of Sonoma County and the Sonoma County Peace Crane Project.
For her activism and achievements, Nakano was recognized and honored on numerous occasions during her lifetime.
She was married for 72 years when her husband passed away in 2016. Nakano always enjoyed yard work, gardening, and time with her family, but in later years she enthusiastically added Warrior games on TV to her activities.
Her children would like to express their sincere gratitude for the care given their mother by the staff at Brookdale Chanate-Assisted Living in Santa Rosa. All are invited to join the family at a memorial gathering on June 10 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Glaser Center of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 547 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. In lieu of flowers, and in honor of her favorite style of dining, bring a small refreshment or snack to share.