LTHS Presents ‘A Legacy of Japanese American Activism’

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Nick Nagatani carrying Mr. Nishioka from the mobile chest X-ray van during the first Community Health Fair organized by JACS-Asian Involvement in 1971. Photo by Dr. Ernie Nagamatsu, who made it into a poster.

America in the 1960s and ’70s was undergoing tremendous social changes and upheavals that impacted how Asian Americans viewed themselves as a distinct part of American society. Within this context, the Little Tokyo Historical Society has announced a special seminar to take place on Saturday, Sept. 9, from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Japanese American National Museum, 100 N. Central Ave. in Little Tokyo.

The seminar will cover the early days of the Asian American movement that took place in Little Tokyo during those tumultuous years marked by counter-cultural changes, Vietnam War opposition and institutional racism. According to organizers, the seminar will also link the activism that took place in the JA community over a century ago with the current need for continued social action to confront the challenges of today.

The seminar will have a specific focus on the work of a group called JACS-AI, which stood for the Japanese American Community Services – Asian Involvement. The JACS organization traces its beginnings to 1912 with the establishment of the Shonien Japanese children’s orphanage and JACS continues to this day to remain active in supporting a broad range of community services.

Miya Iwataki, one of the original staff members of JACS-AI in the early ’70s, stated, “In those days, there was very little funding and support for projects but many young Sansei just stepped up to start programs that never existed before to help Issei seniors or support young people addicted to drugs or coming out of prison. We either worked for free or got paid a small stipend, but we did what needed to be done. JACS-AI was one of the first groups to provide funds when no one else was doing it.”

The Sept. 9 gathering will feature panels by past activists speaking on various issues. Ron Wakabayashi, one of the committee members, who is currently working for a federal civil rights program, shared, “We have brought together pioneer panelists who will discuss their experiences on topics such as immigration, women’s advocacy, anti-war protests, and the redevelopment of Little Tokyo. Equally important will be comments on how current community issues such as gentrification and immigration are being addressed for this generation.”

The seminar is co-sponsored by JANM and JACS, and all interested persons are invited to attend. Refreshments will be provided compliments of the LTHS.

For more information on LTHS, visit www.littletokyohs.org.

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