OBITUARY: Lane Hirabayashi, Scholar, Author, Holder of Aratani Chair at UCLA

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Rafu Staff Report

Lane Ryo Hirabayashi, a renowned scholar, lecturer and author in the field of Asian American studies, passed away on Aug. 8. He was 67.

According to close friends, he had been ill for some time.

Hirabayashi held tenured faculty positions at San Francisco State University, University of Colorado at Boulder, UC Riverside, and UCLA.

Lane Hirabayashi

While he was growing up, his father Jim encouraged and enabled him to travel extensively. By the time he finished graduate school, Hirabayashi had been to Asia, Central and South America, Europe, and Africa. Among his favorite cities he counted Tokyo, Kyoto, Cebu City, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, London, Paris, and Malaga, as well as Zaria and Kano in northern Nigeria, both of which he visited in 1977.

After years dedicated to classical music, and then American folk music/blues/R&B, Hirabayashi decided to pursue doctoral studies in 1974. He earned an M.A. (1976) and then a Ph.D. (1981) in anthropology from UC Berkeley. Subsequently, he held a post-doctoral fellowship at the UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center (1981-82).

He was the author or editor of over 30 scholarly articles, as well as nine books and anthologies. His “research in progress” included a book-length manuscript on Japanese American resettlement in Colorado as of 1946; and a cycle of articles focusing on the post-war life and writing of Filipino American poet and novelist Carlos Bulosan, a project that he was writing in collaboration with his wife, Marilyn C. Alquizola.

Over the course of his career, Hirabayashi taught courses on the Japanese American experience, Asian American Studies, reparations movements in selected Asian American communities, and Asian American documentary films, among other topics.

In addition to his academic resume, Hirabayashi actively sought ties to community-based organizations as one of the foundations to his academic work. Over three-and-a-half decades he worked with a wide range of groups including: NCRR (both the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations and the renamed Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress), Los Angeles; Gardena Pioneer Project; East West Players, Los Angeles; Japanese Community Youth Council, San Francisco; Japanese American Community Graduation Program, Denver; Harada House museum project, Riverside; and Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles. He also served as a board member, and/or consultant, for additional Japanese American community organizations.

While doing research on the history of Japanese Americans in Gardena, Hirabayashi was involved in launching a Gardena chapter of the Los Angeles-based NCRR. Prior to the 1981 hearings of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, the chapter did outreach and held public programs to explain the redress campaign and how to become involved.

Hirabayashi spoke at screenings of “Issei: The First Generation” (1984) by San Francisco-based filmmaker Toshi Washizu. This documentary, which was broadcast on PBS and then forgotten for decades, was digitally restored and shown for free throughout California in select locations with Japanese American communities, including Walnut Grove, San Francisco. Los Angeles, Torrance, and Watsonville, between 2013 and 2015.

“Lane and I traveled together, dozens of times, to different parts of California to present the film to the local communities,” recalled Washizu. “He was truly a staunch advocate and godsend for the preservation of ‘Issei.’ During those years we have also learned about our intimate private lives. It seems miraculous that with his generosity of spirit he has become my dearest, genuine friend. That is one of the most precious gifts given to me in my life. For that I am forever grateful.”

His speaking engagements in 2013 included a panel, “Power of the Commission Hearings: First-Person Voices of Japanese American Incarceration,” at JANM’s national conference, “Speaking Up for Justice”; and a Japanese American Bar Association panel discussion following a special performance of Jeanne Sakata’s play about Gordon Hirabayashi, “Hold These Truths,” at JANM.

Lane Hirabayashi with Nisei writer Wakako Yamauchi in 2014. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

In June 2017, Hirabayashi retired from his position as a full professor in the Department of Asian American Studies at UCLA, where he was also the inaugural George and Sakaye Aratani Chair in Japanese American Incarceration, Redress, and Community. Most recently his title was professor emeritus.

Jay Hirabayashi, Gordon Hirabayashi’s son and executive director of Kokoro Dance in Vancouver, B.C., said of his cousin’s passing, “It hit me hard and I find myself still crying as I always thought of him more as the brother I would have loved to have had than just an amazing cousin. He truly was the same kind of thoughtful, generous, and openhearted person that his father was. Like Jim … and my dad, he will live on with them as guiding spirits for the remainder of my life.”

”Valued Friend and Colleague”

Professor Valerie Matsumoto, current holder of the Aratani Chair, shared this tribute:

“Lane Hirabayashi was a valued friend and colleague — a prodigious scholar, teacher, and activist, whose work and ideals were deeply rooted in family tradition. He was greatly influenced by his father James A. Hirabayashi, a sociocultural anthropologist who was involved with the Third World Strike at San Francisco State University and became the first dean of the School of Ethnic Studies.

“Working on projects with his father, as well as their discussions about ‘cultures of resistance,’ informed Lane’s approach to social research that focused ‘on working with or for a community-based group seeking to empower an ethnic minority population that had been excluded from the mainstream in terms of resources and services…’

“Lane received his BA at the California State University, Sonoma (1974) and then pursued an MA (1976) and Ph.D. (1981) in anthropology at UC Berkeley. Lane’s engagement with the UCLA Asian American Studies Center (AASC) began in 1981, when he was awarded an Institute of American Cultures postdoctoral fellowship. Eager to get involved with the Japanese American community in Southern California, he began working with a range of community-based organizations … In 1983, he left for a position in the School of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University. In the 1990s, he became a professor in ethnic studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and from 2003-2005, at UC Riverside.

“In 2006, Lane returned to UCLA as the inaugural holder of the George and Sakaye Aratani Endowed Chair on the Japanese American Incarceration, Redress, and Community — the first endowed chair in the country to focus on the wartime confinement of Japanese Americans. Mindful of the parallels between the racial profiling of the Issei and Nisei during the 1940s and Arab Americans after 9/11, Lane said, ‘What I want to make sure is that people remember the past so that we can make better policy decisions.’

“He was in the forefront of scholars calling for the use of more precise terminology regarding the forced uprooting and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and for avoiding government euphemisms such as ‘evacuation’ and ‘relocation.’ He also argued that ‘comparative research relating this history to the internment of Middle Eastern and Muslim detainees, and the incarceration of militant activists of color and prisoners of conscience, is imperative.’

“In addition to his duties and activities as the holder of the Aratani Endowed Chair, Lane served as the chair of the Asian American Studies Department from 2007-2010 and taught a range of courses on Japanese American experience, contemporary Asian American communities, the experiences of multi-racial Asian Americans, and Asian Americans and reparations.

“Throughout his career, Lane contributed enormously to Japanese American history, Japanese American studies, and Asian American studies. He authored or edited nine books and more than 30 academic articles … Since his arrival at UCLA, he co-authored ‘Japanese American Resettlement Through the Lens: Hikaru Iwasaki and the WRA’s Photographic Section, 1943-1945’ (2008), analyzing how the WRA sought to use the images and assessing their impact after the war.

“In 2013 he brought intimate perspective to one of the key cases in U.S. constitutional law, co-editing the book ‘A Principled Stand: Gordon Hirabayashi v. the United States,’ drawing on his uncle’s prison diaries and correspondence to present, in Gordon’s own words, how he defied the wartime curfew of Japanese Americans, the course of his Supreme Court case, subsequent imprisonment, and the 1987 appeal of his case.

“Lane’s work shed light not only on wartime experiences but also the redress movement of the 1970s and ’80s. He co-edited ‘NCRR: The Grassroots Struggle for Japanese American Redress and Reparations,’ published by the UCLA AASC Press in 2018. He wrote that the stories of the NCRR activists ‘richly illustrate the personal transformation engendered when people take their history, destiny, and representations into their own hands.’

“Lane was a leader in drawing scholarly attention to the histories of and linkages among communities of the Japanese diaspora throughout the Americas. Reflecting the breadth of his vision, he launched the “George and Sakaye Aratani Nikkei in the Americas” book series with the University Press of Colorado. To date, eight titles have been published, including works that illuminate the history of the Japanese American community in New York City, Japanese Brazilian diasporic identities, and oral histories of resistance in the World War II camps.

“Researchers seeking assistance from the Densho online encyclopedia of Japanese American history will continue to benefit from Lane’s deep knowledge, given the many essays he contributed. Also, he and his wife, literary scholar Marilyn Alquizola, collaborated on a series of articles about Carlos Bulosan, including the forward to the reissued 2014 edition of Bulosan’s classic ‘America Is in the Heart.’

In 2016 at the Japanese American National Museum during an event celebrating Minoru Yasui’s centennial (from left): Karen Korematsu, daughter of Fred Korematsu; Lane Hirabayashi, nephew of Gordon Hirabayashi; Holly Yasui, daughter of Minoru Yasui. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

“One of the primary responsibilities of the Aratani Endowed Chair involves administering the George and Sakaye Aratani Community Advancement Research Endowment (CARE) awards program, which began with Lane’s tenure as AEC. The Aratani CARE awards are given annually to projects that will benefit and advance the Japanese American community. Lane devoted enormous energy to this program, working with AASC staff to develop and implement the application process, as well as heading a faculty committee to review the award applications. He also generously arranged for the committee to meet to discuss funding decisions over lunch at a favorite Chinese restaurant.

“Under his supervision, the Aratani CARE awards have supported a wide array of projects by individuals and community organizations, such as the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, UCLA Nikkei Student Union, Kizuna, Little Tokyo Historical Society, Nichi Bei Foundation, and many others. This includes the successful international endeavor of the Waseda University Japanese American history project, in collaboration with UCLA, to recover dozens of original audio recordings of Issei interviews conducted by the UCLA Japanese American Research Project in the 1960s.

“As the Aratani Chair, Lane worked ceaselessly to bridge campus and community with numerous programs and events: He brought artists, activists, and scholars to campus, for example sponsoring a screening of Ann Kaneko and Sharon Yamato’s 2013 documentary film, ‘A Flicker in Eternity,’ based on a young Nisei’s camp diary and letters from military service in Europe. Lane also organized many panels and programs to present scholarly research and publicize resources in Japanese American communities throughout the West.

“He worked closely with the Japanese American National Museum and the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute as well as community organizations in San Francisco, Denver, and Riverside. His calendar was packed with engagements, whether speaking at the screening of Toshi Washizu’s film ‘Issei’ in Walnut Grove, making a presentation about the UCLA AASC’s Suyama Project in Sacramento, or participating in a Zócalo Public Square forum on ‘What Does the Japanese American Experience Tell Us About the Proposed Muslim Registry?’

“An inspiring orator who combined keen historical analysis with a passion for civil rights, he spoke at countless Days of Remembrance, organized by Japanese American communities to keep in memory the signing of Executive Order 9066, the presidential authorization of the forced removal of Japanese-descent people from the West Coast.

“Lane’s research agenda remained full after his retirement from UCLA in 2017. Throughout his prolific academic career, he maintained a steadfast commitment both to scholarship and to what he called mutuality — not just conducting research but also acknowledging that there can be a deep sharing of purpose between researcher and subject.

“He learned this from his father, Jim, and it became a lifelong touchstone that always privileged active involvement with community. Lane wrote, ‘I have tried to both share what was given to me and to invite readers in turn to rethink and sharpen an approach that can be an integral tool in ethically and politically informed social research leading to engagement and empowerment…’”

“Stories of Hope and Resistance”

Professor Karen Umemoto, Helen and Morgan Chu Chair of AASC, said, “We will sorely miss Lane Hirabayashi, a beloved teacher, mentor and friend. He left us a priceless gift in his lifetime of scholarly research and writings on Japanese American history, and World War II incarceration history in particular.

“Woven in this history are human stories of hope and resistance with inspiration drawn from the well of his family history — from his father, who helped establish the first School of Ethnic Studies at S.F. State, to his uncle Gordon Hirabayashi, who challenged the mass evacuation.

“His work advanced the field of Japanese American studies and also community-driven public history, as exemplified in his work with Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress in the publication of ‘NCRR: The Grassroots Struggle for Japanese American Redress and Reparations.’

“As we mourn this heavy loss, we are humbled by his selfless contributions to the community as well as to the generations of students and colleagues who were transformed by his wisdom and generosity.”

Lane Hirabayashi, Akemi Kikumura Yano and James Hirabayashi discuss their book “New Worlds, New Lives” in 2002 at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California in San Francisco. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Hokubei Mainichi)

Partial Bibliography

“Inside an American Concentration Camp: Japanese American Resistance at Poston, Arizona” by Richard S. Nishimoto, edited by Lane Ryo Hirabayashi. University of Arizona Press, 1995.

“Teaching Asian America: Diversity and the Problem of Community,” edited by Lane Ryo Hirabayashi. Roman and Littlefield Publishers, 1998.

“New Worlds, New Lives: Globalization and People of Japanese Descent in the Americas and from Latin America in Japan,” edited by Lane Ryo Hirabayashi, Akemi Kikumura-Yano and James A. Hirabayashi. Stanford University Press, 2002. (Kokusai Rikai Sokushin Sho or Promotion of International Understanding Award from International Foundation for the Promotion of Languages and Culture, Tohoku Bunka Gakuen University, Sendai City, Miyagi, Japan).

“Japanese American Resettlement through the Lens: Hikaru Iwasaki and the WRA’s Photographic Section, 1943-1945” by Lane Ryo Hirabayashi with Kenichiro Shimada, photographs by Hikaru Iwasaki. University Press of Colorado, 2009. (2009 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature)

“A Principled Stand: The Story of Hirabayashi v. United States” by Gordon Hirabayashi,” edited by Lane Ryo Hirabayashi and James A. Hirabayashi. University of Washington Press, 2013.

“NCRR: The Grassroots Struggle for Japanese American Redress and Reparations,” edited by Lane Ryo Hirabayashi, Richard Katsuda, Suzy Katsuda, Kathy Masaoka, Kay Ochi and Janice Iwanaga Yen. UCLA Asian American Studies Center Press, 2018.

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