A special public program, “Quakers: Friends of the Japanese American Community”, commemorating the courageous support provided by the American Friends Service Committee to Japanese Americans during World War II, will be held on Saturday, June 5, beginning at 2 p.m. at the Japanese American National Museum. The program is sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress (NCRR), George and Sakaye Aratani Endowed Chair, Asian American Studies Center, UCLA, and JANM.
The keynote speaker for the program will be Lane Ryo Hirabayashi, Ph.D., George and Sakaye Aratani Professor of Japanese American Redress, Internment, and Community at UCLA. Also set to speak is Joe Franko, former AFSC Regional Director. Also featured will be Esther Takei Nishio, the first Japanese American student to return to West Coast after the forced removal, and Jean Hibino, director of the Nisei Student Relocation Commemorative Fund (NSRCF). The program will also consist of screenings of video clips from AFSC’s “Spirited Engagement.”
During World War II, the U.S. government unconstitutionally forced thousands of Japanese Americans to leave their homes and businesses on the West Coast without charge and without due process. Over 120,000 individuals of Japanese ancestry were falsely incarcerated in domestic concentration camps. One group who openly supported Japanese Americans in their time of need was the Religious Society of Friends (also known as the Quakers) through their American Friends Service Committee. Begun during World War I, AFSC is a Quaker organization devoted to service, development, and peace programs throughout the world. Their work is based on the belief in the worth of every person, and faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice.
AFSC worked to get Japanese American college students to transfer to other schools before the forced removal in 1942. AFSC also provided support after the exclusion, including maintaining personal contact with Japanese Americans imprisoned in camp and providing clothing, recreational and reading materials, among other resources. AFSC also helped inmates fill out applications for employment outside of camp and maintained hostels for temporary housing for those able to acquire a job, which was a requirement for leaving camp.
Nishio was born in Los Angeles and attended Venice High School when the war began. Sent to the Amache, Colo. camp with her family, she became the first Japanese American student to return to the West Coast in September of 1944. Thanks to Hugh Anderson and William Carr, Esther was able to enroll in Pasadena Junior College, which became Pasadena City College. Carr was the founder of the Friends of the American Way and the Pasadena Chapter of the Pacific Coast Committee on American Principles and Fair Play, which, like AFSC, worked to help Japanese Americans regain their place in society.
Of her enrollment, Esther recalled, “The news about my return leaked out to the city newspapers. Then all the patriotic organizations protested. And there was one gentleman, in particular, who kind of acted as the leader of the opposition. They marched down to the school board and demanded that I leave. And I guess there were all sorts of protest. Citizens spoke for and against a Japanese American being back.” After about a month, the furor died down and Esther was able to continue her education.
Jean Hibino will discuss the purpose of the Nisei Student Relocation Commemorative Fund, which recalls the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council (NJASRC), created by AFSC volunteers. The NJASRC raised funds for scholarships and helped to find appropriate colleges for the Japanese American students. It laid the groundwork before the students enrolled and helped gain clearance from government agencies so the students could leave camp. In all, over 3,500 Nisei students received aid from NJASRC.
In 1980, several Nisei in the New England area founded the Nisei Student Relocation Commemorative Fund as an expression of gratitude to the AFSC and NJASRC. Individuals including Michi Weglyn, author of Years of Infamy, and Judge William Marutani were among the students who benefited from NJASRC’s program. The Nisei Student Relocation Commemorative Fund seeks to help “others pursue higher education” and to foster inter-ethnic relations.
This program is free to museum members or with admission. For more information and reservations, contact the American Friends Service Committee at (213) 489-1900, ext. 114, or go to www.afsc.org/losangeles.