Lillian Chiyeko Kimura

Lillian Chiyeko Kimura
April 7, 1929 – April 23, 2020

Lillian Chiyeko Kimura, formerly of Bloomfield, NJ and Chicago, IL passed away after brief illness on 4/23/20 in Albany, NY.

She was born on April 7, 1929 in Glendale, California, the Nisei daughter of Homer and Hisa (Muraki) Kimura. During World War II, at age thirteen, her family was forced to leave their home and incarcerated in a remote area of California at the Manzanar War Relocation Center. There, her life was influenced by the work of the YWCA which served to educate Japanese American women and girls interned at the camp and help prepare them for resettlement after the war ended. Following the war, she moved with her family to Chicago and graduated from the University of Illinois with a Master’s in Social Work and worked for the YWCA of Chicago and later served at the national level rising to become the Associate Executive Director of the YWCA of the USA in NYC. In keeping with the YWCA’s mission of “eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all people,” she dedicated her career to civil rights advocacy especially for Asian Americans and women. She was an active leader in the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) eventually becoming the first woman elected as JACL national president in1992. She was also actively involved in JACL’s campaign directed to the Redress Movement which provided reparations for Japanese Americans interned during WW II and helped bring congressional attention to the issue to acknowledge the violation of rights of Japanese Americans as US citizens. The movement influenced President Jimmy Carter to sign an act in 1980 to establish the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC). The CWRIC completed its fact-finding task in 1982 and published its report: Personal Justice Denied. This report led to the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 signed by President Ronald Reagan. In agreement with JACL, Lillian felt strongly that reparations include funding to educate the public and future generations about the internment in order to prevent future civil rights violations. She was actively involved in bringing an exhibit to the Ellis Island Immigration Museum in 1998 to bring visibility about the Japanese Internment to a wider audience. She continued to use her experience and knowledge to advocate for women and other minority voices well into retirement and was involved in the American Jewish Committee and was a docent at the Ellis Island Museum. She received multiple awards for her work including the Ina Kay Award (2008) from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Justice in Action award (2011)from the American Asian Legal Defense and Education Fund, Decorated Order of the Precious Crown, Wisteria, Japan (1992) Member Academy Certificate.

In addition to her work with the YWCA and JACL, Lillian was a life-long learner. She loved to read and was never without a book or the NY Times Crossword Puzzle which she completed in ink. She enjoyed traveling, often with her mom and niece, to JACL meetings and he niece’s Judo tournaments as well as all over the world. She was an avid seamstress and proud of her entire family.

Lillian is survived by her sisters Florence (George) Sasabuchi in Monterey Park, CA and Rose (Louis) DiCerbo in Schenectady, NY as well as her nephews and nieces including: Paul Katayama, Mark (Evelyn) Sasabuchi, Candi (Bob) Glassberg, Patricia Lee (David Mozer), Karen (Lori Oleachea) Nagao, Lou DiCerbo, Margaret (Patrick) Golden, Marina DiCerbo, and beloved friends, Ora Taylor and Martha White as well as many great nieces and nephews.

She is predeceased by her parents Homer and Hisa Kimura, her sister Hiroko (and Chester) Katayama, her brother Hikaru (and Elsie) Nagao and Laura DiCerbo and Harriet DiCerbo.

Funeral services will take place at a future date.