RABBIT RAMBLINGS: Nikkei Women Honored by Japanese American Women Alumnae


It isn’t every organization that has a connection to a powerful and influential member in Congress, but the Japanese American Women Alumnae of UC Berkeley (JAWAUCB), a club of the California Alumni Association, has just such a connection.

Doris Matsui, representative for the 5th District in California, was honored as Outstanding Alumna of the Year at their annual luncheon meeting on April 24 at Yoshi’s Jazz Club and Japanese Restaurant in Oakland’s

A NOD TO KNOWLEDGEABLE NIKKEI — From left: Asako Miyakawa, Emily Ikuta, Kathryn Nomura, Crystine Gill, Terri-Lynn Tanaka photo by Art Imagire

Jack London Square.

In addition, five undergraduate and graduate students were awarded scholarships from the organization. The recipients were Crystine Lyn Gill in the College of Letters and Science, Emily K. Ikuta, also in the College of Letters and Science, Kathryn Toshiko Nomura in the College of Engineering, Asako Miyakawa in the neuroscience graduate program, and Terri-lynn Tanabe in the Near Eastern religions graduate program.

I was not aware of this organization even though I am also a UC graduate. So, I was astonished to learn that it was established in 1937 when a group of women, after 10 years of fundraising, purchased a two-story house for $7,000 at 2509 Hearst St. to provide housing for Japanese American women students. During World War II, the house was rented out and then became student housing again after the war.

In 1964, the city of Berkeley condemned the building, so it was necessary to sell it. The board of JAWAUCB and the UC Regents decided to set up a scholarship fund from the proceeds of the sale that amounted to $72,000. Over the years, that fund has grown to be valued at $900,000 and to date, the scholarships given out have totaled $483,589. Isn’t this amazing?

The active membership is not that large and the group’s main function is choosing and awarding the scholarships, but now, there is an effort to branch out into documenting the history of Japanese American students at UC, especially those who were there before World War II.

Surely the efforts of the original group that organized and set up this home should be recognized and appreciated for their contribution to the Japanese American community. We ought to know more about such organizations and the work that they have done over the years, work that hasn’t received much publicity.

Yoshi’s is a jazz club and I’ve been there several times for the music, and once for dinner. I must say that this lunch was especially terrific and I would recommend dining there without hesitation.

Doris Matsui couldn’t make it, and a representative accepted the honor on her behalf. I imagine that her work in Congress takes up all her time since she serves on several important committees and is a board member of the Smithsonian Museum. She continues the work of her late husband, the honorable Robert Matsui.

The keynote speaker at this luncheon was the honorable Joni Hiramoto, a Superior Court judge of Contra Costa County. Her topic was titled “Serving and Representing the Community: A View from One Sansei Woman.”

Joni Hiramoto was one dynamic woman, a Harvard and Boalt Law school graduate. She gave a speech that was truly inspiring. Here we are, a few generations from our immigrant ancestors, and now we have judges and congresswomen and other such high-achieving peers. We really have come a long way, baby, if I may use an old cliché.

As an old Nisei myself, I know what it means to be a Japanese American woman, imbued with the old-fashioned Japanese values of hard work, being law-abiding and all that, but I also know that we women were raised in a system that was not very receptive to American ideas of competition and ambition and achievement.

Our role was to be supportive of the males in the family and to more or less keep low profiles. It was not easy to buck these systems. Now, I see that those constraints are falling away and we have women going into neuroscience, engineering and studying Near Eastern religions. Isn’t it wonderful?

Chizu Omori is the co-producer of the award-winning film “Rabbit in the Moon.” A recent transplant from Seattle, she now writes from Berkeley, Calif., and can be reached by e-mail at chizuomori@earthlink.net.

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