The Great Unknown and the Unknown Great

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: TOSHI SEEGER’S ARTFUL LIFE: From folk music and film producer to organizer

Toshi Ohta Seeger was a remarkable Nisei who collaborated with her longtime husband Pete Seeger in his musical career and support for progressive causes. However, both because she was an Asian American woman, and because she preferred to shun the spotlight and work in the background, she has not historically received the attention she was […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: In praise of the cook: Remembrance of Jack Shirai, A Nikkei antifascist fighter

(Editor’s note: The following article was co-written with Jonathan Van Harmelen.) Traditionally, discussion of the Nikkei combat experience starts with World War II and centers on the exploits of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the Military Intelligence Service, and the actions of individual veterans such as Sgt. Ben Kuroki or Frank Fujita. Yet one of […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Anne Howden’s lifetime of human rights advocacy and public service

Mich Kunitani, the subject of my last “Great Unknown” column, was not the only member of his family to make a name as a political activist. His first wife, Anne Saito Kunitani, later known as Anne Howden, was a lifelong human rights advocate who shifted her focus from advocacy to public service. She was born […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Mich Kunitani and the Nisei Young Democrat movement

Arguably the most dynamic Nisei political force in the later 1930s was the Nisei Young Democrat movement. Founded by a set of liberal intellectuals and activists, notably Nichi Bei Shimbun editor Larry Tajiri, the Young Democrats formed chapters in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland, Calif. By 1940 the Oakland branch had established itself as […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Tom Tsuji, a versatile Nisei percussionist

(Editor’s note: The following article was co-written with Jonathan Van Harmelen.) In a previous article from our ongoing series on Japanese American musicians, Jonathan Van Harmelen and I profiled the trailblazing role of the Issei xylophone virtuoso Yoichi Hiraoka within the world of percussion. While Hiraoka lived and performed in New York City during the […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Japanese American singer and civil rights activist Ruby Hideko Yoshino

(Editor’s note: The following article was co-written with Jonathan Van Harmelen.) Along with classical instrumentalists, quite a number of Japanese American operatic and concert singers, mostly women, began their careers on the West Coast during the 1930s. Previous “Great Unknown” columns have featured such standout “songstresses” as Agnes Miyakawa, Toshiko Hasegawa and Tomi Kanazawa. Of […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Juilliard-trained songbird Mariko Mukai Ando defied expectations

(Editor’s note: The following article was co-written with Jonathan Van Harmelen.) As part of a continuing series of “Great Unknown” articles on Japanese Americans in classical music, we now present the career of the operatic and concert singer Mariko Mukai Ando. After getting her start in Nikkei community circles in Seattle, she moved to New […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Akira Kikukawa and the Japanese American orchestra

(Editor’s note: The following article was co-written with Jonathan Van Harmelen). Some time ago, Jonathan van Harmelen and I wrote a column about the pioneering Japanese xylophonist Yoichi Hiraoka. In the course of our research, we found that in 1970 Hiraoka had performed a concert in Southern California with an orchestra of which neither of […]

The Great Unknown and the Unknown Great: The varied responses of American Anabaptists to the mass confinement of Japanese Americans during WWII

Editor’s Note: This column was co-written by Zacharie Leclair. In his 1981 master’s thesis, “The Response of the Historic Peace Churches to the internment of the Japanese Americans during World War II,” scholar Charles R. Lord makes a daring comparison between the experience of Japanese Americans confined in government camps during World War II on […]

The Great Unknown and the Unknown Great: The origins of the JACL’s advocacy for gay and lesbian rights

This year marks the 14th year that I have commemorated LGBT History Month with a reflection on the important but oft-unremarked presence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in the history of Japanese Americans. It is with great pleasure that I devote this year’s queer history column to looking back at the latter […]

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