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Quakers and AFSC honored in Little Tokyo

Quakers and AFSC honored in Little Tokyo

Published: September 29, 2010

Chiyo Hiraoko, Laura Shibuya and Mary Matsuzawa are reunited after meeting each other at an internment camp in Arizona , each went on to work with AFSC and the Quakers in Philadelphia.

Photo: AFSC

The American Friends Service Committee in partnership with the Japanese National Museum, Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress, and the UCLA Asian American Studies Department hosted a special event to honor and commemorate the work of Quakers and AFSC in aiding the 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry who were forcibly removed from their homes and relocated in internment camps during the Second World War.  The event, “Quakers: Friends of the Japanese American Community, took place on Saturday, June 5 at 2:00 pm at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo (369 East First St., Downtown Los Angeles, 90012).

Over 250 people, mostly Japanese Americans, attended the event.  Some people had to be turned away as the event exceeded seating capacity.  In attendance were former AFSC Pasadena staff dating back as far as the 1940s.  Betsy Deisroth of the development office in Philadelphia and Ziba Marashi from the San Francisco flew in to attend the event.  Several members in the audience mentioned how they continue to support AFSC through financial donations for AFSC’s work with the Japanese American community.

Noteworthy stories:

Three Japanese American women – Chiyo Hiraoko, Laura Shibuya, and Mary Matsuzawa (pictured from left to right) – first met each while at an internment camp in Arizona (Gila River).   More importantly, they each went on to work together for the Quakers in Philadelphia!  Laura Shibuya and Marye Matsuzawa both worked for the AFSC Philadephia office, and Chiyo Hiraoka for the Nisei Student Relocation Fund founded by the Quakers.  They knew each from their time in Philadelphia, and had the wonderful opportunity to become reacquainted with one another at the event . 

Kunio Tsunayoshi spoke to the audience during the free comment period and acknowledged his gratitude to the Quakers.  While interned in camp, Kunio at the age of 7 received the book, “The Little Engine that Could,” as a Christmas gift from the Quakers.  Remarkably, he still possessed the book and brought it to the event to express how grateful he was to the Quakers.  Others in the audience shared similar sentiments of gratitude. 

Speakers included: Joe Franko, clerk of the Executive Committee of the Pacific Southwest Regional Office (PSWRO) of the AFSC,  the past presiding clerk of Pacific Yearly Meeting and former AFSC Regional Director of PSWRO; Esther Nishio, the first Japanese American student to reenter college on the West Coast with assistance from Friends; and Lane Hirabayashi, Professor of Japanese American Redress, Internment and Community at UCLA and nephew of famed AFSC resister Gordon Hirabayashi; and Anthony Marsh, AFSC Los Angeles.