Statement Condemning Recent Hate Crimes

The Berkeley chapter of the Japanese American Citizens’ League (JACL), condemns the recent rise in Anti-Asian hate crimes throughout the country and in our nearby Oakland Chinatown, San Francisco, and San Leandro. We applaud the actions of Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley in the creation of a response unit focusing on the hate and violence targeting our Asian American communities. We stand with our fellow Asian American communities in solidarity against these hateful crimes and thank our allies for their support. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen a significant increase in hate speech and hate crimes against Asian Americans, bolstered by comments made by the previous administration. We call on the media to bring attention to these horrific events and call on our elected leaders to implement solutions to address the increasing racism and attacks against Asian Americans in our community.

Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA) is organizing 2 events to address the violence towards the Asian American community in Oakland and San Francisco. Our goals are to rally support for Asian and Pacific Islander communities, to demand immediate and long-term action to address the violence, and to emphasize solutions that empower all communities of color with resources, support, and education.

Considering the COVID-19 pandemic, we understand that these events may not be safe for everyone and if people do decide to go, understanding the risks, to wear masks and practice physical distancing from others. CAA is offering other virtual ways to participate in this weekend’s Day of Actions.

Click here to download the Statement

Statement on the Vandalization of Frank Ogawa Statue

The Berkeley chapter of the JACL protests the vandalism to the bust of former Oakland City Councilman Frank Ogawa by unknown persons, but stand — as we believe Frank Ogawa would have done — in solidarity with the rights of citizens who exercise their rights to protest injustice, with the movement for Black Lives, and against federal unmarked troops forcibly brought into our communities.

Frank Ogawa was the first Japanese American to serve on the Oakland City Council and experienced state racism when he was shipped to the Topaz concentration camp in Utah without due process during World War II. Berkeley JACL will always remember and honor Frank Ogawa’s great contributions to our community and will continue his work by supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and all efforts to end racism.

For more information, see Maina Chen’s article on NextShark about the incident.

Statement on Recent Events at Laney College

The Berkeley JACL stands with Phuc Bui Diem Nguyen in her complaint against Mr. Hubbard, who asked her to change her Vietnamese birth name because he said it was offensive “in my language.” Professor Hubbard’s actions in requesting Phuc Bui to “Anglicize” her name were unacceptable, insensitive, and racist.

Today the Berkeley JACL sent a Letter to Laney College President Gilkerson regarding Mr. Hubbard’s offensive request.

Every person should feel included and welcome in this beautifully diverse nation, and especially in a city as diverse as Oakland. Our diversity and different intersecting identities should be celebrated, not taunted or changed for the convenience of others.

We call on Laney College to enact sensitivity training for all staff and to take the appropriate disciplinary actions against Mr. Hubbard.

For more information, you can read ABC 7’s coverage about the incident here.

Statement from the Board: Black Lives Matter

The Berkeley chapter of the JACL, the nation’s oldest and largest Asian American civil rights organization, is deeply disturbed by the most recent spate of killings and threats leveled at African Americans, most recently:

George Floyd, 46, Minneapolis, MN; Breonna Taylor, 26, Louisville KY; Ahmaud Arbery, 25, Brunswick GA.

More than any other minority group, African Americans continue to bear the burden of contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence. This is abhorrent to our founding principles of equal justice under the law, and it must end.

We re-affirm our solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and will continue to speak out against, and resist, the ongoing attacks on the humanity of our African American fellow citizens, no matter who the perpetrator may be. We re-affirm that African Americans are our family members. Our friends. Colleagues. Neighbors. Political leaders. Classmates. That we share the same fiber of one community, and an attack on one is an attack on us all.

We agree wholeheartedly with the Organization of Chinese Americans, who stated:

“The fact that Hmong American Officer Tou Thao stood to defend his colleague, and antagonized the bystanders who called for compassion, is not lost upon us. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders must stand up for Black communities by calling out institutional racism and the anti-Blackness within our own communities.”

We will not rest so long as people of color in this country are singled out to be denied their full humanity and citizenship.

Statement from the Board: Asian People Are Not a Disease

The Berkeley chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, the nation’s oldest and largest Asian American civil rights organization, urges rejection of the dangerous anti-Asian language surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, as seen in the describing of the disease as the “Chinese Virus” or the “Wuhan Virus” against the recommendations of the World Health Organization. This racist language has encouraged the harassment and beatings of Asian Americans, including school age children, in the past months. We are dismayed that the the presidency itself has been sullied by this kind of disgraceful ignorance.

We have seen this scapegoating before in times of crisis. In 1982, Chinese American Vincent Chin was beaten to death on the eve of his wedding day by laid-off auto workers in the Detroit area. These workers, believing Chin was Japanese, misguidedly blamed Japanese Americans for “taking over” the American auto industry and causing their unemployment.

 Needless to say, as Japanese Americans we have a special knowledge and a special duty surrounding scapegoating of ethnic groups, and it is critical that we align with all Asian Americans at this disturbing and threatening time.

As New York Times columnist Frank Bruni observed last week, the virus will “first bring out the quirks in our personalities, and then it will be a referendum on our character. We are now entering the character phase.”

Our chapter urges each of us to allow this crisis to bring out the best, not the worst, in each of us. Please resist and speak up against the scapegoating of Asian Americans for the current pandemic. It is utterly un-American.

Letter from the Berkeley Japanese American Citizens League – “The Jap Box” at the Marsh

2019 11-11 Letter to the Marsh


Stephanie Weisman, Executive Director and board member, The Marsh

David Hirata, Artist


Dear Stephanie Weisman and David Hirata,

The Berkeley Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League (Berkeley JACL) is deeply offended by the title of your show, “The Jap Box.” It revives a hateful racist slur that causes deep pain for us and recalls a tragic period within the living memory of our community, when 120,000 Japanese Americans were torn from their homes during WWII because of racial hatred, war hysteria and greed. We were put behind barbed wire and guarded by armed sentries for years. Some 1,300 Berkeley citizens and immigrants, including members of our chapter and the parents and grandparents of board members, were rounded up and moved by the military to the Tanforan racetrack from the First Congregational Church, one half mile from your theater. There, they were placed in horse stalls before being moved 800 miles to the Topaz concentration camp in Utah. These Berkeleyans lost their businesses, homes, life savings, their basic human dignity. Their education was interrupted, their friendships and community relationships were halted.

The word “Jap” is at the epicenter of this experience because it was used not only as a racist epithet by strangers, but in newspapers and by the government itself during this horrific time.

By marketing this performance, printing programs, selling tickets online, and posting a sandwich board sign in front of the Marsh theater with this slur, you normalize it. In an age when swastikas and nooses are revived among white nationalists, it now joins the permanent digital traces on the Internet along with “Japs Keep Moving — This is a White Man’s Neighborhood” (1923), “A Jap’s a Jap,” (Gen. John L. DeWitt, 1943) and the “Jap hunting license” (WWII). The normalization of this vicious term signals a disturbing lack of regard for our history and our community.

Three members of the board saw the show Saturday night. We met with David Hirata afterward and had a discussion with him about the title. He explained his intent in using what he considers a historical term — the racist renaming of what was originally called the “bottomless box” (soko nashi bako) by its originator, the accomplished late-19th century Japanese magician Namigoro Sumidagawa, who toured the U.S. in the late 1800s. A white magician later appropriated the signature magic box and tricks, changed its name to “The Jap Box” and performed the show in yellow face.

We appreciate Mr. Hirata’s sincerity and willingness to listen. We suggested that his mesmerizing performance, his lifelong interest in magic and the story of how his identity as a Japanese American became intertwined with a Japanese magician’s object represents an opportunity to further interrogate his family and community history. We also suggested he take this opportunity to better understand why the title he chose is painful and a dangerous revival of a deadly term. His family history includes his grandfather being held in the notorious military stockade at the Tule Lake Segregation Center and an uncle who served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

David Hirata also spoke about this issue with the Executive Director of the JACL, David Inoue, last week. We are aware of other outraged Japanese Americans who have contacted the theater to protest this title, some of whom received no response. We are heartened by Mr. Hirata’s statement that he plans to change the name of his show.

We fully understand and appreciate that art can and should raise difficult issues and make us uncomfortable — that is not what this is. The cavalier use of the word “Jap” in the title of this production, without historical context, signals a disturbing lack of concern for the trauma of a group of people and normalizes a tragedy that, now of all times, should be highlighted as a serious cautionary tale.

As Japanese Americans, residents of Berkeley, defenders of civil rights and supporters of the arts, we look forward to prompt action by The Marsh to begin to repair this harm.



Board of Directors

Berkeley Japanese American Citizens League

Berkeley JACL COPANI Scholarships

The Pan American Nikkei Association, otherwise known as PANA, will have their COPANI convention hosted by San Francisco this September from the 20th through the 22nd.
The Berkeley JACL will be awarding scholarships to those interested in attending the convention but do not have the financial means to do so. Berkeley JACL youth and young adult members (age 35 and under) will be given priority but all applications are welcome.
This year’s COPANI convention will be the 20th biennial convention since the inaugural convention organized by Mexican Nikkei and hosted by Mexico City in 1981. The COPANI convention’s vision is to “Foster a socially, technologically, and commercially well-connected Pan American Nikkei community moving toward the future,” per the organization’s website. The convention will be a unique opportunity for Japanese Americans of Japanese Latin American and Non-Japanese Latin American descent to connect with Nikkei outside of the U.S. to foster relationships and collaborate with the greater Japanese diasporic community.
Please email for more information.

Berkeley JACL Statement on El Paso Shooting

The Berkeley JACL Chapter mourns for the 20 people killed and more than two dozen injured in the shooting at the Walmart in El Paso, Texas.  Our organization strongly condemns the racist and hateful beliefs that led to this tragic event. There have been too many lives lost in recent times. Just a few days before the shooting in El Paso, four many others lost their lives in a shootings in Gilroy and then more also in Dayton. Together we support the victims and their families in El Paso, Gilroy, and Dayton and  reiterate our commitment to continue to resist discrimination, hatred, and violence everywhere.

BJACL Civil Rights Committee Statement on Central American Migrant Crisis

Recently, the plight of several thousand migrants from Central America seeking asylum in the United States has become a national story. The response to restrict the asylum from the current administration, which has been blocked by the US judicial system, and the current political movement based on xenophobia and entitlement, does not represent our values or our will as people. The recent attempt to restrict asylum applications contradicts both US law and the “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses” ethos that is long held dear. As the current administration strays away from these fundamental American ideals, the Berkeley JACL Civil Rights Committee remains firm in its position in support of civil rights and the principles this great country was founded on.
-Berkeley JACL Civil Rights Committee

Berkeley JACL Awards 7 Scholarships and Honors Lee “Cubby” Nakamura as Pioneer Recipient

The Berkeley JACL chapter awarded scholarships to 6 high school seniors, one college undergraduate, and presented its Pioneer Award to Lee “Cubby” Nakamura during its April 29th awards luncheon held at Richmond Country Club in Richmond.

The chapter awarded scholarships to the following high school seniors based upon their academic
achievements, community involvement, school activities, work history, JACL involvement, written
essay, letter of recommendation, and group interview.

  • Luka Uchiyama (Castro Valley HS) will attend Cal Poly SLO and will major in bioresource and agricultural engineering – Luka is the recipient of the Bea Kono Memorial Scholarship.
  • Alexander Tsuetaki (Durham Acadamy – North Carolina) will attend Tufts University and major in computer science/science technology and society – Alexander is also the recipient of the Dan/Kathleen Date Memorial Scholarship.
  • Kailee Nabeta (Rio Americano HS – Sacramento) will attend Boise State University as a kinesiology major – Kailee is also the recipient of the Terry Yamashita Memorial Scholarship.
  • Jared Akiyama (Berkeley HS) will attend San Francisco State University and major in journalism.
  • Alyssa Cho (El Cerrito HS), will attend Domican University as an occupational therapy major.
  • Sydney Wong (El Cerrito HS) will attend San Jose State University and major in graphic design.

The chapter also awarded a college undergraduate scholarship to Maya Kashima. Currently attending Berkeley City College, Maya will transfer to UC Berkeley in the Fall as a media studies major.

The chapter recognized long time major sponsors Union Bank (Dimitry Bokman) and memorial scholarship donors: the Beatrice Kono family (George Kono), the Terry Yamashita family (Reiko Nabeta), and the Dan/Kathleen Date family (Gail Yamamoto).

The scholarship committee includes: Alix Ching, Mark Fujikawa, Tiffany Ikeda, Vera Kawamura, Neal
Ouye, Al Satake, Sharron Sue, and Ron Tanaka (Chair).