Inspiring people: Yuji Ichioka

Yuji Ichioka was an American historian and civil rights activist best known for his work in ethnic studies, particularly Asian-American studies, and for being a leader in the Asian-American movement. An adjunct professor at UCLA, he coined the term “Asian-American” in 1968 during the founding of the Asian-American Political Alliance to help unify different Asian ethnic groups and was considered the preeminent scholar of Japanese-American history.

Yuji Ichioka was born in 1936 in San Francisco, California. As a child, he was interned with his family at the Topaz War Relocation Center in Utah. The family returned to San Francisco after his departure from camp, and he finished elementary school there, graduating from Berkeley High School in 1954. After three years of military service, Ichioka enrolled at UCLA, earning a BA in history in 1962. The following year, he began a graduate program at Columbia University, studying Chinese history, but soon dropped out and worked at a social services agency in New York. In 1966, he made a long trip to Japan and, upon his return, he enrolled at UC Berkeley, where he received a master’s degree in Asian studies in 1968.

Ichioka founded the Asian-American Political Alliance in 1968, during his time at Berkeley, and coined the term “Asian-American” to frame a new, self-defining political lexicon. In 1969, Ichioka taught the first Asian American Studies course at UCLA and was appointed associate director of the university’s newly formed Center for Asian American Studies. Later, Ichioka served as Principal Investigator at the UCLA Center for Asian American Studies and Adjunct Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) from approximately 1969 to 2002. His seminal work, Issei: The World of the First-generation Japanese immigrants, 1885-1924, won the 1989 US History Book Award from the National Association for Asian American Studies. Ichioka recorded the subsequent research in the two books: A Buried Past and A Buried Past II.

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