By Lafayette Noda (with Kesaya Noda)
The late Lafayette Noda was one of the founding members of the NSRCF and he shared with us his remembrances of the organization’s birth.
As I look back, I am amazed. Who would have thought that the Fund would have grown as it has? The beginnings were so simple and small!
In the late 1970s there were Nisei living in New England, but we were isolated and scattered. We did not know that there were others like us here. This changed because of Nobu Hibino, and we can trace the very beginnings of the NSRC Fund to her efforts.
In 1976, Nobu was invited to a conference in San Francisco to discuss retirement options for Japanese Americans, and she committed to organizing a similar conference on the East Coast. Returning to her home in Connecticut, Nobu single handedly developed a list of Nisei in New England. She used whatever sources she could find to search, even looking in phone books for Japanese names! Nobu contacted all the Nisei she reached to come to a “retirement” meeting that was held at Boston University in 1977. We were very happy to find each other and to talk, but, in fact, we discovered that we were not seriously interested in thinking about retirement. We wanted to spend time with each other, to socialize.
We became the “New England Nisei” group and in the following months and years, got together for picnics, clambakes, New Year’s, fishing and boating trips, and overnights. We discovered that we shared a common history — we were all evacuated from our West Coast homes and interned in concentration camps — Topaz, Amache, Poston, Rohwer, Minidoka. And several of us were helped by the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council to leave the camps to attend college.
One day during a get together, questions arose: “What could we do besides socialize? What could we do to help the Southeast Asian refugee students whose needs and difficulties were so often described in the news?” We were keenly aware of the similarities between those young people and ourselves. Like them, we had been victims of war, our financial resources had been limited, our opportunities narrowed by the prejudice in the society around us. We had been incarcerated in wartime camps. They had come to the United States from refugee camps, driven from their homelands by war. We also knew that we shared similar strengths — the high value placed on education, the many ways that members of families supported one another.
So in 1980 we started a scholarship fund to offer our help to the young South-east Asian refugee students. We called it the Nisei Student Relocation Commemorative Fund (NSRCF) in tribute to its namesake. In the beginning we were just two couples: Nobu and Yosh Hibino, and Mayme and Lafayette Noda. Soon, we found others to join us — Lillian Ota Dotson, May Takayanagi, Bob and Agnes Suzuki, and Paul Tani. We met around the dining room table at the Hibinos in Connecticut. We enjoyed the camaraderie, eating osushi, and otsukemono as we planned our fund appeals and discussed ways to more securely establish the NSRCF.
In 1982 we were able to make our first small grant. We gave it to the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in recognition of the primary role they played in the WWII Student Relocation Council. In describing that first ceremony, Nobu Hibino, wrote: “We tried to show that we Nisei did not and will not forget the dedication of people like those whom we honored. We wish all those to whom we are indebted could have been there — volunteers who went out of their way to insure that we were given a decent break.”
In 1983 we held the first student scholarship award ceremony in Berkeley, California. This experience became a model that we have used ever since. Most fortunately for us, Dr. Kenji Murase, a professor of social work at the University of San Francisco, chaired the first local awards committee. He did a wonderful job and remained a key member of the NSRCF for many years.
The NSRCF had its roots in our own Nisei experience. And while those early years were challenging, it was a joy to be with others who were equally committed to the effort. Above all, we rejoiced in the accomplishments of the Southeast Asian students who, in spite of the difficulties of their situation, worked very hard and excelled.
Today, as I look to the future, I hope we can all do more for the many promising students who need our financial support and our encouragement. I have great hopes for the NSRCF.