2019 Minnesota Awards
Tiffany Xiong (local awards committee co-chair),
Nalee Xiong (recipient of the Ryozo Glenn Kumekawa Scholarship),
Yoshiko Kumekawa, and Ken Kumekawa
The NSRCF Mission Statement
The Nisei Student Relocation Commemorative Fund (NSRCF) is a non-profit, charitable organization founded in New England that annually awards scholarships to students from underserved communities pursuing higher education. The NSRCF was established in 1980 by second-generation Japanese Americans, Nisei, in gratitude to the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council. The Council made it possible for the Nisei to leave the World War II internment camps for colleges and universities across the United States. The NSRCF encourages inter-ethnic collaboration and promotes public awareness and understanding of the forced removal and unjust imprisonment of 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II.
New England Nisei and former students helped by the NJASRC
and their families at a picnic in the 1980s
In the decades following the World War II removal of all Japanese and Japanese Americans from the West Coast, the story has become more widely known. Within the Japanese American community, a deepening awareness and changing sense of political context have led to a wide variety of responses. Four generations of Japanese Americans have grappled with the wartime experience. In the years since WWII, there has been a push to strip the descriptive language of its euphemisms: to refer to “evacuation” as “forced removal,” the “internment” as “imprisonment” or “incarceration,” and the “evacuees” as “prisoners” or “incarcerees.” The fight for redress and reparations defined the 1970s and 1980s for Japanese Americans. Coalescing around the demand for justice, the years-long national campaign culminated when President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. For the first time, the US Government issued a formal apology, and provided some financial compensation to the survivors. Through research, scholarship and efforts by community activists, artists, and writers, the incarceration and history of the Japanese in America continues to be documented, acknowledged, and broadened. Today, many also use this greater awareness and the lessons of the camps to advocate for justice beyond the Japanese community.
Among the responses unfolding over the ensuing decades - from research, to pilgrimages and political activism - the NSRCF is unique in its attention to both the past experience and the educational needs of those outside the Japanese American community. The seeds for the NSRCF were planted in the late 1970s when a small group of Nisei from cities and towns scattered across New England joyfully found one another. Lafayette Noda, one of the NSRCF’s founders, remembered: 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 NSRCF 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 (NJASRC) 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 Southeast 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 sushi, and tsukemono 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 ensure 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.
Laughing, talking, and remembering, they eventually decided they wanted to do more than socialize. They resolved to highlight what they most powerfully remembered of the war years: the help they had received from the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council (NJASRC).
Japanese and Japanese Americans have traditionally limited their attention to the needs of their own community. The creators of the NSRCF chose to look outward. Commemorating and mirroring the work of the NJASRC, they reached across boundaries created by war and hate to support young people marginalized by American society and defined as alien or other - just as they had been.
Above all, the NSRCF embodies the Japanese value of ongaeshi. In Japanese, on is an obligation one incurs to a person who gives assistance in a time of one’s need. On binds the giver and the receiver in an unbreakable relationship. The feeling of on compels a receiver to return what has been received.
The Nisei Student Relocation Commemorative Fund was created as an act of ongaeshi. For its founders and supporters, it is a concrete expression of gratitude, and a continuing source of deep satisfaction and joy.
2019 Greater Chicago Awards
Courtney Kurata, Christopher Rattanasamay (recipient of the Shim and Chiyo Hiraoka Scholarship), and Shelley Kurata
I firmly believe that our legacy will continue in this generation of Southeast Asian students and that they in turn will pass that legacy on to another generation of students in the same situation.
-GLENN KUMEKAWA, NISEI