This past June, at the American Library Association Annual Conference, City Lights held a raffle for a limited edition print of Rad American Woman Yuri Kochiyama, a Japanese-American activist most known for her tireless work seeking justice for political prisoners and reparations for the internment of Japanese Americans. Kochiyama shares space with other rad(ical) American women such as Angela Davis and Temple Grandin in Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries Who Shaped Our History . . . and Our Future!. The book is written by Kate Schatz with art by Miriam Klein Stahl, and is City Lights’ first book for kids, released on our Sister Spit imprint. The limited edition print of “Y Is for Yuri” was made by Miriam Klein Stahl.
A few weeks later, the winner of that raffle and director of the Japanese American National Library, Karl Kaoru Matsushita, was sitting in the Poetry Room sharing his own rad story.
Back in 1968, strikers at San Francisco State University (led by the Black Student Union and the Third World Liberation Front) were writing up their demands – one being the development of an ethnic studies program for which Matsushita would soon be helping to develop a curriculum. At the time he was a graduate student studying sociology and recalls being approached by the Freshman organizers for guidance. Out of necessity for resources to support the ethnic studies program, the Center for Japanese American Studies was born. The Center became the home of the Japanese American National Library (JANL), now operating independently in the heart of San Francisco’s Japantown.
The library holds over 1,000 boxes of archival documents and 40,000 books relating to Japanese and Asian Americans. It is internationally known for its massive JACL (Japanese American Citizens League) history collection. Officially founded in 1929, the JACL is the nation’s oldest and largest Asian American civil rights organization. The library keeps archives of the organization starting as early as 1923. Though not a loaner library, the JANL is open to the community, and provides resources to not only students and scholars, but anyone who is interested in these sorts of materials.
Amazingly, the JANL has been able to survive through donations and the loving labor of Matsushita and his colleagues. In an interview posted on Vimeo by Claudia Katayanagi, Matsushita jokes that it has been said that they are the “one organization that shouldn’t be here.” (We highly suggest checking out the interview, it is fantastic.) Matsushita was savvy in his collecting. During college he worked in a used book store and became acquainted with some of the top dealers of antiquarian books. The library also receives book donations from authors as well as 23 different newspapers. Today, it is one of the best research centers for the Japanese in America.
And in another City Lights connection to the JANL and Japanese-American history, it was the longtime executive director of the Japanese American History Archives, Seizo Oka, whose son Francis Oka was a staff member at City Lights from 1967 to his death in 1970. It was Francis who was most responsible for our head book buyer, Paul Yamazaki, being hired here.
Here at City Lights, we believe that Yuri Kochiyama’s image couldn’t have found a better home. Please consider volunteering, or making a donation to the JANL so that we can keep these vital cultural treasures around. It is through the efforts of those like Kate Schatz, Miriam Klein Stahl, and Karl Kaoru Matsushita that help to preserve and share our neglected, painful, overlooked, hidden, or forgotten histories.
To read more about Yuri Kochiyama, and other Rad American Women, stop by the store and pick up a copy of the New York Times Bestseller. Y, of course, is for Yuri.