Yuji Ichioka and Early Moments in the Asian American Movement

Yuji Ichioka

Image result
Yuji Ichioka, n.d.

Having personally experienced racism when he and his family were incarcerated at Tanforan Assembly Center during World War II,  Ichioka was an advocate for Asian American civil rights and anti-imperialism who became to be considered the person who started the foundation of Japanese American history (Kang). Here is a video of Yuji Ichioki as a panelist on a forum on World War II and Asian-Americans. He is believed to be the one who coined the term “Asian American” in an effort to unite people of all Asian ethnicities in the United States (UCLA). In a time when the number of people of Asian descent totaled about 1 million, this idea was uncommon (Gibson and Jung; Kang). Yet, his founding of the Asian American Political Alliance in 1968 was a moment that contributed to the beginnings of the Asian American Movement and paved the path for unifying with other minority movements in their struggle, and the consequences of this have reverberated to today.

Asian American Political Alliance and the Third World Liberation Front

Prior to the 1960’s, Asian Americans identified with their families’ ancestral origins and were usually referred to as “Oriental” by white America. Chinatown’s Perspective details some first-hand accounts of Chinese Americans’ experiences during 1968 riots and feelings of lacking identity in the U.S. It was not until mid 1968 that Ichioka and his wife (then girlfriend) Emma Gee founded the Asian American Political Alliance (AAPA) while enrolled as graduate students at the University of California Berkeley. They incorporated the term “Asian American” (it is believed that this was the first instance in which such a term was used) in hopes of unifying Asian ethnicities and promoting self-determination and anti-imperialism (Niiya). A chapter at San Francisco State University followed soon after. Below we see a statement regarding the desired organization of the AAPA written in the summer of 1968.

Understanding of AAPA, 1968.

On March 23, 1968 a coalition of the Black Students Union, the Latin American Students Organization, the Filipino American Students Organization, and El Renacimiento (a Mexican American organization) at SFSU formed the Third World Liberation Front in response to a series of protests regarding the lack of diversity at the university.  The SFSU AAPA chapter joined soon after. In November 1968, the Third World Liberation Front began its six-month strike -the longest student strike in U.S. history-demanding an ethnic studies department and an increase in the enrollment and hiring of students and faculty of color. The strike eventually ended in March 1969 when the university signs an agreement accepting the fifteen demands presented by the Liberation Front. As seen in the snips of newspapers and flyers below, we can sense the tension present in the social and political climates of 1968.

A Continuing Legacy: What’s Remembered and Forgotten

Within two years of the formation of the AAPA at UC Berkeley, there were already at least forty chapters and similar pan-Asian organizations on and off-campuses across the country (Ishizuka). The Third World Liberation Front strikes successfully resulted in the creation of an Ethnic Studies Department which included Asian American Studies at both SFSU and UC Berkeley.  In 1969, Ichioka helped found and became the associate director

Phoenix, November 7, 1968of the Asian American Studies Center at the University of California Los Angeles, where he taught the university’s first Asian American Studies course (Marquez).  This is now the country’s largest center for Asian American studies research (Kang). Thanks to this historic precedent of the formation of Asian American Studies in California universities, currently there are almost 400 Asian American Studies university programs and centers across the U.S.. The memory of the origins of the Asian American Movement is certainly partial. When we think of the social movements of the 60’s and 70’s, what tends to come to mind is the Black Power Movement and the Vietnam War Protests. However, around the same time other movements for minority rights stemmed from the Civil Rights Movement, like the American Indian Movement and of course, the Asian American Movement. Because of this partial and collective nature of memory, it is very difficult to find information on Ichioka. There are very little resources about him, so many might not trace back the origins of the movement to the role Ichioka played as an advocate of Asian American unification and early pioneer of Asian American Studies. The memory of a legacy that Ichioka helped create is usable and can be instrumentalized, with the Third World Liberation Front strikes being a potential site of memory used for rallying for current social justice movements given how it serves an example of the power of protest. The creation of the AAPA was a starting point in inciting political involvement among Asian American communities and Ichioka played an important role in highlighting the need to remember the history of Japanese Americans and minorities as a whole. He stated that -like that of all minorities in the U.S.-

“… much of Japanese American history remains unwritten (Marquez).”

Thus, the implementation of Asian American Studies in universities continues to be a necessary component for assuring that Asian American history continues to be written and remembered.


  • Gibson, Campbell; Jung, Kay. “Historical Census Statistics on Population Totals By Race, 1790 to 1990, and By Hispanic Origin, 1970 to 1990, For The United States, Regions, Divisions, and States” (PDF). Population Division. United States Census Bureau, 2002. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-03-27.
  • Gosse V. (2005) Third World Liberation Front. In: The Movements of the New Left, 1950–1975. The Bedford Series in History and Culture. Palgrave Macmillan, New York
  • Ishizuka, Karen L. Serve the People: Making Asian America in the Long Sixties. New York: Verso Books, 2016, p. 72.
  • Kang, K. Connie. “Yuji Ichioka, 66; Led Way in Studying Lives of Asian Americans.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 07 Sept. 2002. Web. 25 Apr. 2018.<http://articles.latimes.com/2002/sep/07/local/me-yuji7>
  • Lowe, Lisa. “The International within the National: American Studies and Asian American Critique.” Cultural Critique, no. 40, 1998, pp. 29–47. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1354466.
  • Marquez, Letisia. “Yuji Ichioka, UCLA Asian American Studies Center Co-Founder, Dies at 66.” UCLA Newsroom, 6 Sept. 2002. <http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/Yuji-Ichioka-UCLA-Asian-American-3489>.
  • Niiya, Brian. “Yuji Ichioka.” Densho Encyclopedia. 22 Jan 2014, 19 Apr 2018 <https://encyclopedia.densho.org/Yuji%20Ichioka/>
  • Understanding of AAPA, 1968, CES ARC 2015/1, Location 1:28 twLF box 1 Folder 28. Ethnic Studies Library, University of California, Berkeley.
  • Yuji Ichioka Papers (Collection 242). UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.
  • Whitson, Helene; Kyles, Wesley. “On Strike! Shut it Down! (Exhibit 1999)”San Francisco State University J. Paul Leonard Library. San Francisco State University

One thought on “Yuji Ichioka and Early Moments in the Asian American Movement”

  1. It’s very intriguing to see the original reason of the emerging of ethnic associations like AAPA. It seems that the association served to create a safe environment and emotionally uplift people who were from various parts of Asia. Although the purpose of such associations still seem to be the similar, their function used to be more of a necessity in the midst of racism. It’s interesting how processual this site of memory is.

Comments are closed.