Michi Kobi Papers (TAM 697)

A black and white photograph of Michi Kobi from the chest up. She is looking at the camera and smiling. Michi Kobi (1924-2016) was born Michiko Kobinata Okamoto in Sacramento, California. She was eighteen years old when she and her mother were sent to Tanforan Assembly Center and then Topaz Incarceration Camp in Utah during World War II. After camp, she moved to New York City to pursue a career in acting, and lived in the city until her death in 2016.

Kobi was a film, television, and stage actor. Her breakthrough role was as Sumi Fujita in Tokyo After Dark (1959). She had an active career as a model in print and video, and worked as a secretary, as well as a translator and tutor in the Japanese External Trade Organization (JETRO) program.Despite her success as an actor, Kobi was critical of the limited roles available to her and Asian American women in entertainment. She was also outspoken about the sanitized depictions of World War II incarceration camps in films such as Hell to Eternity, and in the Broadway play Allegiance. Her activism addressed issues beyond representation. In the late 1970s, Kobi was involved in the push to hold commission hearings in New York City as part of the Redress Movement which sought justice in the form of apology and reparations for those incarcerated during World War II. In 1998, she helped the Japanese American National Museum organize the exhibition American Concentration Camps: Remembering the Japanese American Experience at Ellis Island.

The Michi Kobi Papers consist of correspondence, newspaper clippings, and drafts of writing by the collector. The collection also includes several drafts of her memoir about her experience at the Topaz Incarceration Camp, and drafts of an unpublished novel about Japanese immigrants in early twentieth-century San Francisco. The papers contain several files of clippings and ephemera related to conferences on Japanese incarceration, and the campaign for Redress between the late 1980s and 2000s.

To learn more about the contents of the Michi Kobi Papers, located at the Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, view the collection’s finding aid.