George Yuzawa Papers

GY_GradDate Range: 19082009
Survey Conducted: Tue, 2010-09-14
Creator: Yuzawa, George

History: George Katsumi Yuzawa was born in Los Angeles, California on February 21, 1915. George’s immigrant parents named their Nisei son after the first president of their adopted country, George Washington (whose birthday was a day later on February 22). His parents, Tamasaburo “James” and Bun “Mary” Yuzawa, immigrated to the United States from Nagano, Japan. In 1917, James Yuzawa established the Vermont Flower Shop in downtown Los Angeles near the University of Southern California campus. He served a term as president of the Southern California Floral Association. As a young man, George was a founding member of Boy Scout Troop 64 in Los Angeles and achieved the rank of Life Scout.

In 1932, he and other young Nisei helped Mas Satow, of the YMCA, establish the Japanese Athletic Union (JAU) to coordinate Nisei high school baseball, basketball, football, and track competitions in southern California. Yuzawa served as president of the JAU from 1935-1938. In 1933, George graduated from Manual Arts High School and attended Los Angeles City College, where he earned an associate’s degree in Business. Discrimination against persons of Japanese ancestry limited job opportunities, even for educated Nisei. The prevailing employment climate led George to work with his father.

In 1940, George married Kimiko Hattori. She was the 23-year-old Nisei daughter of Tora and Seikichi “Walter” Hattori. Walter was the proprietor of Nippon Produce Market in Los Angeles. He was also an official in a local southern California produce union.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. The law forced all Japanese and Japanese Americans on the west coast into concentration camps under the direction of the Wartime Civilian Control Agency (WCCA). The Yuzawa and Hattori families were forced to leave their homes, abandon their prosperous businesses, say goodbye to their many non-Asian friends and acquaintances, and dispose of whatever property they could not carry with them. They were among the 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry who were sent to ten concentration camps in the Western and South Central United States.

The Yuzawas and Hattoris lived for several months with approximately 20,000 other Japanese Americans at the Santa Anita racetrack in temporary barracks and converted stables. George served as the assistant director of men’s athletics at Santa Anita. In September 1942, they were transported under armed guard to the Amache concentration camp in the desolate southeastern region of Colorado, near the small town of Granada. Amache housed over 7,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, the majority of who were American citizens or longtime permanent U.S. residents who were ineligible for citizenship under American immigration laws. Barbed wire fences surrounded the concentration camp and armed U.S. Army soldiers monitored the incarcerees from guard towers. At Amache, George’s father served as a block manager and George worked as the purchasing officer for the camp school system. While incarcerated, his younger sister, Chieko “Patricia” – who had been 19 years old at the time of the forced removal and not permitted to join her family due to tuberculosis – died in Hillcrest Sanitarium.

In September 1943, the Wartime Relocation Authority (WRA) released George from Amache because he had the promise of employment from the Annenberg and Erickson Florist Shop in New York City. Once in New York, he arranged for his wife and their parents to join him. In 1944, shortly after the family was reunited, George volunteered for the U.S. Army. He did this despite the fact that he was 29 years old, no longer subject to the military draft and not required to serve. He completed his basic training at Fort McClellan in Alabama and was then attached to an Army Intelligence unit. George was stationed in Tokyo as part of the American Occupation of Japan, where he served as a special officer for entertainment for enlisted U.S. military servicemen. He received an honorable discharge in 1946 and returned to New York City.

George attended City College of New York from 1946 to 1947 on the G.I. Bill, earning a certificate in foreign trade. After forming and operating a modest import-export business named HATCO Trading Company, Inc., George put aside his career ambitions in commercial trading to assist with his father’s floral business. Named Park Central Florist for its proximity to Central Park, the shop, located at 532 Columbus Avenue, became very successful.

Despite his intense work schedule, George made the time to volunteer for social, religious, political, and other charitable organizations. A devout Methodist, Yuzawa negotiated the sale of the Japanese Methodist-Episcopal Church building at 323 West 108th Street following the church’s merger with two other congregations. From 1969 to 1970, he helped design the interior of the then-new Japanese American United Church building at 255 Seventh Avenue in Manhattan. He also provided leadership as a longtime chair and member of the church’s board of directors.

George became actively involved in a wide range of social and political causes. In the early 1970s, he worked with other Nisei and Sansei (third-generation Japanese American) civil rights activists to combat racial discrimination against Asians. These activists included future academic historian and author Mitziko Sawada, Kazu Iijima and Min Matsuda, the founders of Asian Americans for Action, human rights activist Yuri (“Mary”) Kochiyama, future AIDS advocate Suki Terada Ports, Princeton University theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, and Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, who later discovered “the smoking gun,” demonstrating that in 1942 the Roosevelt Administration knew that there was no military necessity for the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans.

This same core group of Nisei activists banded together to confront Paris clothing designer, Kenzo Takada. Kenzo, a Japanese national, owned several worldwide boutiques named “Société Jungle Jap” and used the trademarks “Kenzo of J.A.P.” and “JAP” on his clothing. The Kenzo and ILGWU incidents prompted George and others to organize Asian Americans for Fair Media, Inc. (AAFM) in 1973. This group of Nisei volunteers monitored the local and national broadcast and print media for negative Asian stereotypes and racial slurs. In 1973, the AAFM published a booklet entitled Stereotypes and Realities: The Asian Image in the United States. In 1974, in recognition of George’s work, the Eastern Regional Office of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights asked him to serve as a consultant.

George also devoted much of his time between 1965 and the early 2000s attending to the needs of senior citizens. In 1965, he organized the Ad Hoc Committee of Concerned Asians in New York City to develop a strategy for addressing the housing needs of Issei and Nisei senior citizens. Japanese American Help for the Aging, Inc. (JAHFA) was formed in 1974. In the mid-1980s, George established an affiliation with the Isabella Geriatric Center in upper Manhattan. Isabella offered both nursing home facilities and resident apartments for seniors. He helped establish the West Side Federation for Senior Housing, Inc. (WSFSH) in 1977 and served on the organization’s board of directors.

In 1981, George served as a member of the East Coast Japanese Americans for Redress organization that advised the federal Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians and helped organize the November 1981 commission hearings in New York City. The hearings in turn helped shape the 1988 Civil Liberties Act in which President Ronald Reagan and the U.S. Congress apologized for the WWII forced removal and incarceration of Japanese American citizens and permanent residents, authorized the payment of $20,000 to each incarceree who was still alive, and allocated $50 million for a public education fund.

As a vice president, board member, and committee chair of the Japanese American Association of New York (JAA), George organized various Japanese cultural, educational, and preservation activities in New York City. In 1982, George and the JAA helped establish the annual spring Sakura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. This festival continues to the present day.

George was a charter member of the Japanese American Lions Club of New York, a member and president of the Nisei Investors of New York, and a Day of Remembrance Committee member. He worked with the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in Los Angeles to develop an Ellis Island exhibit entitled “America’s Concentration Camps.” He was also a founding member (1987) of Asian & Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS (APICHA), a member of the National Parks Conservation Association, and an advisor to Harmonia Opera.

George has received numerous commendations for his years of service, including an invitation to the White House from President Jimmy Carter and the Governor’s Award for Excellence from New York Governor George Pataki. In 1983, the Emperor of Japan awarded George the prestigious Order of the Sacred Treasure, 5th Class, for his service on behalf of both Japanese and non-Japanese people.

George and Kimi reside in New York City. They have two married children, Gene and Pat Yuzawa-Rubin, and three grandchildren.

Source: Tam, Y.H. Nancy Ng. “Guide to the George Yuzawa Papers.” Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University. Last modified June 26, 2013. Accessed February 4, 2015.

Summary: The collection, spanning in date from 1908 to 2009, documents the life and work of Japanese American activist George Yuzawa through meeting minutes, reports, correspondence, notes, legal documents, press releases, newsletters, clippings, event flyers and programs, posters, buttons, video, audio, books, and scrapbooks. The bulk of materials date from the 1940s (the time of his incarceration and military service) and from the 1970s through 1990s, during which time George held leadership positions in numerous Asian American organizations, including JAA, JACL, JAHFA, JAUC, and JANM. The oldest materials in the collection is a subject file containing personal documents belonging to Nobuji Ashikaga (how or why Yuzawa acquired this is unknown). The most recent materials in the collection are contextual notes that daughter Patricia Yuzawa-Rubin sent to accompany the second accrual to the collection.

The first series, contained in 0.7 linear feet, covers George’s early life through World War II and consists largely of official documents, correspondence, and clippings chronicling the experience of the Yuzawa and Hattori families at the Granada concentration camp in Amache, Colorado. Included are administrative documents documenting concentration camp governance such as by-laws, financial reports, communications and directives from authorities, forms requesting and granting permission, letters of reference and lists of residents, relatives, and addresses as well as more personal items such as notebooks. Also contained within this series are records George requested relating to his service in the U.S. Army during WWII and a few files on his life in Los Angeles, California before incarceration. These include correspondence, programs, and forms documenting his involvement in the YMCA, Japanese American Athletic Union, and Boy Scouts of America.

Measuring approximately 4.0 linear feet, the second series, which covers the years following World War II, consists of meeting minutes, financial reports, correspondence, event programs, flyers, newsletters, and clippings documenting Yuzawa’s activist work within the New York Japanese and Asian American community from the 1970s to 2000s.

Materials in this series related to the redress campaign and World War II remembrance document the 1980s legislative struggle to secure reparations and an official apology from the U.S. government for Japanese Americans incarcerated during WWII. These documents include letters of support, testimonies, summary explanations of laws, newsletters, newspaper clippings as well as flyers and other ephemera advertising workshops, films, and other events designed to educate and build collective remembrance of incarceration and support for the Redress Movement. There are also copies of George and Kimi Yuzawa’s Redress checks, programs to community Redress celebrations, and photographs of Ronald Reagan signing the 1988 Civil Liberties Act.

Also contained within these series are documents addressing Japanese American military service memorials. Included are newsletters, recent clippings that Yuzawa collected about Japanese American WWII veterans, and correspondence and event programs from the Go For Broke Foundation, National Japanese American Memorial Foundation, JANM, and other institutions hosting events and erecting memorials commemorating the service of Japanese Americans in the armed forces.

Documents related to the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) consist largely of press and information about “America’s Concentration Camps,” an exhibition about Japanese American incareration on view at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum between November 11, 1994 and October 15, 1995. Included are documents such as internal correspondence and resource binders listing information about docents, community relations, and key contacts as well as more public documents such as fact sheets, brochures, press kits, and museum visiting information. The section also contains member outreach materials such as campaign reports, museum publications, and information on the museum’s planning, opening, and expansion.

Documents also include those from the media campaigns against racially offensive representations of Asian Americans in the media lead by George Yuzawa, Kazu Iijima, Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga, and other activists in the 1970s and 1980s. Included are correspondences, clippings, flyers, press releases, notes, and legal documents.

Relating to the activities of the Japanese American Association (JAA) are administrative documents such as meeting minutes, financial reports, constitution, by-laws, and correspondence that Yuzawa kept as vice president, board member, and committee chair. Newsletters, flyers, and programs document events that JAA helped sponsor such as the Nipponanza cultural and arts festival, Miss New York Nikkei contest, and member dinner dances.

Documenting Yuzawa’s work with Japanese American Help for the Aging, Inc. (JAHFA) are meeting minutes, financial reports, correspondence, newsletters, events flyers, and resource information on elderly housing and care. The early history of JAHFA is documented through files on its various predecessor ad hoc committees, needs assessment questionnaires, and grant proposals.

The activities of the Japanese American United Church (JAUC) are covered in: minutes and reports from JAUC’s annual congregational meetings, Board of Directors meetings, pastoral search committee and the Concerned Group of JAUC; correspondence; fellowship newsletters; event flyers and programs; and directories of members and church officers. The section also contains materials relating to the 19th Century Japanese burial plot at Willow Grove Cemetery in New Brunswick, New Jersey and memorial services at Cypress Hills and Mount Olivet Cemeteries.

General post-WWII coverage consists of personal documents, correspondence, and subject files relating to Asian American organizations and individuals in which Yuzawa took an interest or active part. They include: substantial files relating to the Sakura Matsuri (Cherry Blossom Festival), and a limited number of documents from other organizations with contents ranging from event programs and flyers to correspondence, newsletters, and member lists. The series also contains Yuzawa’s personal documents such as resumes and awards, birth and marriage certificates, medical records, memory writing exercises, personal correspondences, and an assorted collection of information about Asian American events and people.

Approximately 1.0 linear feet contains the third series and consists of documents considered oversized, ephemera, and other printed materials These include ephemera such as posters and buttons and printed materials such as books and copies of the Japanese American community newspaper New York Nichibei. Of note are several items separated from Series I: Early Life and WWII because of size or format. These include James T. Yuzawa’s personal notebook and scrapbook of clippings and “souvenir albums” (scrapbooks) of the Amache Consumer Enterprises co-op and the Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS).

The fourth series consists of video and audio materials: a betamax video cassette recording and three long-playing (LP) albums of English conversation lessons for Japanese speakers.

Total Size: 7.0 linear feet and 7 boxes
APA-related Size: 7.0 linear feet and 7 boxes
Languages of materials: English and Japanese
Arrangement: chronological
Location: Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University
Bibliographic Control: finding aid
Finding Aid Link:
Conditions Governing Access: Contact repository for detailed information on conditions governing access.

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