Top 5 Unsung Heroes In Japanese American History (Pt 2)

Earlier this year I wrote an article entitled, Top 5 Unsung Heroes In Japanese American History. One of my editors correctly pointed out that all five people on my list were men. This was totally unintentional but I promised at the time that I would write another article featuring five female unsung heroes in Japanese American history. This is my attempt to make good on my promise but more importantly highlight some more heroes from the community.

The first women who came to mind when I sat down to write this were Aiko Yoshinaga-Herzig, Yuri Kochiyama, Mitsuye Endo, Patsy Takemoto Mink, and Michi Nishiura Weglyn. But I’ve already featured all of these amazing women in Top Five Japanese American Women Civil Rights Pioneers You Should Know. If you don’t know who they are, stop reading and click on the link. They are people YOU SHOULD KNOW.

But this list is meant for the unsung. The people that not everyone knows but should know. Here are my top five after the jump.

Lorraine Bannai
A sansei (third generation), Lorraine Bannai was one of the lawyers who successfully reopened the infamous 1944 Korematsu v. United States and got Korematsu’s case vacated. She is currently a professor at the Seattle University Law School and Associate Director, Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality.

Wakako Yamauchi
One of the most important Nisei (second generation) writers and playwrights, Wakako Yamauchi’s “stories, plays, and memoirs — illuminate three periods in the timeline of Japanese American history: immigration and rural farming in the early 20th century, World War II imprisonment, and postwar readjustment.” One Japanese American writer refers to her as a “cultural treasure.

Sue Kunitomi Embrey
Sue Embrey is best known as one of the organizers of the first Manzanar Pilgrimage in 1969. In addition, she help co-found the Manzanar Committee and was one of the leaders in trying to get Manzanar designated as a California State Historic Landmark.

Tsuyako “Sox” Kitashima
Sox was a Nisei activist who is best known for her tireless work in getting reparations for Japanese Americans over the unjust incarceration of over 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. The Freedom Forum awarded her a Free Spirit Award and she has also been recognized by the National Women’s History Project as a National Women’s History Month/Week honoree.

Japanese American Nurses
When most people think of Japanese Americans in the military during World War II, most probably think of the men who fought for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. However, there were also brave Japanese American women who wanted to do all that they could to help with the war effort. Many of these women volunteered despite the fact that their families were stripped of their Constitutional rights.

Did I forget someone? Let me know who your unsung Japanese American history hero by leaving a comment.

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About Koji Steven Sakai

Writer/Producer Koji Steven Sakai is the founder of Little Nalu Pictures LLC and the CEO of CHOPSO (, the first Asian English streaming video service. He has written five feature films that have been produced, including the indie hit, The People I’ve Slept With. He also produced three feature films, a one hour comedy special currently on Netflix, and Comedy InvAsian, a live and filmed series featuring the nation’s top Asian American comedians. Koji’s debut novel, Romeo & Juliet Vs. Zombies, was released in paperback in 2015 and in audiobook in 2016 and his graphic novel, 442, was released in 2017. In addition, he is currently an adjunct professor in screenwriting at International Technological University in San Jose.
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