Japanese American History Digital Collection

The California State University System has an enrollment close to 437,000 students at 23 university campuses throughout the state of California. It is the largest university system in the United States. All of these campuses are defined by their community and take an abiding interest in the people and history of those communities. Throughout the last 40 years CSU Libraries and Archives have focused attention on the history and progress of Japanese Americans in their communities. As a result, the collections that have been accumulated at CSU Libraries have a highly local flavor and remarkable depth.

The Archives at several different CSU institutions, including those in Dominguez Hills, Fresno, Fullerton, Northridge, Sacramento, San Jose, Sonoma, and San Francisco have collaborated on the initial planning grant to create a digital archive of the CSU's holdings on this subject. San Diego, Bakersfield, and San Bernardino have also contributed materials.

Collections at CSU Sacramento have mostly come from citizens of the Florin neighborhood in Sacramento and throughout Northern California. CSU Fullerton's oral histories focused on the Japanese American experience were generated by residents of Orange County and other Southern California locales. SJSU's Flaherty Collection consists of materials from Colonel Hugh T. Fullerton of the Western Defense Command. The collections at CSU Dominguez Hills originate mostly from the South Bay of Los Angeles County, where one of the largest concentrations of Japanese Americans resided. CSU Fresno's materials come from the agricultural areas of the San Joaquin Valley. Other archival information, especially camp or WRA materials have come from community groups, collectors or individuals with an abiding interest in the topic.

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The collections represent approximately 300 linear feet of archival materials that focus on some of the most striking events related to the treatment of minorities in U.S. history. The topics cover an enormous range of subjects central to Japanese-American life before, during and after World War II, including immigration, the California Alien Land Acts of 1913 and 1920, the War Relocation Authority (WRA), organizations supporting Japanese Americans, redress, Japanese Peruvians, hostage exchanges on the S.S. Gripsholm, sports, and the U.S. Army's 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Camps represented include Jerome, Gila River, Rohwer, Manzanar, Tanforan, Poston, Amache/Granada, Heart Mountain, Crystal City and more. Among the archives are letters, photographs, oral histories, camp publications, papers of camp administrators and counselors, poetry, art works, leases, certificates and other documents to prove citizenship, and school yearbooks. The project tends to focus on the digitization of paper, photographs, and media such as audio and video.

Hidden within the business operation records of the Rancho San Pedro Collection (CSUDH) are scores of leases and letters both business-like and heartbreaking that document a tenant farmer's "removal by the Federal Government" or the pleading of a former tenant to his former landlord to vouch for a relative's loyalty to the U.S. The attempt of businesses to work within the policies of the Alien Land Acts of the early 20th century are integral to understanding how immigration clashed with prejudice and commercial interests and contributed to World War II incarceration. Strikingly, a 1930s Gardena High School Yearbook includes a photograph of a group of Japanese American students who were the majority of students in the Spanish Club--focusing on a time when integration into the mainstream was assumed.

In 1942, an estimated 250 Japanese American students were forced to leave their CSU campuses and relocated to camps. Many other students were removed from other west coast colleges. In September 2009, the CSU Board of Trustees unanimously voted to honor the academic intentions of these students by awarding them Special Honorary Bachelor of Humane Letters degrees. The videos of those ceremonies are among the archival materials included in this project.

The intention of the CSU Japanese American History Digitization Project is to expand upon the resources and develop an ongoing workflow to support the digitization and online access of these archival collections as they continue to grow through community donations and collaborations.

If you would like to discuss a possible donation to the collections, please contact your local California State University Library or Director of Archives and Special Collections Gregory Williams at California State University, Dominguez Hills.