Rosalyn Tonai

Executive Director


It was common occurrence growing up in an all-white neighborhood, that I would be asked, “Who are you? Where did you come?” When my pat answer “Los Angeles” was not enough to satisfy their curiosity, they would persist, “No, really, where did you come from, your ancestors? Annoyed by being singled out as identifiably different from my peers, I grew to resent these questions about my identity. Fast forward to today, in the Bay Area where multicultural families are common, such inquiries are usually cordial guessing games.  “Hey, are you Japanese American?  Are you part Chinese?  Are you hapa?” I’m not so bothered by the questions. I suppose it depends on the context of how I am asked and who is doing the asking.

In the context of the presidential campaigns, the rancor and fear-mongering over people’s national origin, ethnicity or religion is a tactic nothing less than political scapegoating. They are not too different from school yard bullying. We’ve seen it time and time again; we’ve also experienced it personally and collectively as Japanese Americans. The vestiges of wartime hysteria and racial prejudice creep into the political arena and become a toxic mix igniting a fear of and hatred toward others.

It was after all, race prejudice, wartime hysteria and failure of political leadership that led to the egregious incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII. The government acknowledged its grave mistake with redress and reparations as well as funding for civil liberties educational initiatives to begin to set the record straight. But did it? Even today, we find the same misrepresentations about the justification for camps for Syrian refugees or Muslim Americans being resurrected in the political discourse.

As Japanese Americans, we need to step up and set the record straight. That is why in coalition with other Muslim and Arab American civic groups, the Bay Area Day of Remembrance Committee held a press conference to clarify what occurred historically and to combat the toxic mixture of fear and hate directed at innocent members of the Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian communities.

Just as it is NJAHS’ mission to share the Japanese American experience as part of the larger American narrative, it should be every Japanese American’s responsibility to aid in that effort by speaking up and being heard. By doing so, we help shape that American historical narrative.

NJAHS continues to keep a busy pace in the coming year. Teaching the next generation continues to be our priority at our office and museum in San Francisco’s Japantown and at the Military Intelligence Service Historic Learning Center in the Presidio of San Francisco. Under the direction of Dr. Grace Morizawa, and NJAHS Program Development Associate Melissa  Ayumi Bailey, our regional ties and our newly developed historic-inquiry and place-based curriculum is now accessible on-line. As part of the National Veterans Network, we are working with the Smithsonian Institution to bring the little known story of the Nisei soldier to light through an interactive online website.

We are strategically re-designing the space for our site in Japantown to create a more accessible visitor-friendly experience that helps re-vitalize Japantown. In this 110th  commemorative year for SF Nihonmachi, we look toward new ways to promote “this great place to be” with social media and creative audience engagement. Speaking of accessibility, we are undertaking our most ambitious project to date: digitizing much of our WWII camp collections of documents, manuscripts, videos, audio tapes under the direction of Project Manager Paloma Anoveros and Exhibition and Collections Manager Max Nihei, who recently completed his Masters in Museum Studies at the University of San Francisco.

Our loyal and supportive board members make us proud to be a part of NJAHS. And without a doubt, we appreciate our our enduring members and supporters, volunteers and interns for their strong support. I am most grateful for your steadfast belief that we are making a difference in this world.


Past Director's Reports

Rosalyn Tonai

Executive Director


Everyone’s has their ups and downs. What I’ve learned over the years working with our elders, is that when you have rain, you will have sunshine, when there is war, there is peace, sometimes you just change the lens.  It’s that sense of optimism and promise that I’ve seen in a generation that has lived through so much.

George Yoshida wrote in his seminal book on Japanese Americans and music, Reminscing in Swingtime, “Artists are healers—youthful Nisei provided the balm to disheartened souls,” when referring to those youngsters who created dance bands in the camps.  Amid the desolation of camp life, Japanese Americans found hope in their own musical expressions. It was a matter of survival for many, and a natural movement in the acculturation of the Nisei- an affirmation of their identity as American youth.

Editor Ben Hamamoto, takes it a step and a generation or two further. With a featured tribute to the “hipster” musician & author George Yoshida, and ethnomusicologist Anthony Brown, Hamamoto reveals the life’s work of these two “greats.” Along the continuum, Hamamoto presents Professor Loren Kajikawa’s perspective on the transnational influence of Nisei and Japanese musical performers in the 1950s. From the 80’s and 90’s he presents Asian American perspectives with Francis Wong as he reflects on his Art and Politics. He presents Nikkei Hip-Hoppers by Colin Ehara struggling in the shadows, and then showcases his own take on Japanese artists who’ve had impact on the recording scene in the States. Through these new lenses, and somewhat blurring distinctions between Japanese and American, Hamamoto broadens the idea of a Nikkei spirit in music.

Likewise at NJAHS, in spite of the setback due to the Building 640’s roof collapse last December, our spirits are uplifted and we are back on track. Singing praise to our steadfast partners The Presidio Trust and the National Park Service, and our congressional sponsors House Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senators Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Daniel Inouye, Daniel Akaka and Congressman Mike Honda and our development team, we are thankful for their full support in these tough times. We are re-building on the original site, a new, stronger Building 640 for safe public access. With the blessings that have been bestowed upon us, we remain focused on our core objectives for 2012-13 to:

  • Preserve the Lessons of the Japanese American experience
  • Rebuild Bldg 640 & Support the MIS Historic Learning Center at the Presidio of San Francisco
  • Raise public awareness of the Congressional Gold Medal

In the coming year, join us in raising the matching funds to re-build Building 640 with exciting new exhibitions, using the latest technology, and programming on the MIS legacy –peace and reconciliation. We are truly grateful to you our members, supporters, funders, our partners, volunteers and staff. Check out the progress and future hard hat tours, and contribute now to the Inaugural Donor Wall.

Sincerely Yours,
Rosalyn Tonai