Mary Uyematsu Kao

Mary Uyematsu Kao retired after working 30 years at the UCLA Asian American Studies Center as the publications coordinator.  Kao received her MA in Asian American Studies (UCLA) in 2007.  She is author/photographer of Rockin' the Boat:  Flashbacks of the 1970s Asian Movement (2020), and writes for Through the Fire series of the Rafu Shimpo since 2016.

Updated October 2021

education en

Asian American Studies 101: How I Learned Grandpa Was a Badass!

For whatever “academic inadequacies” the fledgling ethnic studies was accused of back in the early 1970s, what did the institutional establishments of higher education expect when it had all but erased the contributions of people of color in the historical development of the U.S.? Despite these so-called academic inadequacies, the mass movements of people of color along with the larger movements for “relevant education” at the time forced the hand of our academic institutions to give ethnic studies “a chance.” One of the basics of Asian American Studies &l…

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culture en

Grandpa Cherry Blossom - Propagating Japan's Beauty in America - Part 2

Read Part 1 >> Star Nursery Losses During and After Camp When the Uyematsus left for Manzanar, F.M. Uyematsu planned to continue his lucrative Star Nursery business. However, F.M. faced unimaginable difficulties trying to oversee Star Nursery from behind barbed wire. He was limited to correspondence, which his daughter Alice translated, and at least two in-person visits by permission of camp authorities. He left the business with an acting general manager named H.A. Robinson, who after just over a year wanted to declare Star Nursery bankrupt. With the help of attorney J. Ma…

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culture en

Grandpa Cherry Blossom - Propagating Japan's Beauty in America - Part 1

Last AAPI Heritage Month in May brought mainstream recognition to my grandfather, Francis Miyosaku Uyematsu, aka F.M. (1881-1978). Fox 11 News aired two separate stories—each the direct result of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. The first story pays tribute to Uyematsu and Fred Yoshimura’s camellias that grace Descanso Gardens today. It is through the excellent research of Wendy Cheng, associate professor and chair of American Studies at Scripps College, Claremont, that we learn more details of F.M.’s camellia sale to E. Manchester Boddy in her art…

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identity en

Ode to Mi Madre and Other Nisei Moms

You could call this a belated birthday message to my mother, Elsie Osajima, who turned 93 this past July. We are fortunate that she is healthy, upbeat, competitive, attention-loving, easy to friend, fiercely independent, and still mobile even without a walking cane. She played tennis until she was 60, and was forced to quit because of a bone spur. I’m sure this had something to do with her good physical condition today. I used to brag about her to people I met in the L.A. Asian American Movement back in the ’70s. She can actually be credited with getting my sister and me involved…

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community en

Japanese Mexicans — Our Little-Known Relatives ‘South of the Border’

UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center held a book talk by Selfa A. Chew on her publication, Uprooting Community: Japanese Mexicans, World War II, and the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands. She was graciously introduced by Professor Valerie Matsumoto, who grew up in these borderlands. Given the fact that Mexico is such a close neighbor geographically, I wonder why Japanese Mexicans are not a familiar part of our awareness. As a kid in the 1950s, we used to go on family vacations to Rosarito Beach, and my dad’s fishing club used to go deep-sea fishing off the coast of Baja California. Mexican food …

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