The Yasui Legacy

Research for this exhibit uncovered information about one extraordinary Oregon family, the Yasuis of Hood River. We planned to display one book about the father, but as research progressed we learned more and more about the difficulties faced by parents and children, and the dignity and courage with which they brought about social change. We also learned that the University of Oregon played a significant part in the lives of this family: four of the Yasui children were students, and they brought change to the University too. The display about the Yasui family eventually overflowed into its own case.

"We are all born for a purpose, and that purpose is to make this world a better place for our having been here." —Masuo Yasui

Masuo Yasui (1886-1957) moved to Hood River in 1905, and opened a small store with his brother. The Hood River Valley area was populated by hundreds of immigrant Japanese laborers by this time, mainly working in logging camps, sawmills, and orchards. Over time, the Yasui Brothers' store became a very successful business venture as well as an important social center for the local Japanese community. Yasui began buying up clear-cut lands and turning them into productive orchards.

In 1912, at the age of 26, Yasui married a childhood friend from his village in Nanukaichi, Japan, with whom he had been corresponding. Shidzuyo Miyake Yasui (1886-1960?), also 26, had attended college in Tokyo and was working as a teacher in a girl's school, where she taught history, geography, philosophy, painting, poetry, flower arrangement, and tea ceremony—a life very different from her new home in the farming community of Hood River. Masuo and Shidzuyo Yasui were married for 45 years and had nine children.

Min Yasui in 1939One of the Yasui sons, Min, from the 1939 Oregana. Min's campaign for justice for the internees forced landmark change in civil rights.

Over the course of 37 years, Masuo Yasui became a highly respected businessman, an important community leader, and one of the most successful fruit growers in the state of Oregon. Within the Japanese community, he provided legal and financial advice and help, often acting as translator and advocate when his fellow immigrants needed the services of the white community, and assisted many of his fellow immigrants in purchasing land of their own. Within the white community, Yasui became a prominent citizen, and was the first Japanese person to be elected to the board of directors of the Hood River Valley Fruit Growers Association. Yasui was a very busy and trusted intermediary between both communities.

Immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the United States government froze all assets of all Japanese Americans. The Yasui Brothers' store was closed and the family was not allowed to take any supplies from the store or withdraw any of their funds. All of their lands were seized. As a leader in the Japanese community, six days after the outbreak of war, Masuo Yasui was arrested by FBI agents, and charged with being a "potentially dangerous enemy alien." He was imprisoned from Dec. 1941 to Jan. 1946. In May 1942, Shidzuyo and her two youngest children were “evacuated” and “relocated” to the Tule Lake internment camp in California.

Michi Yasui in her senior yearOne of the Yasui daughters, Michi, in her senior year at the University of Oregon, featured in the 1942 Oregana. "Speech interests have filled much of the activity time of Michi Yasui, prominent member of Hendricks Hall. She is a member of Sigma Delta Rho, speech honorary and the women's symposium team. Phi Theta Upsilon also claims her as a member." The US government denied Michi permission to graduate with her class, as it would have violated the 8 p.m. curfew for Japanese Americans.

Suspicions raised by Yasui's imprisonment, and the loss of all his property except a fragment of orchard, made Hood River inhospitable after the war. Masuo and Shidzuyo Yasui moved to Portland, where Masuo turned his energies to helping fellow evacuees return to their homes and lives, once again providing legal and financial counsel and advocacy. In 1952 Congress introduced a bill to allow Japanese immigrants to become American citizens. Yasui began teaching classes to help his fellow Japanese men and women—many now in their 60s and 70s—prepare for citizenship. Yasui was one of the first to pass the tests, and became a naturalized American citizen at the age of 66. Later in life, Masuo Yasui suffered from what is now known as Alzheimer’s Disease; he committed suicide at age 71. Shidzuyo Yasui died three years later. The Yasui children became successful in many professions.

The lives of the Yasui family were devastated by Executive Order 9066, by which Japanese Americans were interned, stripped of property, and bereft of rights. While Masuo and Shidzuyo Yasui and their children fought for redress, for themselves and for all those affected by the order, they also worked to build a better world. The Yasui legacy is one of achievement in higher education, humanitarian services, and lasting commitment to community.

Ray Tsuyoshi Yasui (1915?-1989). Ray loved sports, and even spent an extra year in high school to play football. He enrolled at Oregon State College, but left college to work in his father's fruit growing business, and play amateur baseball, until the war broke out. He and his wife were expecting their first child when they were evacuated to the internment camp at Tule Lake, California, in May 1942. Their daughter was born in the camp two months later. Ray was sent to Montana as a laborer, and his wife and baby were able to join him the following year.

After the war, Ray and his family moved back to Hood River, took over the only remaining Yasui orchard, and slowly rebuilt the family business. He was as successful as his father had been in business and farming, and eventually was elected to the board of directors of the Apple Growers' Association. Ray initiated a sister-city program with Tsuruta, a village in the apple-growing district of Northern Japan. Although he did not have a college degree, Ray was appointed to the Oregon State Board of Higher Education by Governor Mark Hatfield and served for six years. Ray Yasui was the first minority person to serve on the board.

Min Yasui playing chessMin as a senior, playing chess with fellow Alpha Hall residents, in the 1938 Oregana.

Minoru Yasui (1916-1986). “Min” graduated at 16, valedictorian of his high school. He enrolled in the University of Oregon, and was the first Japanese American graduate from the University of Oregon Law School. He received his degree with honors in 1939. Unable to find a job with an Oregon firm, he accepted a position with the Japanese Consulate in Chicago. Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Min resigned this post immediately, and tried to join the Army. Although he was an officer in the Reserve Corps, the Army rejected him on the grounds that no American soldier could be expected to follow the command of a Japanese American. For the next three months Min worked relentlessly to help other Japanese Americans file legal papers to protect their properties and prove their citizenships.

On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 "to exclude and remove any and all persons deemed necessary for securing the safety of the West Coast." A curfew order was issued on March 28, 1942, which confined all ethnic Japanese to a prescribed area within five miles of their homes and forbade them to be outside after 8 p.m. or before 8 a.m. Min filed a legal challenge against the order, as a violation of the Constitution. He notified the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office of his intentions then went out after the curfew time to provoke arrest. Convicted for violation of the curfew order, Min was sentenced to a year in prison, in solitary confinement, and stripped of his citizenship, which disbarred him from practicing law. In June 1943, the Supreme Court reviewed Min’s case, the first internment test, but held that Executive Order 9066 and the curfew, evacuation, and internment orders were justified by "military necessity." After serving nine months in prison, Min was moved to an internment camp with his family.

After the war, Min took up residence in Denver, Colorado, and passed the bar examinations with the highest score ever recorded for the Colorado Bar Association. He spent his career helping other Japanese Americans, continued as a political activist, and became involved with many community activities. As director of the Denver commission on community relations in 1976, Min was credited with averting the race riots that inflamed other American cities. In 1976, the city of Denver established a monthly "Min Yasui Community Volunteer Award" in his recognition.

Min Yasui devoted his life to public service and civil rights, and to redress for the injustices against Japanese Americans during the war. Two years after Min’s death, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 established an education fund to ensure that the internment remained part of the American curriculum, provided symbolic redress of $20,000 for the Japanese Americans affected by the internment order, and inspired a formal presidential apology. The University of Oregon Law School presented Min’s widow with a Meritorious Service Award, and established an endowed chair in support of human rights in 2002. The Minoru Yasui chair is the first in the nation to be named for a Japanese American. He is an icon for human rights and for Japanese Americans.

Michi's delayed graduationMichi Yasui Ando finally received her diploma, from the hands of University of Oregon president Paul Olum, in 1986. Research by archivist Keith Richard (center) prompted the long-delayed event.

Michi Yasui Ando (1920-). Michi graduated as salutatorian in her high school class of 1938, and attended the University of Oregon with the ambition of being a teacher like her mother. Michi was in her senior year when the government imposed curfew and travel restrictions. She completed her senior year, but was unable to attend the graduation ceremony, as it would violate the 8 p.m. curfew. The University officials petitioned the Army to grant her an exception for that evening, but it was denied. That same evening, she packed her belongings, sneaked out to the bus depot, and traveled to Denver, to join her brother, Robert. The Eugene area was evacuated just a few days later.

After raising six children, she resumed her dream of being a teacher, and completed her Masters in Education. At the age of 42, she became a teacher in the Denver Public Schools. Michi was an honored guest at the University of Oregon’s graduation ceremony in 1986, as partial recompense for being denied permission to graduate with her class 44 years earlier.

Roku Yasui (1921?-1968?). As a child Roku was fascinated with mechanical things. At age 16, his father gave him a broken-down Model A Ford to repair, and he spent months restoring it piece by piece. As soon as the war broke out, Roku volunteered for the Army but was rejected on racial grounds. At college in the Midwest, Roku was not directly affected by the evacuation and relocation plans. He continued his mechanical engineering studies in Michigan and graduated in 1943, a year ahead of his class.

Roku applied again for military service, as a Japanese language specialist, and was assigned to the Far East. Serving with the Occupation Army in Japan, he was deeply affected by the devastation and the suffering caused by the atomic bomb blasts. Roku spent his off-duty hours helping starving and injured people, using his salary to buy food, clothing, and medications. He became a life-long advocate of peace and an activist against further development of nuclear weapons. After his tour of duty, he returned to the University of Michigan and completed his master's degree in engineering. He moved his family to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and started a doctorate in Far Eastern Studies, at Harvard. He suspended his studies when his wife became ill, and opened a successful machine-tool shop, where he developed several new tools. Roku came back to Oregon for treatment of pancreatic cancer. He died at the age of 47, and was buried next to his parents in Hood River.

Robert Shu YasuiRobert Shu Yasui as a University of Oregon freshman, from the 1942 Oregana.

Robert Shu Yasui (1923-). Robert graduated from high school in 1941, valedictorian of his senior class, with letters in baseball, football, and track. In September 1941, he enrolled at the University of Oregon in pre-medicine. In May 1942, Robert received word that his mother and younger siblings were being evacuated. He requested an early grading from each of his professors then took a bus beyond the curfew boundary, to Denver. He urged his sister, Michi, still at the University of Oregon, to join him. After his first year at the University of Wisconsin, Robert wrote to 20 medical schools in the Midwest and East—but only two would send him application forms. He applied to Temple University Medical School of Philadelphia, and enclosed a letter addressed to the Dean, explaining his circumstances, and asked to be considered on the basis of scholastic merit. He received a personal letter from the Dean one week later, telling him he'd been accepted, even though he hadn't taken the qualifying exams.

Robert graduated from medical school in 1947, at the age of 23. He spent two years in Germany as an officer in the Army Medical Corp. After his tour of duty, he returned to Williamsburg with his family and opened his own surgical practice. He had five children, was active in his church, and received awards for various professional and civic activities (including the Rotary and the local National Conference of Christians and Jews). Robert served as the athletic physician with the Little League World Series for several decades. In 1987 he published a book, The Yasui family of Hood River, Oregon.

Homer Yasui (1925?-). Homer was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition in his junior year of high school, and had to quit football. He continued to play baseball and tennis, and lettered in both sports. He was a high school senior in May 1942, when their family received their evacuation orders. Homer spent two months at the Tule Lake internment camp with his mother and sister, Yuka. In the summer of 1942, the National Student Relocation Council, "a coalition of concerned individuals and service organizations," formed to help Japanese-American students continue their education. To be accepted, the student had to meet requirements including clearances from both the FBI and Army Intelligence, proof of financial resources, and permission from the director of the internment camp. Through the program, Homer joined his siblings, Robert and Michi, in Denver, in September 1942. The following winter, he arranged to become Yuka’s legal guardian, and was able to get her to Denver and into a public high school.

Homer attended the University of Denver, graduated in three years, and applied to ten medical schools. The only school that accepted him was Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia, and he graduated in 1949. In 1954, he joined the Navy Medical Corps as a surgeon, and served with the Allied occupation forces in Japan for two years. When he retired from his surgical practice in 1987, he was one of the higher ranking officers at the Portland Naval Reserves base. Homer remained active in the Japanese American Citizens League and in the campaign for the Redress Bill in Congress. He chaired the national committee in support of overturning the charges against his brother, Min.

The Ando-Yasui family in Eugene in 1968The Yasui family reunion at the University of Oregon in 1986, celebrating Michi Yasui Ando's delayed graduation ceremony.

Yuka Yasui Fujikura (1927-). As a child, Yuka enjoyed performing musical skits with her sister, Michi, and was called "The Mid-Columbia Japanese Shirley Temple." Yuka was a freshman in high school when she was evacuated with her mother and brother, Homer. After ten months in the Tule Lake camp, Homer moved her to Denver, leaving their mother behind. Yuka graduated from high school in 1944 in the top ranks of her class. She wanted to go to college, but did not want to be a financial burden to her family. She decided the University of Oregon would be her best option, as she was still an Oregon resident and eligible for in-state tuition. The West Coast was still "forbidden territory" for Japanese Americans, but Yuka was determined and petitioned to be admitted.

Yuka was the first Japanese-American student to return to the University of Oregon. She was met with hostility and unfriendliness, especially because of the rumors about her imprisoned father and brother, Min, being spies. (Yuka graduated in 1948, but there are no pictures of her in the yearbook.) After graduation, Yuka decided she wanted to go to medical school, like her brothers, Robert and Homer. In 1948 it was difficult for most woman to attend medical school, and even more so for a Japanese-American woman. After receiving many rejections, she decided to change her career path. Yuka applied to Yale for the master's program in public health nursing, and was accepted for fall of 1948. She received her masters degree in 1951, accepted a position with the New Haven Visiting Nurse's Association, and then received a Fulbright scholarship to study public health in Japan. In Japan, she married and started a family, then moved back to Portland. About ten years later, she earned her second masters degree in public health and her husband accepted a position in Hiroshima. Yuka divides her time between her home in Japan and in Maryland. When in the United States, she is an active volunteer with the Washington, D.C. area Planned Parenthood Program, working primarily with underprivileged young girls. She was a recipient of the Margaret Sanger award.

The story of Masuo Yasui and his family is told by his son Robert Masuo, in The Yasui family of Hood River, Oregon, 1987, and by Lauren Kessler’s book, Stubborn Twig, 1993.

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Last revision: 8/8/05 by N. Helmer
Created by Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries