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Guide to the George Yuzawa Papers TAM.442

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012
(212) 998-2596
special.collections@nyu.edu


Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Collection processed by Yung Hua Nancy Ng Tam and Janice Liao

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on March 02, 2021 using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

 Edited by Amy C. Vo to change legacy description about the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II  , February 2021

Biographical Note

George Katsumi Yuzawa (1915-2011) was born in Los Angeles, California on February 21, 1915. George's Issei (first-generation immigrant) parents, Tamasaburo "James" and Bun "Mary" Yuzawa, emigrated to the United States from Nagano, Japan. In 1917, James Yuzawa established the Vermont Flower Shop located in downtown Los Angeles. He served a term as president of the Southern California Floral Association.

As a young man, George was a founding member of Boy Scout Troop 64 in Los Angeles and achieved the rank of Life Scout. In 1932, he and other young Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans) helped Mas Satow, of the YMCA, establish the Japanese Athletic Union (JAU) to coordinate Nisei high school baseball, basketball, football, and track competitions in southern California. Yuzawa served as president of the JAU from 1935-1938. In 1933, George graduated from Manual Arts High School and attended Los Angeles City College, where he earned an associate's degree in Business. Discrimination against persons of Japanese ancestry limited job opportunities, even for educated Nisei. The prevailing employment climate led George to work with his father.

In 1940, George married Kimiko Hattori. She was the 23-year-old Nisei daughter of Tora and Seikichi "Walter" Hattori. Walter was the proprietor of Nippon Produce Market in Los Angeles. He was also an official in a local southern California produce union.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. The law forcibly removed all Japanese and Japanese Americans on the west coast to concentration camps under the direction of the Wartime Civilian Control Agency (WCCA). The Yuzawa and Hattori families were forcibly removed from their homes, and thereby made to abandon their prosperous businesses and dispose of whatever property they could not carry with them. They were among the 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry who were sent to ten concentration camps in the western and south central United States.

The Yuzawas and Hattoris, along with approximately 20,000 other Japanese Americans, endured several months at the Santa Anita racetrack, a temporary detention facility converted from stables. George served as the assistant director of men's athletics at Santa Anita. In September 1942, they were transported under armed guard to the Granada Relocation Center, also known as Camp Amache, in the desolate southeastern region of Colorado, near the small town of Granada. The Granada Relocation Center housed over 7,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, the majority of whom were American citizens or longtime permanent U.S. residents who were ineligible for citizenship under American immigration laws. Barbed wire fences surrounded the concentration camp and armed U.S. Army soldiers monitored the prisoners from guard towers. At Granada, George's father served as a block manager and George worked as the purchasing officer for the school system within the concentration camp.

George's younger sister, Chieko "Patricia," 19 years old at the time of the forced removal, was not permitted to join her family at Santa Anita or Granada after contracting tuberculosis. The U.S. government moved her to Hillcrest Sanitarium, located in the mountains of northwest Los Angeles. She died there in 1942, never seeing her parents again. During her stay, George was given permission to leave the camp (with an army escort) only once to visit her. The second and final time he went was to claim her body.

Prisoners were allowed to leave the camps if they had someone to sponsor them. In September 1943, the Wartime Relocation Authority (WRA) released George from the Granada Relocation Center because he had the promise of employment from the Annenberg and Erickson Florist Shop in New York City. Once in New York, he arranged for his wife and their parents to join him. In 1944, shortly after the family was reunited, George volunteered for the U.S. Army. He did this despite the fact that he was 29 years old, no longer subject to the military draft and not required to serve. He completed his basic training at Fort McClellan in Alabama and was then attached to an Army Intelligence unit. George was stationed in Tokyo as part of the American Occupation of Japan, where he served as a special officer for entertainment for enlisted U.S. military servicemen. He received an honorable discharge in 1946 and returned to New York City.

George attended City College of New York from 1946 to 1947 on the G.I. Bill, earning a certificate in foreign trade. After forming and operating a modest import-export business named HATCO Trading Company, Inc., George put aside his career ambitions in commercial trading to assist in his father's floral business.

In addition to the floral business, George made the time to volunteer for social, religious, political, and other charitable work. A devout Methodist, Yuzawa was a longtime chair and member of the Japanese American United Church.In the early 1970s, he worked with other Nisei and Sansei (third-generation Japanese American) civil rights activists to combat racial discrimination against Asians. These activists included future academic historian and author Mitziko Sawada, Kazu Iijima and Minn Matsuda, the founders of Asian Americans for Action, human rights activist Yuri ("Mary") Kochiyama, future AIDS advocate Suki Terada Ports, Princeton University theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, and Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, the individual who later discovered "the smoking gun" that demonstrated the Roosevelt Administration knew, back in 1942, that there was no military necessity for the Japanese American forced removal and incarceration.

This same core group of Nisei activists banded together to confront Paris clothing designer, Kenzo Takada. Kenzo, a Japanese national, owned several worldwide boutiques and used historically derogatory terminology for his trademarks and stores. The New York chapter board of the Japanese American Citizens' League (JACL) contacted New York Nisei attorney Moonray Kojima, who filed a lawsuit against Kenzo's Paris firm as well as its American distributor Mallory Outerwear. George and this same group protested the ILGWU's (International Ladies Garment Workers Union) implied anti-Japanese racism in its "Buy American" campaign. The Kenzo and ILGWU incidents prompted George and others to organize Asian Americans for Fair Media, Inc. (AAFM) in 1973. This group of Nisei volunteers monitored the local and national broadcast and print media for negative Asian stereotypes and racial slurs. In 1973, the AAFM published a booklet entitled Stereotypes and Realities: The Asian Image in the United States. In 1974, in recognition of George's work, the Eastern Regional Office of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights asked him to serve as a consultant.

George also devoted much of his time between 1965 and the early 2000s attending to the needs of senior citizens. In 1965, he organized the Ad Hoc Committee of Concerned Asians in New York City to develop a strategy for addressing the housing needs of Issei and Nisei senior citizens. Japanese American Help for the Aging, Inc. (JAHFA) was formed in 1974. JAHFA was a grassroots, non-profit effort to help elderly Issei and Nisei in New York with various concerns such as bilingual assistance, access to medical care, information and referral, food delivery for shut-ins, group activities such as luncheons and field trips, and housing. JAHFA located senior residential housing at the Methodist Home in Riverdale and began placing Issei and Nisei seniors there in 1974. In the early 1980s, JAHFA became a standing committee of the Japanese American Association of New York (JAA) to secure additional financial and manpower resources.

In 1981, George served as a member of the East Coast Japanese Americans for Redress organization that advised the federal Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians and helped organize the November 1981 commission hearings in New York City. The hearings in turn helped shape the 1988 Civil Liberties Act in which President Ronald Reagan and the U.S. Congress apologized for the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese American citizens and permanent residents during WWII, authorized the payment of $20,000 to each victim who was still alive, and allocated $50 million for a public education fund.

As a vice president, board member, and committee chair of the Japanese American Association of New York (JAA), George organized various Japanese cultural, educational, and preservation activities in New York City.

George was a charter member of the Japanese American Lions Club of New York, a member and president of the Nisei Investors of New York, and a Day of Remembrance Committee member. He worked with the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in Los Angeles to develop an Ellis Island exhibit titled "America's Concentration Camps." He was also a founding member (1987) of Asian & Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS (APICHA), a member of the National Parks Conservation Association, and an advisor to Harmonia Opera.