PHOTO LEFT: UWNAA’s board of trustees (from left to right): Front row – Elsie Leilani Taniguchi, Ken Sato, Irene Fujii Mano, Don Maekawa. Back row – Sharon Maeda, Erin Shen, Cecilia Kanako Kashima, Lillian Hayashi, Sandy Fujita, Emi Suzuki and May Sasaki. Not pictured: Harold Taniguchi and Beth Fujii Kawahara. Photo courtesy of Elsie Taniguchi. PHOTO RIGHT: SYNKOA House.
“We have three generations of Husky in our family,” Irene Fujii Mano, 80, is proud to report.
Mano, the board president of the University of Washington Nikkei Alumni Association (UWNAA), graduated from the UW in 1954, but her history with the association goes back to childhood. Her parents Yoshito and Yukiko Fujii, were active members of UWNAA — her father Yoshito from the very beginning.
It was their generation — Issei — that experienced when Japanese Americans were systematically kept out of UW’s Greek row. So they sought to provide their own University District home for Japanese-American students. Though student groups were meeting informally around 1920, it was in 1922 when the need for a Japanese-American student hub became the genesis for the UWNAA, which was then incorporated as the University Students Club, Inc.
Led by Yoshito Fujii, its first members ran a fundraising campaign extending its net across the Pacific Northwest, raising enough to purchase the association’s two-story building with a basement to host its first meeting in June of 1922. The student center was located where the current UW School of Social Work building is now standing on Fifteenth Avenue Northeast.
Post-World War II, the student center and association’s legacy became welcoming and honoring Nikkei veterans. The renaming of the center to SYNKOA House became symbolic of this era. “SYNKOA” was an acronym that reflected the last name of fallen soldiers. Some of those commemorated in the acronym included George Tatsuya Sawada, Frank Masao Shigemura, George Yamaguchi, Hideo Heidi Yasui, Shigeo Yoshioka, William Kenzo Nakamura, Jero Kanetomi, Yoshio Kato, John Ryoji Kawaguchi, Francis T. Kinoshita, Takaaki Okazaki and Eugene Takasuke Amabe.
The building was eventually sold to UW in 1962 for just more than $52,000, ending an era, closing a chapter in the association’s history and opening the door to start a scholarship fund for Japanese-American UW students in 1965 with the building’s net sales. To date, at least 224 students have received $316,000 since the scholarship fund was first established.
Throughout its 90-year history, the most remarkable moment, says Mano, was in May of 2008, when more than 400 honorary degrees were issued to UW students forcibly taken from campus to report to internment camps during World War II. This was the fruit of countless hours of work on the “The Long Journey Home” project, where participants conducted a nationwide search to track down these students — a project in which UWNAA played a leading role.
Mano remembers one particular graduate at the UW ceremony that spring.
“She was not able to finish her college education,” she says. “She said seven in her family had gone to college, and this was something she always wanted. She said it was the happiest day of her life.”
After the degrees were issued, “the audience gave about a nine-minute standing ovation,” Mano remembers.
As for the next generation of Japanese Americans, Mano hopes she sees some “fresh faces” both on the UWNAA board and in their membership
“A lot of [young people] now are more curious about their background and ancestors,” Mano says.
She hopes that the historical resources of the UWNAA will attract new young members.
The UWNAA celebrates thir 90th on Saturday, August 24th, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the new UW Campus HUB in the North Ballroom. The event will welcome UW President Michael K. Young, honor Sen. Bob Hasegawa as this year’s UW distinguished alumni and showcase the talent of jazz pianist Deems Tsutakawa. Contact Lillian Hayashi at [email protected] for tickets and pricing.
Learn about UWNAA membership, scholarship opportunities and more at