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Alice Kasai

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Alice Kasai Will be missed An unwavering community advocate and peace activist, Alice Fumiyo Kasai passed away Saturday, January 6, 2007 in Salt Lake City. Alice has been a beloved and highly honored member of many communities within the Salt Lake City community. The generosity of her egalitarian spirit stretched around the world to empower, mentor and befriend foreign and local students, the disenfranchised, immigrants, international leaders, state and local officials, religious leaders and many activists in community organizations. She married Henry Yoshihiko Kasai in 1937 and raised a family of six children, Una (Jack Nakamura), Kimiyo (Rob Johnson), Emi (David Toland), Yoshinaga (Linda; he died 1999), Hershy (Sun Mi) and Lisa. When Henry died in 1966 Alice became a single mother with four young children to raise by herself. She also leaves 11 grandchildren; nine great-grandchil-dren, seven nephews and nieces. Her sister, Teruchiyo June Niwa (1999); and brother, Raymond Tasuke Iwamoto (1999) preceded her death. The challenges of her own immigrant childhood sensitized her concerns for fellow Japanese Americans in relocation camps during World War II. Henry had been arrested by the FBI without explanation and he had spent two and a half years in special internment camps for Japanese community leaders until he was unexpectedly released without explanation. During his absence she came forward to lead the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) in Salt Lake and her home became an office, clearing house, meeting space for JA concerns as well as coordinating support for families in relocation camps and the Japanese American GI's going off to war. Her natural beauty and articulate grace, alongside her fierce determination helped her get the attention of Utah's governing officials through her tireless advocating and lobbying on behalf of the Japanese community throughout the Intermountain West. Her passionate belief in the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the good intentions of the U.S. Government fired her patriotic efforts to reassure local, state and national leaders that Japanese Americans were loyal U.S. citizens. After World War II she and Henry worked to win citizenship rights for Japanese aliens like Henry and once Henry had the rights of a citizen, her life-long activism continued not only with the JACL, but with many Civil Rights issues such as anti-miscegenation, minority and women's rights. She committed 40 years of service with PTA, working at local, city and state levels on education issues, many focused on the challenges of immigrant and minority children. She lobbied tirelessly for fair housing, employment, education and other civil rights concerns. With all her coordinating activities, she evolved into a historian. She wanted to tell the story of Japanese immigrants to all Americans and had many articles published. Her chronicle of local Japanese American history has been recorded in the Peoples of Utah, edited by Helen Papanikolas, as well as other books. She worked with the Utah Historical Society, and many educational projects in the schools telling stories of Japanese people. She promoted the Japanese Oral History Project. She and Henry helped launch the Japanese section in the International Peace Garden at Jordan Park as the first completed community garden in1949. She attended the dedication ceremony in spite of labor pains and went directly to the hospital after the ceremony to deliver her first son, Yoshinaga. She and Henry organized and helped launch the Sister City Project between Salt Lake City and Matsumoto City, Japan. She went to Matsumoto City to be honored at their Silver Anniversary Observance in 1983. Many student exchange programs have come out of the Sister Cities Program as well as other community projects. Her interest in civil rights and international understanding led her into many alliances. NAACP, (1950's-80's) president of Utah United Nations, (1985-88) Council on Aging, (1987-90) education projects, advocating for immigrant children, single mothers, Utah Citizens Committee for Civil Rights, Asian Assn. of Utah, Salt Lake County Aging Services Advisory Council, Meals on Wheels, Oral History Institute Board, (1983-88) Multi-Ethnic High Rise Apartment-surrogate Mom to many, just to name some. Her support for the Japanese American and Asian community began in 1938 earning her a medallion for sixty years of service with the Japanese American Citizens League. The community awards and honors given to her over the years are equally profuse and testament to all the hidden hours and years of humanitarian work on behalf of many grateful individuals, groups and community agencies. Among them: Phi Delta Kappa's "Man of the Year in Public Education Award", Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce " Americanism Award", "Peace & Justice" Turner-Fairbourne Award, Council of Women, "Hall of Fame Woman of the Year Award", YWCA "Outstanding Achievement Award", and the Governor's Silver Bowl. The intention that drove all her endeavors was her strong belief in the oneness of all humankind and her commitment to world peace. These values were distilled through her personal hardships as the child of poor immigrants and her focus on living the spiritual teachings of her Bahai Faith. Alice and Henry both have more detailed accounts of their community contributions housed at the University of Utah's Marriott Library, Special Collections so that research projects can benefit from their accumulated records.
Published in Salt Lake Tribune on Jan. 7, 2007
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