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St. Louis Chapter History

During the early years the JACL worked to overturn the anti-miscegenation statute in Missouri and to gain passage of the McCarran-Walters Act which gave the right of citizenship to all regardless of race.  In 1956 the first group of St. Louis Issei were sworn in as citizens after attending classes taught by Paul Maruyama.   In 1965 the Supreme Court ruled that anti-miscegenation laws were unconstitutional, ending the need for interracial couples to leave Missouri to marry.  In 1975 the Executive Order 9066 was repealed.  A local redress committee testified at the Missouri State Senate and the Senate unanimously passed a resolution supporting the recommendations of the  Committee on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, and urged Congress the President to do likewise.  The final result was the passage of the redress law in 1988 signed by President Reagan.

The chapter held a Full Moon Festival in 1965 at the Sheraton Jefferson Hotel, with sukiyaki, bon odori, judo, painting, calligraphy and Japanese cultural displays.  The proceeds would provide a gift of Japanese stone lantern to the Missouri Botanical Garden.  When JACL approached the director, Dr. Peter Raven, he was so delighted that he proposed building a Japanese garden to house it. In 1974  the Garden broke ground.  Japanese landscape architect Koichi Kawana was selected with the help of JACLers to design Seiwa-En: Garden of Pure, Clear Harmony and Peace.  The Full Moon Festival evolved into the annual Japanese Festival in 1976 and has become a major St Louis event with over 20,000 people attending during a 3-day week-end of Japanese cultural activities.    At the entrance of the Japanese Garden there is a stone monument with these engraved words:  Inspired by the Japanese American Citizens League.  JACLers along with the Japanese American Society began the Sister City Program in cooperation with Suwa City, and the Sister State program with the Prefecture of Nagano.  Many cultural exchanges and support for the Garden, as well as the gift of the Tea House have been the results of these programs.  The efforts of many JACLers have helped make St. Louis and its magnificent garden famous and respected in japan…so much so that the Emperor and Empress of Japan chose to make St Louis one of their stops in their 1995 visit to the United States.  The JACL Board was specifically invited to attend a tree planting by the Royal Couple.

In 1971 Mr. and Mrs. Y. Yamamoto made a generous donation to chapter for a scholarship program.  Throughout the years many families as memorials to their members have provided additional funds,   Since 1971 many scholarships and loans to JACL high school graduates for college and technical schools have been awarded.  A JACL library was established to provide books and other material relating to  Japanese Americans.

The Nisei Kitchen was published in 1975 consisting of treasured Japanese recipes of St. Louis Niseis to be handed down to their Sansei and Yonsei children and grandchildren.  Now in its eighth printing, the cookbook has been sold throughout the United States, and requests continue to come in for it.

In 1990 JACLers John and Nikki Hara worked to establish a network with organizations of Americans of Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Phillipine and Indian descent.  The Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans supports and works together on projects of common interest.   Yearly, JACL and CAPA host a networking dinner during Asian Pacific American month.

After the tragedy of September 11, 2001, the JACL offered support to Muslim Americans in St Louis.  A group of JACLers were invited to the local mosque and were given a tour and a brief explanation of the Islamic religion.  In later months Bob Mitori was invited to the Mosque to sit on a panel comprised of himself, an internee in the camp in Rohwer, Arkansas, a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust and an African American.  All spoke on their own experiences of prejudice and incarcerations.   JACL's speakers bureau has provided several members who have gone to schools, churches, civic groups and book clubs, even a police organization to educate the public about the Internment, especially in 2000 when the state of Missouri instituted a statewide reading program of Farewell to Manzanar  by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston.

Currently the St. Louis JACL is a participant and supporter of the annual Missouri Botanical Garden's Japanese Festival.  It provides generous scholarships to members' children.  There is an annual read-in book club which selects appropriate fiction and nonfiction for discussion.  There are joint activities with CAPA.  There is an annual picnic on the Fourth of July where everyone can catch up with each others activities.   This past September,  President Wendy Mitori and past internee, 90-year old Janice Koizumi, participated in a program of ethnic profiling at Washington University in St. Louis.   Even with a very small membership, the chapter continues to support the principles that the JACL holds dear. 


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