Birth of an Activist: The Sox Kitashima Story (book)

Title Birth of an Activist: The Sox Kitashima Story
Author Tsuyako "Sox" Kitashima; Joy K. Morimoto
Original Publisher Asian American Curriculum Project
Original Publication Date 2003
Pages 174
WorldCat Link

A renowned redress activist shares her life story, including how the humiliating experience of wartime incarceration helped shape her later involvement in political activism.


Kitashima (1918–2006) begins her memoir by sharing details about her childhood and offering basic information about her parents' background. Her father immigrated from Yamaguchi Prefecture right after the turn of the twentieth century and her mother came as a picture bride soon after. They ran a restaurant in San Francisco but it was destroyed during the 1906 earthquake, and her parents moved to farm land south of the city and entered truck farming. After graduating from high school, Sox stayed home and helped the family. Her father died in 1938 from esophageal cancer.

With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Kitashima recalls, she and her family and other Japanese Americans were treated differently, and she experienced extreme shock when the exclusion order was issued. Her family was taken to Tanforan Assembly Center, and the humiliation of living in horse stalls shook her completely. One comfort was visits from their former landlord, who visited and brought them things to help make their stay more tolerable. They then were transferred to Topaz. She also shares her observations about the effects of camp life on intergenerational relationships. Most of her family members answered "no-no" to the "loyalty questionnaire," while she did not. She married Tom Kitashima, a boy she had been dating for a long time, in Salt Lake City in August 1945, and the couple returned to the Bay Area, first living in the San Francisco Buddhist Temple.

When she retired from her long-time job with Veterans Affairs in 1981, she became involved with the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations (NCRR), particularly with their efforts to encourage Japanese Americans to testify before the CWRIC (Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians) hearings. She includes a detailed account of her own testimony before CWRIC, as well as what it was like to hear others testify. She was also active in the NCRR letter-writing campaign and lobbying efforts with Congress members to vote for what would become the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

Author Background

Tsuyako "Sox" Kitashima was an important community activist and organizer whose role in grassroots organizing with NCRR during the redress movement are well-known. In addition to participating in the efforts to encourage Japanese Americans to testify at the CWRIC hearings, she also invested in various lobbying campaigns to reach out to Congress members to vote for redress legislation, and once it was passed, assisted people negotiating the complicated bureaucratic process of applying for redress funds.

Authored by Emily Anderson

Might also like We the People: A Story of Internment in America by Mary Tsukamoto; Dandelion Through the Crack/Kiyo's Story by Kiyo Sato; Passing It On: A Memoir by Yuri Kochiyama

For More Information

Johnson, Jason B. "Tsuyako Kitashima--'godmother' of Japan town." San Francisco Chronicle. January 10, 2006.

NCRR-LA video of Sox Kitashima.