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Tsuyako "Sox" Kitashima

Name Tsuyako "Sox" Kitashima
Born July 14 1918
Died December 29 2005
Birth Location Hayward, California
Generational Identifier

Nisei

San Francisco Bay Area-based Nisei redress activist who has been called the "heart and soul of San Francisco NCRR." [1]

Early Life

Tsuyako Kataoka was born in Hayward, California, on July 14, 1918, the fifth of six children of Masajiro and Yumi Kataoka, immigrants from Yamaguchi prefecture in Japan. Masajiro had come to the U.S. in around 1902, while Yumi followed as a picture bride three years later. Masajiro had initially run a restaurant in San Francisco, but after it was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake, he and Yumi turned to farming, first in Niles, then in Centerville and other parts of the Bay Area. With the help of the Nisei children, the family would continue to grow strawberries and other truck crops until World War II.

From a early age, Tsuyako was known as "Sox," a nickname that came from non-Japanese friends' mispronunciation of her first name as "Socko," which evolved to "Sox." She grew up in Centerville—which is in Alameda County and is now a part of the city of Fremont—and attended Centerville Grammar School and Washington Union High School, graduating from the latter in 1936, while also attending Japanese language school . Her subsequent fluency in spoken Japanese would prove to be a important asset in her Redress Movement activism. Along with her three brothers and two sisters, she helped out on the farm after school and on weekends, while also taking on outside work on a local apricot farm to earn extra money. In her free time, she practiced kendo, played the piano, and took part with her family in local Japanese American community events such as an annual Centerville community picnic and events with the Alameda Buddhist Temple. With some of siblings having married and left home, Sox remained at home after graduation to help with the farm, while also working as a domestic and in a doctor's office during the offseason. The family was able to keep the farm running even after her father died of cancer at age seventy-two in 1940. Sox was also an active member of Washington Township chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) and would remain active with the JACL throughout her life.

Wartime Incarceration and Aftermath

With the coming of World War II and Executive Order 9066 , Sox and her family were incarcerated in American concentration camps. Forcibly removed in May 1942, at the peak of the strawberry season, the Kataokas were not able to profit from the harvest of their berries. Sox recalls the pain of selling family possessions, including her prized piano, and having to euthanize the family dog. Her two sisters had returned to the family farm with their own families so that they could be removed together. They were sent first to Tanforan , where the family was housed in smelly horse stalls. Sox shared one stall with her mother and three brothers, while her two sisters and their families were in a neighboring stall. She later remembered her time at Tanforan as "the most grim period of my life." [2] After four months, the Kataokas moved on to Topaz , where they lived in Block 16. Sox took on a job as an assistant block manager—the block manager , Kazuto Masuda, was an old family friend—and later worked as a secretary to Claude Pratt, the head of community services. As did many Nisei, she also took seasonal leaves in Utah to work picking cherries and sorting peas. In 1943, her mother, all three of her brothers, and one sister all answered "no-no" to the questions 27 and 28 of the " loyalty questionnaire " and subsequently transferred to Tule Lake . Sox and one sister remained at Topaz. While still at Topaz, Sox married Tom Kitashima on August 11, 1945; Tom was also from Centerville, and the couple had been dating for some nine years. The couple finally left Topaz on September 20, 1945.

With nothing to return to in Centerville and most of the family still in Tule Lake, Sox and Tom decided to move to San Francisco, where Sox's sister Lillian had moved with her family. They spent their first nights there in a hostel at the Japanese Buddhist Temple and were there when someone threw a rock through one of the windows. They eventually found a small apartment on Bush Street through friends. Through a recommendation with Pratt, Sox found a job with the War Relocation Authority (WRA) regional office in San Francisco and later became a secretary for the Veterans Administration. Tom first took a job at a WRA warehouse before joining a bottling company in San Francisco where he was to spend his entire career. Sox bore her only child, a son, in 1949 and became a mostly stay-at-home mother until he entered middle school. At that point, she rejoined the VA, where she remained until her mandatory retirement in 1981. She became a Boy Scout den mother, enjoyed San Francisco 49ers football games with her immediate family, and saw her extended family—most of whom eventually returned to the Bay Area—frequently.

Redress Activist

Tom died suddenly of cancer in 1975, and with her son grown up and her own retirement, Sox turned to volunteer work to fill her time and find meaning. "In many ways my life really began after I retired in 1981," she wrote in her 2003 memoir. "I had time on my hands. I needed something to fill the void." [3] While she volunteered for many organizations, Kimochi, Inc. became one of her passions. An organization focused on providing services to elderly Issei in San Francisco, Sox became a seven-days-a-week volunteer in their nutrition program and eventually became a member of their board.

It was, however, the burgeoning Redress Movement that became the focus of her post-retirement life. She became involved with the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations (NCRR) soon after its founding in 1980. According to San Francisco chapter chronicler John Ota, Kitashima "had to be coaxed and cajoled into testifying at the CWRIC hearing " the next summer and eventually became a willing and sought-after speaker about her incarceration experiences. [4] Through the 1980s, she took a lead role in organizing letter writing campaigns to members of Congress to support redress, and later, appropriations, legislation. Redress Movement historians Mitchell T. Maki, Harry H.L. Kitano, and S. Megan Berthold credit Kitashima with personally collecting and mailing some 8,000 letters to Congress. She also went on four lobbying trips to Washington, D.C. for NCRR starting in 1984. After redress legislation was passed by the House and Senate, she led a mailgram campaign urging President Ronald Reagan to sign the bill and attended the signing ceremony at which he signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 . For the next decade, she led efforts to secure appropriations for redress and was the core San Francisco figure for NCRR who helped Nikkei apply for redress and appeal cases that were rejected. Given her Japanese language ability and presence at Kimochi, she initially focused on helping Issei . Later, she took on difficult cases, such as a homeless man with no permanent address, one who was in jail, and one who had spent the war in a sanitarium. "Each time I can put a check mark next to cases that I have completed I can't describe the feeling," she wrote in her memoir. "It's like a challenge that I was able to meet." [5]

While continuing her work on redress cases, often in close collaboration with the staff of the Office of Redress Administration (ORA), she continued to work on Days of Remembrance and other community events and frequently spoke to schools, granted interviews to students, and took part in teacher workshops. She also attended the 1992 Topaz reunion in Burlingame and went on the Labor Day weekend 1993 pilgrimage to Topaz . When the ORA shut down operations in 1998, she gave a speech at the closing ceremony. That same year, she received the Free Spirit Award from The Freedom Forum.

Sox Kitashima passed away on December 29, 2005, of an apparent heart attack.

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

For More Information

Johnson, Jason B. " Tsuyako Kitashima—'Godmother' of Japantown ," San Francisco Chronicle , Jan. 10, 2006.

Kitashima, Tsuyako (Sox), and Joy K. Morimoto. Birth of an Activist: The Sox Kitashima Story . San Mateo, Calif.: Asian American Curriculum Project, Inc., 2003.

"Sox" Tsuyako Kitashima, interview by Sandra Taylor , Nov. 6, 1987, American West Center, University of Utah.

Ota, John. "Redress: A View from San Francisco." In Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress, NCRR: The Grassroots Struggle for Japanese American Redress and Reparations . Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center Press, 2018. 246–49.

Footnotes

  1. Quote by John Ota, from John Ota, "Redress: A View from San Francisco," in Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress, NCRR: The Grassroots Struggle for Japanese American Redress and Reparations (Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center Press, 2018), 246.
  2. Tsuyako (Sox) Kitashima, and Joy K. Morimoto, Birth of an Activist: The Sox Kitashima Story (San Mateo, Calif.: Asian American Curriculum Project, Inc., 2003), 45.
  3. Kitashima and Morimoto, Birth of an Activist , 147.
  4. Ota, "Redress: A View from San Francisco," 246.
  5. Kitashima and Morimoto, Birth of an Activist , 122.

Last updated Aug. 19, 2020, 10:39 p.m..