Nancy Ukai is a Sansei writer, researcher, director of the 50objects.org history project, and a member of the Wakasa Memorial Committee. During World War II, Ukai’s parents and relatives were incarcerated by the U.S. government at Tanforan in San Bruno, California, and at Topaz, Utah. Ukai was born in September 1954, in Berkeley, California, and graduated from Berkeley High School in 1972. She graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 1976, where she studied Japanese language and culture. Ukai moved to Japan in 1976, where she lived for fourteen years. She worked as a Fulbright English Fellow for the Toyama Prefecture Board of Education and later became a live-in apprentice at a Buddhist temple. In 1978, Ukai moved to Tokyo, became a journalist for the Asahi Evening News and for Newsweek, met and married an American named James Russell and had two children there. In 1990, the family moved to Dallas, Texas, for three years, and then spent thirteen years in Princeton, New Jersey, where Ukai earned a Master's degree from Rutgers Graduate School of Education. In 2006, Ukai and Russell moved to London, England, where she earned a Master's degree in media anthropology from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. In 2008, the couple moved to Berkeley, California. Throughout the 2010s, Ukai became active in the Bay Area's Japanese American community, including creating a viral Facebook page called "Japanese American History: Not for Sale" to help stop the auction of Japanese American prison camp art. She was a co-founder of Tsuru for Solidarity and helped lead a protest against the script of the Topaz Museum in Delta, Utah, before the museum opened. The narrative was revised and the museum opened in 2017. In 2015, Ukai found a map in the National Archives showing where James Hatsuaki Wakasa was shot and killed within Topaz by a guard in 1943. The map led to the discovery of a buried memorial stone for Wakasa that Issei immigrants erected at Topaz before government officials ordered it destroyed. After the Topaz Museum Board unearthed the stone unceremoniously in 2021, Ukai and others created the Wakasa Memorial Committee to ensure the proper preservation of the stone and memorial site and to ensure that the history of Topaz is interpreted and treated with respect and transparency, drawing on best practices and principles of inclusivity. In this oral history, Ukai discusses all of the above, with emphasis on her activism to reclaim narratives and material objects of Japanese American history, especially regarding the life and death of James Wakasa.




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