Asian-American Women and the Portland YWCA

Document 1

Document 2A

Document 2B

Veleda Club

Frances Maeda

Pacific Island Women

How Did Asian-American Women Find Social Outlets
and Community Resources through the
Portland YWCA?

Research by Minhai Dao, Frans Albarillo, Faith Gorsuch, Mary K. Gayne

An Asian-American Teacher

       Asian immigrant women and their daughters represent a vital segment of YWCA and Portland community history. Before World War II, Japanese immigrants, or Issei, and their children, Nisei, constituted the majority of Asians in the city. Since the nineteenth century, Chinese immigrants had faced legal exclusion and violence but retained a substantial if small population in Oregon. A foothold was also maintained by people of Hawai'ian descent; intermarriage between whites and native Hawai'ians, or Kanakas, was forbidden under Oregon law. Of these groups, Japanese-American women appear most visible in the records of the Portland YWCA, both as youthful participants and as adult staff, board members, and volunteers within the organization.

       Supported by a dynamic local Japanese American Citizens' League (founded in 1928), Japanese-American women found in the YWCA a means of integration and support in their on-going work of community building. "It close-knit for the people living around Second and Burnside in what was known as 'Japan town,' " recalled former staff member Frances Maeda.[1] On the YWCA's part, welcoming Asian-American women and girls into the organization fit with their evangelical mission as well as their spirit of interracial and international friendship. Rather than host a separate YWCA for Japanese women, as was the case in Los Angeles, Portland admitted women and girls of Japanese descent into the downtown building and other programs, like summer camps. Much organizing, especially of youth, took place in neighborhoods, churches, and schools. A Japanese Girls' Cultural Guild as well as separate Chinese and Japanese Girl Reserves numbered among the half dozen clubs sponsored for Asian-American youth by the YWCA before World War II.

       Between December, 1941 and September, 1942, Portland's Issei and Nisei populations were incarcerated in the Portland Exposition Center and then moved to the Minidoka Relocation Center in Hunt, Idaho, where they remained for two years. The Portland YWCA offered a staging ground for resistance. The organization wrote a letter to the governor on behalf of members and offered advice, meeting space, and help with housing to those affected by the freezing of Japanese bank accounts. "Japanese clubs have turned to the YWCA for advice and help," noted one report, "coming frequently and in large enough groups to bring criticism."[2] YWCA leaders tracked and attended legislative hearings pertaining to Japanese Americans, provided storage space for the protection of "evacuated families' keepsakes" and offered transportation and communication support, insisting, as did the Japanese American Citizens' League, on Nisei citizenship status as a basis for resistance to the internment.[3]

1. Mary Gayne, "Interview with Frances Maeda," 1997, Portland YWCA Archives, Portland, Oregon.
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2. Annual Report, Department of Religion and Membership, 1941, Portland YWCA Archives, Portland, Oregon.
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3. Board of Directors Minutes, 10 February 1942, 10 March 1942, 12 May 1942, Portland YWCA Archives, Portland, Oregon.
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