The Manzanar Committee mourns the loss of one of its own, member James (Jim) To, 64, who passed away on May 25.
To, a product of UC San Diego, where he completed his undergraduate work, and the Asian American Studies Master of Arts program at UCLA, worked in the field of student affairs at UCLA, CSU Fullerton, and UC Santa Barbara.
Always dedicated to students, he joined the Manzanar Committee in the mid-1990s and immediately bolstered the committee’s work with youth through his work on the annual Manzanar At Dusk program.
“I first met Jim shortly after he returned to Los Angeles after working at UCSB,” said Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey. “We bonded right away, partly because my mother, Sue Kunitomi Embrey, had taught at UCSB during the 1970s, in the early years of Asian American studies. Jim’s passion and commitment to teaching our history, to working to ensure our voices were heard, to making sure our demands were met, was contagious.”
In 2008, To became the co-coordinator of Manzanar At Dusk, which he worked to expand, reaching more and more people, young and old, and from various ethnicities, each year. Due in part to his leadership, the program has flourished, reaching audiences of up to 550 participants each year.
“The teacher in Jim drove him to take on organizing Manzanar At Dusk,” Embrey noted. “In fact, he really helped jump-start the program, and helped it grow into an integral part of our pilgrimage weekend.
“He never failed to lecture us on how important it was to make space for young people and students. He refused, despite our lack of resources and challenges from being a small volunteer group, to cut back on Manzanar At Dusk. Our ongoing commitment to intergenerational organizing and lifting up the work of young people is due, in no small part, to Jim.”
Committee member Gann Matsuda said that kindness and caring deeply for others is what drove To in his work with young people, and the Manzanar Committee.
“Having known Jim since I worked for him during my undergraduate years at UCLA back in the 1980s, I got to see what inspired and motivated him,” he said. “To a fault, Jim was so kind to others and cared so much about everyone else that he would give you the proverbial arm and a leg if he thought it would help you, or help the cause.
“He always sacrificed for others — every single time — and that showed up in his work with the Manzanar Committee. His fierce dedication to young people was always bubbling up to the surface, so to speak. Jim was a huge reason why the Manzanar Committee continues to work with young people, and why we are expanding that work today. We have dedicated ourselves to that work, in large part, because of Jim.”
“We will greatly miss Jim’s kind, quiet determination,” said Embrey.
At press time, there was no word on a funeral or memorial service.