Wilma Chan (1949-2021)

The following tribute to Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan, who died last week, was submitted by Japanese American community leaders and organizations.

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On Nov. 3, Supervisor Wilma Chan of Alameda County was struck and killed by a car while walking her dog.

This heartbreaking news is hard felt not only by Chan’s immediate family and her supporters and colleagues in Alameda County, but for many of us in the API community.

Chan was elected to the California State Assembly in 2000, and from 2002-2004, served as majority leader — the first female Asian American legislator to hold this position. At that time, there were less than a handful of API California state legislators but enough to form the Asian American Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus, where Chan and Carol Liu served as co-chairs in 2002. 

It was also at this time that the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program (CCLPEP) was in its final year of operation. This is the first state-funded program to promote the education of the Japanese American experience during World War II by offering competitive grants for individuals, community groups and schools to create special curriculum and projects to tell the story of the incarceration — often left untold or given a cursory glance when studying U.S. history.

Chan realized the continued importance of CCLPEP, and was able to make it into an ongoing program within the California State Library. But for Chan’s wisdom and awareness, many CCLPEP-funded programs would have never happened, such as the statewide recognition of the three remaining Japantowns in the State of California; the Nisei high school and college diploma programs; the numerous curriculum, documentaries, exhibits and oral histories; and the initiation of preservation programs to recognize industries that were primarily held by Japanese Americans in agriculture, floral and farming, and where Japanese American communities once existed but were totally destroyed because of their forced removal by the U.S. government from California during World War II.

We who were directly involved with the creation and implementation of CCLPEP knew the tremendous impact of Wilma’s advocacy, and will never forget her quiet and unassuming insight, leadership and fight for those whose causes and issues are often forgotten or not considered as important.

Thank you, Wilma Chan.  

CCLPEP

Greg Lucas, State Librarian, California State Library

Dr. Patrick Hayashi, CCLPEP Advisory Committee Member

Dr. Mitch Maki, CCLPEP Advisory Committee Member

Dr. Dale Shimasaki, CCLPEP Advisory Committee Member

Dale Minami, CCLPEP Advisory Committee Member

Diane Matsuda, CCLPEP Program Director (1999-2004)

Community Organizations

Go for Broke National Education Center, Los Angeles

Japanese American Citizens League, National Office, Washington, D.C.

Japanese American Citizens League, San Francisco Chapter

Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, Los Angeles

Japanese American Museum of San Jose

Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles

Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, San Francisco

National Japanese American Historical Society, San Francisco

Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education, Palo Alto

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