By SUSAN TANIOKA
Editor’s note: Florence and Mas Hongo, the founders of San Mateo-based Asian American Curriculum Project (formerly Japanese American Curriculum Project), have passed away — Mas on March 1 just a few days before his 103rd birthday and Florence a week later at age 94. The following tribute is from AACP’s newsletter.
Florence spent the World War II years incarcerated in a U.S. government concentration camp, Amache, located in the remote southwestern corner of Colorado.
In 1969, she discovered that American history books in schools lacked any mention of the Japanese American experience during the war. To rectify this, she became a trailblazer by inviting concerned Japanese Americans to gather and find a way to correct this oversight. The newly formed group became the Japanese American Curriculum Project (JACP).
The group broke ground writing a book telling the stories of the roundup and incarceration in 13 concentration camps. “Japanese Journey: The Story of a People” was published and accepted by the California Department of Education as approved reading in schools. However, many in the Japanese community, most of whom spent time in one of the camps behind barbed wire, strenuously objected to the concept of letting anyone know what they endured during the war. Consequently, most of the books were destroyed by the publisher.
Undaunted, the group took their copies of the book and other Japanese American books to educational venues, sold them and sometimes donated them to educational institutions. Florence and other group members spoke to numerous groups about their experiences, and people gradually became curious and wanted to know more. Ironically, years later, some of those who most vociferously opposed the book published their own stories, taking advantage of the trail JACP had forged years earlier.
Florence contacted various event organizers, handled the logistics to attend, selected appropriate books, loaded her car and drove to these events. She was proud that she never injured her back, reminding us to always use our knees, not our backs, to lift heavy cartons. Others in the group joined her to set up the exhibits, talk to attendees, answer questions, guide them to books that would answer some of their questions, and finally pack up the unsold books to return to the store.
Florence knew the books she offered at all events. She absolutely rejected any books that presented Asian Americans as stereotypes. Her husband, Masanori (Mas), a speed reader, was helpful when customers had questions about the books he had read. With time spent in assembly centers, camps and the Military Intelligence Service (MIS), he possessed first-hand knowledge that he generously shared.
As JACP, we offered Japanese American books. At various events, other Asian ethnic groups encouraged us to expand and offer books covering more Asian American ethnicities. So we changed our name to Asian American Curriculum Project (AACP) and began to serve all Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders as we found new materials that fit their needs.
When Mas retired as manager of the California Flower Market in San Francisco, he took charge of AACP’s mail orders and accounting work. Although retired, Mas drove to the Flower Market at 3 a.m. every Wednesday to lend a hand and return with unsold flowers that he shared. He made sure Florence always had a plant with beautiful flowers above her desk.
As the original members moved or passed away, others interested in our mission to educate the public about Asian American and Pacific Islander contributions have joined the group. We miss the original members, but we are grateful for the vision Florence and the others had in starting this organization 53 years ago.
We continue and welcome others, who believe in our mission, to join us at one of our monthly meetings. It’s easy, just respond to this newsletter and let us know that you want to attend the next meeting. These meetings are virtual, so we’ll need your email address to include you in the invitation to attend.
Thank you, Florence and Mas, for your steadfast commitment to the mission of AACP.
To see more tributes, go to: https://asianamericanbooks.com/newsletter/2023mar-article1.html