Jonathan van Harmelen

Jonathan van Harmelen is currently a Ph.D student in history at UC Santa Cruz specializing in the history of Japanese-American incarceration. He holds a BA in history and French from Pomona College and an MA from Georgetown University. He can be reached at jvanharm@ucsc.edu.

Updated February 2020

war en

Shuji Fujii and the Hidden Lives of Japanese American Communists

One of the more understudied topics in Japanese American political history is the presence of communists among Nisei intellectuals. Indeed, the late Asian American scholar and activist Yuji Ichioka called upon scholars to examine the complex network of Japanese American leftists among the immigrant communities. As with Robin Kelley’s book Hammer and Hoe that details the grassroots organization and activities of working-class black communists in Alabama during the 1930s, it is important to study the activities of the pro-communist faction that emerged among ethnic Japanese working in both Japan and the United States during this period.

Despite official efforts in …

Read more

community en

The Karma of Nations: the story of Rinban Kyoshiro Tokunaga

Flipping through an issue of Men’s Health magazine, one usually expects a combination of articles and advertisements on healthy living and positive thinking. As part of my previous research on Buddhist Reverend LaVerne Sasaki, I couldn’t help but notice a headline from the November 1999 issue of Men’s Health that stood out. It was entitled “Holy High Roller Wins! Big Buddhist payoff!” I eagerly leafed through the pages of the article to see what the payoff of Buddhism was said to be, expecting to find a long article on the benefits of mindfulness and Buddhist teachings. Instead, I found …

Read more

community en

The Sisters of Maryknoll and Manzanar

As I have noted in my previous articles on the work of Fathers Leopold Tibesar and Hugh Lavery, a number of Maryknoll clergy played important roles in support of Japanese American communities in West Coast cities. Although priests like Lavery and Tibesar are remembered for their leadership during the incarceration, less known though equally important is the work of Maryknoll’s nuns.

Serving as teachers for the Maryknoll school and nurses at the Monrovia Maryknoll Sanitarium, the Maryknoll sisters were responsible for the everyday operations of Maryknoll’s activities among Japanese Americans. In fact, some of the first Japanese Americans to …

Read more

community en

Father Hugh Lavery and the Ten Thousand Mile Parish

In a previous article I co-wrote with historian Greg Robinson, I highlighted the life work of Maryknoll Brother Theophane Walsh. Like a number of Maryknoll priests and nuns active in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo community, Brother Theophane spent most of his life working with the Japanese American community, helping to organize Boy Scout Troop 145 and, during the war, establishing a Chicago Nisei Youth Hostel for families resettling from camp. Like Brother Theophane, the work of Father Hugh Lavery is also worth remembering, both as a supporter of the Little Tokyo community during the war years and as one …

Read more

community en

Japanese Culture and Catholic Faith: Maryknoll's Long History in Little Tokyo

April 4, 2021 was Easter Sunday. While Easter celebrations in Little Tokyo do not hold the same importance as community festivities like Nisei Week, the celebration of Christian holidays (and even St. Patrick’s Day) at the St. Francis Xavier Chapel Japanese Catholic Center in Little Tokyo is a tradition that has gone on every year for decades.

Although the number of Catholics among Japanese Americans has always remained small – by government estimates, they only accounted for 2% of the total West Coast Japanese American population in 1940 – the Maryknoll Church of Little Tokyo and its clergy played a …

Read more