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History Comes Alive Online

Around twenty Japanese American men and women are gathered in a shared kitchen space, where they are preparing a meal together — most are looking to camera and smiling.
Endowed giving is making it possible for Professor Matsumoto and her team to create an enduring online archive documenting the rich history of California’s Cortez community.

Many donors support UCLA with endowed giving, a type of philanthropy that provides a secure, stable source of funding. These gifts help make possible a wide range of teaching, learning, research and service.

Endowed giving has a particularly powerful impact when it takes the form of endowed chairs. These positions are awarded to faculty to acknowledge their leadership in their fields and further propel their scholarship.

The university currently has hundreds of endowed chairs, with chair-holders carrying out cutting-edge work in fields ranging from cardiology to jazz music.

One such chair-holder is Valerie Matsumoto, a professor in UCLA College’s history and Asian American studies departments. She holds the George & Sakaye Aratani Chair on the Japanese American Incarceration, Redress, and Community. This position was created when entrepreneur and philanthropist George Aratani and his wife, Sakaye — who were both imprisoned in camps in California by the U.S. government during World War II — made an endowed gift to UCLA.

This endowed chair is enabling Professor Matsumoto to bring history to life in an extraordinary way.

A Life-changing Stay in a Remarkable Community

When Professor Matsumoto first traveled to Cortez, California, in 1982, she had no idea that this community would become the focus of much of her academic career.

Cortez is a small agricultural town in the San Joaquin Valley, named after a nearby whistle stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad. It was established in 1919 by a dedicated group of Japanese immigrants, against a backdrop of growing anti-Japanese sentiment and legislation in the U.S.

During her time in Cortez, Professor Matsumoto carried out hundreds of hours of interviews, featuring more than 70 residents ranging in age from their 30s to their 80s. They spoke to her about their daily lives; their work growing almonds, grapes and peaches; and their memories of the Great Depression. Many shared their experiences of being taken from their homes and imprisoned during World War II when the U.S. federal government enacted a policy of forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans.

Each person interviewed, though, emphasized the significance of Cortez itself.

“This community has meant different things to different generations,” Professor Matsumoto explains. “The first generation needed it for survival, but even the third and fourth generations have strong social and cultural roots there.”

Inviting the World to “The Home Place

When Professor Matsumoto came to UCLA in 1987, she brought her powerful connection to Cortez with her. She published a book about the community, Farming the Home Place, in 1993.

Today, the Aratanis’ support helps Professor Matsumoto and her team, in partnership with the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, create an extensive digital record of the Cortez community that will include:

  • A detailed timeline.
  • Free downloadable lesson plans for K-12 teachers.
  • A database of images and videos

It will also contain the full collection of Professor Matsumoto’s tape recordings, so that past residents of Cortez can continue to speak to the present in their own voices.

The online archive will provide an oral history of a fascinating place and time. It will preserve a wealth of personal narrative, offering a deeper understanding of our country’s past and what it means to belong.

This project is a great example of UCLA’s commitment to fulfilling its mission of research, education and service for the betterment of California and the world. Across our university, work like this is being made possible by endowed support from those who share our vision.

To learn more, contact

Christi Corpus310-794-2396

In a black and white image from 1952, a group of smiling Japanese American women sit outdoors on piles of empty sacks, with several dozen full sacks stacked behind them.

The agricultural roots of the Cortez community stretch back well beyond 1952, when this photograph was taken.

A modern-day image of a large agricultural facility with the words ‘Cortez Growers Association’ displayed on its wall. There are two white pickup trucks in its fenced parking area.

Today, more than a century after Cortez was founded, agriculture remains the cornerstone of the town’s economy.

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