The History

We pooled our notes to create a chronological context-- a history of API women activists of faith, and of the life stories of our interviewees.


1830s: Wesleyan Methodist missionaries convert Chief Taufa’ahau Tupou of Tonga, who in turn converts fellow islanders.

1832: Missionaries from the London Missionary Society arrive in Tutuila (now American Samoa.)

1870: U.S. Naturalization Act limits American citizenship to "white persons and persons of African descent," barring Asians and Native Americans from U.S. citizenship.

1875: U.S. Page Act prohibits immigration of prostitutes, effectively barring Asian women, particularly Chinese, from immigrating.

1880s: Japanese laborers are recruited to work on sugar plantations in Hawai'i.

1882: U.S. Chinese Exclusion Act prohibits the immigration of Chinese laborers.

1896: Plessy v. Furguson: U.S. Supreme Court decision upholds state-sponsored racial segregation.

1898: Hawaiian kingdom is illegally overthrown by sugar plantation landowners backed by the U.S.

1899: Tutuila becomes a U.S. colony. Its name is changed to American Samoa.

1900: Tonga becomes a British-protected state (but is not formally colonized).

1901: The indigenous Japanese Christian movement called the non-church movement (無教会, Mukyōkai) is founded. They gathered in people’s homes and were known for speaking out against social injustices.

1914-1918: World War I

1917: U.S. Immigration Law of 1917 creates an "Asiatic Barred Zone" which extends Chinese Exclusion laws to other East Asians, South and Southeast Asians and Pacific Islands. Only Filipinos, American Samoans and Guamanians, who were under U.S. jurisdiction, were not included and so allowed to immigrate.

1926: Marion Yamabe (later Marion Wake) is born in Los Angeles.

1929: Japanese American Citizens League is formed to protect Japanese Americans from state and federal governments.

1934: June Shimokawa is born on the Big Island of Hawai'i.

1935: Mele Laufilitonga Luani is born in Kolomotu’a Nuku’alofa, Tonga.

1938: Doreen Der (later McLeod)’s future mother, brother, and sister are interned at Angel Island. Doreen's brother and sister are released to Presbyterian Missionary Donaldina Cameron, who had a mission house in Chinatown, while her mother continues to be held on island.

Dec. 6, 1941: June Shimokawa's father is taken from her home by U.S. government officials, the night before Pearl Harbor is attacked.

Dec. 7, 1941: Pearl Harbor is attacked by the Japanese military. The U.S. enters World War II.

1942: Japanese Internment begins. Marion Yamabe (later Wake) and her family are sent to the Santa Anita Assembly Center in Southern California. Later that year, Marion and her family are sent by a dilapidated train to an internment camp in Rohwer, Arkansas.

May 1943: Marion Yamabe and her family are able to leave the internment camp early. Her family temporarily moves to work on a golf course in Illinois before finding work in Naperville, IL.

1943: Doreen Der (later McLeod) is born in San Francisco.

1944: Marion Yamabe graduates from Naperville High School in Illinois.

1945: World War II ends.

1945: Vietnam War begins.

1945: U.S. War Brides Act allows spouses and children of men who served in U.S. military during WWII to enter the U.S., temporarily superseding the 1924 Exclusion Act of Asians.

1948: Marion Yamabe graduates with a B.A. in psychology from Asbury College, a Christian liberal arts university in Kentucky. She marries Lloyd Wake later that year.

1950: Yuri Morita is born in Yokohama, Japan.

1950s: Choeung Chuord (Om Mallee), Sarou Vong (Om Rru), Sambat Oun, and Vat Nobb are born in Cambodia.

1951: Doreen Der’s family is turned away from buying property in San Mateo. They end up buying a home in San Francisco, but have to settle for property by a freeway instead of a new development because they are Chinese American.

1954: Brown v. Board of Education decision. The U.S. Supreme Court declares that state laws that separate schools by race are unconstitutional.

1955: U.S. Civil Rights Movement begins. Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old African American woman, refuses to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, AL city bus.

1959-60: June Shimokawa is involved in “human relations work,” addressing issues of race, people of color and civil rights. She works on this with the Japanese American Citizens League in Seattle and the National Association of Social Workers.

Early 1960s: The first Samoan Church (CCCAS) in Northern California  is founded in San Francisco, previously known as "Anoai's Church." Manufou Liaiga-Anoa’i's parents were among the founding members.
The Samoan Civic Association is founded in Northern California as a institution to organize Samoans living in Northern California. It was founded by members of Manufou Liaga-Anoa’i’s family: Ernest Reid, William Alaimo and Papalii Litara.

1961-1968: Mele Laufilitonga Luani is the first female clerk hired to work for the Tongan government.

1960s: Student movement in Japan. Yuri Morita is at Waseda University and actively involved in the movement.

1963: The U.S. National March on Washington

1964: Federal War on Poverty programs are initiated to address high rates of poverty in the US.

1964: U.S. Civil Rights Act outlaws major forms of discrimination.

1965: In Japan, the Sunrizuka struggle of farmers against development of the Narita International Airport on their land. Yuri Morita lives with the farmers and takes part in the protest.

1965: U.S. Voting Rights Act passed outlawing discriminatory voting practices.

1965: The U.S. Immigration & Nationality Act of 1965 passes removing former barriers putting all countries of origin on equal footing, increasing the immigration quota for Chinese from 105 to 20,000 per year. This results in a wave of new immigrants in Chinatown, which leads to the founding of a number of newcomer service agencies.

1965: Doreen Der McLeod boycotts classes and participates in the Free Speech Movement at U.C. Berkeley.

1965-1966: Doreen Der McLeod serves as a Vista volunteer in Appalachia for a year.

1966: Tofaifaleula Tosi Amosa is born in Ofu, Manu'a in American Samoa.

1966-1968: Doreen Der McLeod serves as Girls’ Worker at Cameron House.

1968: The U.S. Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate against Chinese in property sales. Jean Ishibashi begins her life-long dedication to community organizing as a student organizer in support of the Fair Housing Act.

1968: Third World Strike at San Francisco State University inspires many students to get involved in their community.

1969-1970: The secret bombing of Cambodia by the U.S. military begins, code named “Operation Menu.”

1971: In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge begin clearing out villages. Choeng Chuord’s (Om Mallee) family is affected.

1970-1972: Doreen Der McLeod works at Chinatown Youth Service Center (now Chinatown Youth Center), which serves delinquent Chinatown youth.

1972: Mele Laufilitonga Luani comes to the U.S. to visit family. She attends the English-speaking Compton United Methodist Church. Reverend Willy Foreman asks Mele to form a Tongan group for the church and she begins her ministry work. This becomes the first Tongan Methodist Church in California.

1971-1972: Chinatown 701 Study is done by San Francisco Dept. of City Planning, researching housing and recreational needs in Chinatown. Doreen Der McLeod serves on the resultant Committee for Better Parks and Recreation and helps to protect, renovate, and build parks and recreational spaces in the Chinatown area.

1972: Racial ethnic caucuses created within the national Presbyterian Church (PCUSA). Cindy Joe is an active member of the Asian Caucus and also gets involved in the Council on Race and Church.

1972-1973: Marion Wake is one of six minority students from Stanford, U.C. Berkeley, San Francisco State University and California State University Hayward who are accepted into a federally funded program to train as counselors, social workers and psychologists.

1972-1974: Doreen Der McLeod works at Chinatown Community Children’s Center. It is the first bilingual early childhood program at the YWCA in Chinatown.

1973: Mei Lun Yuen affordable housing project in San Francico Chinatown begins. Cindy Joe joins Presbyterian Church in Chinatown Housing Committee to bring the project to fruition.

1974: Richmond Area Multi-Services is founded in San Francisco. Currently provides community based mental health services in over 30 languages with a focus on Asian and Pacific Islander American and Russian speaking populations. Marion Wake organizes Asian American mental health workers to help get the service supported.

1975: U.S. exits Vietnam. The war results in the deaths of 700,000 to 1,000,000 Cambodians.

1975-1979: The Cambodian Genocide, led by Pol Pot of the Khmer Rouge, murders more than 1.7 million Cambodians—21 percent of the country’s population. After three months, Choeung Chuord’s (Om Mallee’s) family is able to escape across the border to a refugee camp in Thailand. Under the Khmer Rouge, Sarou Vong (Om Rru) and other villagers are forced to work in starvation conditions producing rice for the Khmer Rouge, but given nothing to eat.

1976: Asian Presbyterian Women founded to provide leadership development and voice for women in the national Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) denomination.

1976: The group Protect Kaho'olawe 'Ohana (PKO) files a lawsuit to stop the U.S. Navy’s use of the island of Kaho'olawe for military training, demanding compliance with environmental laws and protection of cultural resources. As a law student, Puanani Burgess is involved in the PKO movement from 1979-1980.

1977: American Samoa has its first election in which the governor is elected by the people, rather than chosen by the U.S. Navy. Tofaifaleula Tosi Amosa witnesses the election of the first Samoan governor, Peter Tali Coleman.

1979: The Long Walk for Survival, a sacred walk across the United States, is organized by the American Indian Movement. Yuri Morita participates and helps coordinate.

1979: Sarou Vong (Om Rru) escapes being executed because she is left for dead. Two out of her four siblings are killed. Om Rru escapes from the Khmer Rouge through the forest to Thailand to a refugee camp.

1982: Mei Lun Yuen affordable housing project, on which Cynthia Joe worked, is finally built in San Francisco Chinatown and residents move in.

1980s: Cambodian Immigration to the United States. Many Cambodians begin settling in Long Beach, CA. Choeng Chuord (Om Mallee) comes to San Francisco, CA from Cambodia after living for five years in a Thai refugee camp.

1981-1982: Yuri Morita coordinates World Peace March route from Japan to New York City and ends in New York on June 12, 1982. One million gather, calling for nuclear disarmament, in the largest public protest in history at that time.

1981: Sarou Vong (Om Rru) comes to the United States from a refugee camp in Thailand. She arrives in California.

Early 1980s: June Shimokawa helps found APANA (Asian Pacific Americans for Nuclear Awareness) in Los Angeles.

1982: Puanani Burgess founds the Wai'anae Coast Community Alternative Development Corporation and helps to incorporate nearly a dozen other community organizations on the Wai'anae coast of O'ahu, Hawai'i, including Ka’ala Farm, Inc., Hoa'Aina O Makaha, the community mental health center called Hale Na’au Pono, Time Out Nursery, and 'Opelu Project.

1982-1985: Puanani Burgess is involved in the struggle against the Makua Military Bombing practice on sacred native Hawaiian land on the Wai'anae coast in Oahu.

1983: Yuri Morita, as part of the Ecumenical Peace Institute based in Berkeley, helps to organize a multi-city three month Fast for Life. People in Oakland, Paris, London, Toyko, Hiroshima and Canada fast for days and weeks, appealing to their governments to stop nuclear armaments.

1983-1992: Manufou Liaiga-Anoa'i is part of SAMOA MO SAMOA, a non-profit providing social services for the Samoan community. She first begins as a young woman translating for her mother then becomes actively involved.

1984: Tofaifaleula Tosi Amosa votes for the first time in American Samoan elections for governor.

1984-1987: Puanani Burgess is involved in the West Beach (Ko'Olina Resort) Development struggle.

1988-1989: Cynthia Joe serves as the first female chair of the National Asian Presbyterian Council.

1990: Tofaifaleula Tosi Amosa graduates from college.

1992: Tongan Pro-Democracy Movement founded.

1990: Tofaifaleula Tosi Amosa and her husband enter Kanana Fou Theological Seminary in American Samoa. They graduate in 1994.

1993: Mele Laufilitonga Luani is called to her first church as a Methodist minister in Sun Valley, CA. Mele went on to serve as a United Methodist minister for twelve years in several different Southern CA churches.

1993-2000: June Shimokawa works around issues of Hawaiian sovereignty and other peace and justice issues through the American Friends Service Committee in Hawai'i.

1996: Affirmative Action ends in California.

1996-1998: Manufou Liaiga-Anoa'i co-founds the Pacific Islander Youth Alliance via the Samoan Community Development Center.

1997: Manufou Liaiga-Anoa'i founds Parents In Action, an organization created to provide advocacy and resources for Samoan parents navigating school agencies and the government.

1997: Yuri Morita founds the Empowerment Center in Japan.

1997-1998: Cynthia Joe serves as the chair of the National Committee on the Self Development of People (SDOP), a Presbyterian ministry "seeking to change the structures that perpetuate poverty, oppression and injustice."

1998-2004: Manufou Liaiga-Anoa'i is employed by San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, Jr. She is the special assistant Liaison to District 11, Pacific Islander Community and Women’s issues.

2001: Tofaifaleula Tosi Amosa graduates from Pacific Theological College in Fiji, receiving her Bachelor of Divinity degree.

2005: Choeng Chuord (Om Mallee), Sarou Vong (Om Rru), Sambat Oun, and Vat Nobb begin supporting a project raising funds to help others in Cambodia. In one year, they raise $1000 to support the poor and the work of temples in Cambodia.

2005-2008: Cynthia Joe serves as Synod representative to the Presbyterian Women Churchwide Coordinating Team.

July 2006: Tofaifaleula Tosi Amosa is ordained at Kanana Fou Theological Seminary of American Samoa, making her the first Samoan woman pastor, of the Congregational Christian Churches of American Samoa (C.C.C.A.S.).

2006-2010: Cynthia Joe volunteers to help with Katrina work projects in New Orleans.

2010: Tonga has its first vote for a popularly elected parliament.

Links of Interest

Snapshots of Asian America: A Look at the Movement's Spirit and Legacy

Website and radio broadcast exploring the rich history of the social activism of Asian Americans from the 1960s and '70s through personal accounts and a panel discussion with movement participants. Produced by Asian American Movement Project (AAMP). Presented by KQED. Based on material from the anthology Asian Americans: The Movement and the Moment. 

Asian American Movement 1968
Online collection from the archives of the Asian Community Center (once located on Kearny St. in San Francisco).