In Memoriam: Alan Nishio - Little Tokyo Service Center

In Memoriam: Alan Nishio

LTSC Mourns the Loss of Alan Nishio, Long-Time Board Member, Activist, Community Leader and Friend

Alan Nishio headshot; older man wearing black blazerWith a heavy heart, Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) mourns the passing of Alan Nishio, our longest tenured Board President, iconic community leader, wise mentor and deeply cherished friend. After battling cancer for over 17 years, Alan died peacefully on December 27, 2023 at the age of 78.

Born in the Manzanar incarceration camp in 1945, Alan responded to the prejudice his family and community experienced by bolstering organizations and leading social justice movements with skill and compassion. He dedicated his life to strengthening Little Tokyo and the Japanese American community in solidarity with other communities of color.

His life of activism and brilliant career include these roles: a founder of UC Berkeley’s Asian Americans for Political Action student group and member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the Free Speech Movement in the 1960’s; a founder of UCLA’s Asian American Studies in 1968, serving as Director for two years; an administrator at CSULB from 1972 and later becoming Associate VP of Student Services until his retirement in 2006; a professor/lecturer in CSULB’s Department of Asian and Asian American Studies; a founder of the Little Tokyo People’s Rights Organization in the 1970’s; a founder and co-chair of the National Coalition of Redress/Reparations in 1980 (a grassroots organization that played a significant role in the redress campaign for Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II); and serving on the Board of Directors of LTSC, Kizuna, the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center and California Conference for Equality and Justice.

We at LTSC are deeply grateful for the invaluable insights, pioneering vision, stabilizing wisdom, smart quips and radiating warmth that Alan brought to our organization. He served on LTSC’s Board of Directors for 38 years (1984–2022), 12 of which as Board President. He provided strong leadership in the early days of Terasaki Budokan’s capital campaign, built up LTSC’s board membership and systems, helped guide the organization’s transition when our founding Executive Director Bill Watanabe retired, and provided mentorship and stability during the difficult times of our former Executive Director Dean Matsubayashi’s illness and transition thereafter.

Never one to steal the spotlight, Alan’s work often happened behind the scenes in board meetings and office hallways–always with an emphasis on relationship-building, sustainability, and doing the right thing. Alan also had a special knack for making people feel seen; his warm approachability, down to earth relatability, and genuine encouragement drew you in, built you up, and inspired you to act. He never had to be loud to be heard, and his deep care for people and community was evident in his every action.

Although we mourn the loss of an iconic leader and dear friend, we’re grateful and blessed to have had Alan champion our mission. LTSC will continue forging ahead with the tools and vision  Alan provided. We will keep him in our hearts, referencing him as our guide, knowing that every positive impact we create would make Alan so proud.

``Alan Nishio was the perfect Board leader. Over the course of LTSC’s development, creating the CDC branch and later merging, he served as the President of LTSC for over 20 years! Alan could listen to conflicting viewpoints during a Board discussion and somehow synthesize differing comments into a common-ground resolution that everyone on the Board could support. He was a master at that, and I jokingly told Alan he could be ``President for life`` if he chose to do so. Alan guided LTSC during its growth years and helped the Board make key decisions regarding which directions and policies the organization should implement. Alan also made sure that the Board supported the staff and worked cohesively with the staff so that the organization functioned efficiently and provided services that benefited the community. We have lost a wise and compassionate leader and his voice will be missed.``

–Bill Watanabe, LTSC Founding Executive Director

“Alan was an incredible driving force for LTSC, Little Tokyo, and the Japanese American community. A true gift of his was his ability to mentor and inspire the next generation of leaders to ensure continued stability and strength for our community. He was brilliant and committed to LTSC's mission, and I know he'll be dearly missed. I am forever grateful for his thoughtful guidance, kind words, and unending care for Little Tokyo.”

–Claire Kitayama, President, LTSC Board of Directors

“For all of Alan's incredible accomplishments and impact as a decades-long community activist and leader, what makes Alan really special is the way he always took the time to sit down and get to know each person that crossed his path, with a genuine interest in their life and aspirations. This was reflected in all of the students whom he got to know during his years as an administrator at Cal State Long Beach, and in the countless LTSC staff who worked with Alan, or who may have only had brief, but memorable and meaningful encounters with him during his tenure on the Board. He made everyone around him feel valued, which is ultimately what his vision for a better community and world was about.”

–Erich Nakano, LTSC Executive Director

A Celebration of Life for Alan Nishio was held on February 10, 2024 from 2-4PM at Terasaki Budokan in Little Tokyo. If you would like to view a recorded livestream of the event, please view the embedded video below. In lieu of flowers or koden, the Nishio family would appreciate memorial contributions to Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC), which can be made on the same webpage or with a check to Little Tokyo Service Center. Contributions can be made here.

LTSC honored Alan Nishio at our 40th Anniversary Gala in 2020. Click the link below to revisit his speech, introduced by Debra Nakatomi, past President of LTSC’s Board of Directors.

Full Event Livestream
Tribute Video

Created by Scott and John Esaki, the full tribute video to Alan Nishio can be found below. Click here for Part 1 and Part 2, which was shown at the Celebration of Life and include speeches from Alan.

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