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Remembering Professor Gary Okihiro (1945-2024)

One of the pioneers and founders of the field of Asian American studies, Professor Gary Okihiro greatly impacted Yale's campus through his scholarship, teaching, mentorship, and generosity. 

In August 2015, he donated 2,000 books from his personal library to the Asian American Cultural Center.  That November, Professor Okihiro came to campus to celebrate the library's dedication and naming as the "Gary Okihiro Library." Don Nakanishi '71, sent a personal word of "gratitude and admiration" thanking Professor Okihiro for his "transformative gift, which will provide immediate benefit to students, faculty, and other researchers who are interested in learning about and hopefully making their own special contributions, as you have Gary, to Asian American Studies. "

The library contains many out-of-print and difficult-to-find works from the 1960s and 1970s which have formed the field of Asian American studies.  The library on the third floor of the AACC has been a space of intellectual exploration and community-building ever since.

For those who would like to learn more about Professor Okihiro's work, AAAYA board officer Tao Leigh-Goffe (GSAS'15) recommends two of his works:

We also share below the joint announcement by Professor Okihiro's colleagues in American Studies and Ethnicity, Race, and Migration to their respective communities where Professor Okihiro was affiliated during his time at Yale.  


Dear colleagues,


With great sadness, we write to share the passing of our dear colleague and friend, Professor Gary Okihiro, on May 20. His wife Marina Henriquez Okihiro was with him throughout his hospitalization.  Over the last couple of days, his large family and close friends traveled near and far to say their final farewell.


Gary had returned to New Haven a few weeks ago from his home in Hilo, Hawai‘i as he had done each spring since he arrived at Yale in 2017, to attend the cultural center graduations and meet with his students. Indeed, he came to Yale as a Visiting Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, Race & Migration after retiring from Columbia because of the community he found here, especially among students. 


This is what he said in an interview with RITM after he arrived:


“I’ve taught amazing first-generation working class students as well as equally awesome bourgeois students at Cornell, Columbia, and Princeton. But my Yale students have and continue to gift me with endowments I never dreamed possible.  I don’t know why that is so—brilliance, sincerity, fearlessness, honesty.  My Yale students have those qualities in abundance.  To be so rewarded at the end of my fifty-year career is more than I deserve.  Thank you my dearest students, my best teachers.  I will carry you with me through the void that is myself when at last we become all matter.”


Gary was the author of 13 scholarly volumes and monographs, including Third World Studies: Theorizing Liberation which informed his immensely popular undergraduate course of the same name. He was a critical figure in the development of Asian American studies and a past president of the Association for Asian American Studies, which also presented him a Lifetime Achievement Award, and was Professor Emeritus of International and Public Affairs at Columbia.


His passing leaves an enormous void in our community, and to the many people he blessed as a teacher, mentor, colleague and friend. We look forward to celebrating his life and legacy when we return to campus in the fall, and carrying on his memory in our work and relations.


With love,


Laura Barraclough

Daniel Martinez HoSang

Mary Lui

Ana T. Ramos-Zayas

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