Collection Overview


Title: Miné Okubo Collection

Creator: Okubo, Miné

Extent: 27 document boxes, 1 photography box, 9 flat storage boxes, 47 banker boxes, (approximately 50 linear feet)

Repository: Center for Social Justice and Civil Liberties, Riverside Community College District

Scope and Content

This collection is believed to be the most extensive repository of Miné Okubo’s papers and art work in a single location. According to some scholars, it may represent one of the most significant Japanese American art and archival collections in the country, and possibly comprises the largest and most complete body of materials illustrating mid-century Japanese American history spanning the prewar, wartime, and postwar periods. The collection includes an extensive amount of correspondence, business and financial records, articles, clippings, published materials, photographs, paintings, and miscellaneous memorabilia and artifacts gathered from Miné Okubo’s Greenwich Village apartment. The materials range in date from the 1930’s to her death in 2001, with the bulk dating from the immediate postwar period to the 1970s. A large portion of the collection consists of Miné Okubo’s paintings and sketches, (over 2,000 pieces), which she collected over her lifetime and which have never been exhibited.


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Biographical Note


Mine Okubo

Miné Okubo was a Japanese American artist, writer, and social activist whose depiction of life in American internment camps during World War II gave a voice to more than 120,000 Japanese American internees. Her book, Citizen 13660, published in 1946, was the first account of the wartime Japanese American relocation and confinement experience, and is regarded as a landmark work that still resonates with Americans.


Miné Okubo was born in Riverside, California, on June 27, 1912, to immigrant Japanese parents. She attended Riverside Junior College, (now Riverside City College), and subsequently obtained a bachelor’s degree in fine arts as well as a master’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley. She won a fellowship in 1938 to study art in Europe, and returned to the United States just before the outbreak of World War II. She was employed doing public art projects through the federal WPA in the San Francisco area, and worked with Mexican muralist Diego Rivera for the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. She was working on a mural when war with Japan was declared. She and her brother were incarcerated briefly at Tanforan Relocation Camp and subsequently transferred to the Central Utah Relocation Camp in Topaz, Utah. While in the camp, Miné Okubo taught art and did numerous pen and ink drawings depicting life in the relocation center, which later provided the material for Citizen 13660. She entered a magazine contest with a drawing of a camp guard, and Fortune Magazine, recognizing her talent, offered her a job in New York that led to her release from the camp. With some help, she found an apartment in Greenwich Village where she would live for the next 50 years, vigorously participating in the New York art scene and creating works of art that were exhibited from Boston to Tokyo.



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Chronology of Miné Okubo’s Life


1912 Born June 27 in Riverside, California.
1930-33 Attended Riverside Junior College.
1935-36 Attended University of California, Berkeley, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1935, and a master's degree in fine arts in 1936.
1937 Awarded San Francisco Art Association Purchase Prize.
1938 Awarded the Bertha Henicke Taussig Traveling Fellowship by the University of California, Berkeley to study art in Europe for 18 months.
1939 Returns home from Europe as World War II breaks out.
1939-41 Commissioned by the Federal Arts Program (part of the federal WPA) as an artist on public art projects including painting, murals, mosaics and frescoes at Government Island, Oakland Hospitality House, Treasure Island and Fort Ord.  Project included work with Diego Rivera.
1941 Working on mosaics at Fort Ord when Pearl Harbor was bombed.
1942-44 Forced to evacuate under Executive Order #9066.  Initially interred at Tanforan Relocation Camp in San Bruno California, then at Central Utah Relocation Camp in Topaz, Utah.  During this time, assigned #13660. Okubo was one of 120,000 Japanese American evacuees incarcerated.

Recruited by Fortune Magazine, and later illustrated for Time, Life, the New York Times, and other major publications.

Held art exhibit of her work at the Rockefeller Center in New York.

1946 Citizen #13660 was published by Columbia University Press, as the first account by a WWII American Internee to show the experience of the internment camps as recorded through her line drawings.
1948 Receives the San Francisco Museum Annual Prize.
1950-52 Taught art at University of California, Berkeley.
1965 Appears in televised program, The Nisei: The Pride and the Shame, Twentieth Century TV, CBS News with Walter Cronkite.

Exhibition of paintings held at Riverside Community College.
Named Alumna of the Year at Riverside Community College.

1981 Testified before the Congressional Commission on Wartime Relocation.
1987 Selected by the California State Department of Education as one of twelve women pioneers in The History of California (1800 to present).
1991 Receives a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women's Caucus for Art of the College Art Association.
2001 Died on February 10 at age of 88 in Greenwich Village in New York City.

Riverside Community College debuts Miné Okubo Drive on campus.

Riverside premier of "Miné: A Name for Herself" written by Mary Curtin and Theresa Larkin, and produced by Performance Riverside.

Profiled in state teaching guide for California as one of twelve women integral to California's history.


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Administrative Information


Source of acquisition:
Bequest from the Miné Okubo Estate


Date received:
September 8, 2008


Collection is open for research


Project Information:
The Okubo Project was made possible by a grant funded through the California Civil Liberties Public Education Act (CCLPEP) and administered by the California State Library during 2008/2009 fiscal year. The grant enabled the Salvatore G. Rotella Digital Library at Riverside City College to initiate the digitization and cataloging of selections of Miné Okubo’s artwork never before seen by the public, and to inventory a large collection of her papers, documents, and personal effects. This is the first phase in an ongoing project that will be funded by a subsequent CCLPEP Grant for 2009/2010. Additional archival materials relating to Miné Okubo are located at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, and the University of California, Riverside.


For inquiries, please contact the Director of the Center for Social Justice and Civil Liberties at (951)222-8846


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