Jonathan Okamura, Faculty, Department of Ethnic Studies, UH Mānoa

Jonathan Y. Okamura

Professor Emeritus


I was born and raised on Maui as a yonsei (fourth-generation Japanese American) and attended high school and college in California. I received my graduate training in social anthropology in London and conducted my dissertation fieldwork with Filipino immigrants in the Kalihi inner-city area of Honolulu. After teaching at a Catholic university in Manila for three years in the mid-1980s, I began working at UH Mānoa in 1989. I have been with Ethnic Studies since 2000, although I had been a lecturer since the former year. I believe that I was attracted to ethnic studies as a discipline, but not as a professional career, as a result of living in California during the tumultuous Sixties.


  • PhD, Anthropology, University of London, 1983
  • BA, Anthropology and Mathematics, University of Southern California, 1971


As a specialist in race and ethnicity, I have researched on topics such as ethnic inequality in Hawai‘i, the Filipino American diaspora, Japanese American political power in Hawai‘i, and Filipino identity in Hawai‘i. My research has been motivated by a keen desire to foster racial and ethnic equality, particularly for aggrieved minorities in Hawai‘i and elsewhere. I recently did a study, “Ethnic Inequality in Public Education in Hawai‘i,” for the Hawai‘i State Teachers Association. My current book project, “Raced to Death: Racial Injustice in 1920s Hawai‘i,” is on the larger racial significance of the hasty conviction and execution of a Japanese American teenager for killing a Haole boy.

Community Engagement

As a public scholar, I regularly make myself available to the local, national, and occasionally international news media to discuss my analyses and perspectives, particularly on race and ethnicity issues, such as ethnic electoral politics and local identity. I also have participated on local radio and television discussion programs and in community forums on current issues. For the Japanese American community, I have written op-ed essays for the Hawai‘i Herald newspaper and been interviewed on Japanese television and radio stations in Hawai‘i. In addition, students in my courses participate in service learning activities at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i and the public schools.