“Everything was trial and error and the villain was race prejudice, fear, war hysteria, intolerance, and discrimination.”
Ruth Tanbara, from “The Evacuation Experience,” in Reflections: Memoirs of Japanese American Women in Minnesota, 1995
In August 1942, Ruth Tanbara and her husband Earl were the first Japanese Americans to resettle in St. Paul as a result of President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. The order authorized the forced removal of residents of Japanese descent from their homes along the West Coast, regardless of their citizenship status. Many were sent to US concentration camps. The War Relocation Authority offered that the Tanbaras move to Minnesota to build community acceptance of resettled Japanese Americans.
In St. Paul, the Tanbaras became leaders in the local Japanese community. Anti-Japanese discrimination in Minnesota was prevalent, fueled by the ongoing war. Many newly resettled Japanese and Japanese Americans found it difficult to find a house or even get a haircut. Ruth and Earl helped new residents find housing and jobs through their volunteer membership on the St. Paul Resettlement Committee.
Ruth and Earl were also members of the Japanese American Citizens League. The group campaigned to repeal the US law that barred Issei, or Japanese immigrants, from becoming citizens, thereby excluding them from the right to vote. This policy extended to all Asian immigrants, and dissuaded them from civic participation for generations. Through their lifelong dedication to community service, Ruth and Earl Tanbara helped resettled Japanese and Japanese Americans become engaged citizens.
Ruth Tanbara serving sukiyaki to Russell Fridley, 1956. Courtesy Judy Nomura Murakami. Tanbara hosted Fridley, the Minnesota Historical Society’s director, for a traditional Japanese dinner before donating the St. Paul Resettlement Committee records.
Graduation portrait, 1930. Courtesy Judy Nomura Murakami. Tanbara was the first Japanese American to earn a degree in home economics education from Oregon State Agricultural College. She taught at the St. Paul YWCA for 30 years.
Ruth and Earl Tanbara at the Festival of Nations, 1973. Courtesy Judy Nomura Murakami. The Festival of Nations was an opportunity to share and celebrate cultures from around the world. Ruth led the first Japanese group at the festival in 1947.
Leather gloves made by Ruth Tanbara, about 1930. MNHS collections. Tanbara taught glove making, flower arranging, and Japanese cooking at the YWCA. She was honored with a memorial garden on Kellogg Boulevard when she retired in 1972.
- Hanson, Krista Finstad. "International Institute of Minnesota." MNopedia, April 15, 2019.
- Hanson, Krista Finstad. “St. Paul Resettlement Committee.” MNopedia, March 16, 2018.
- Hanson, Krista Finstad. "Tanbara, Ruth Nomura (1907–2008)." MNopedia, June 11, 2018.
- Executive Order 9066. The California Museum.
- Ruth Tanbara papers, 1906–2008. MNHS collections.