PEOPLE / Don T. Nakanishi, Ph.D.

Don T. Nakanishi on the far right (1949—2016)

Director Emeritus, UCLA Asian American Studies Center
Professor Emeritus, UCLA Departments of Asian American Studies and Education



B.A., Intensive Political Science, Yale University, 1971
Ph.D., Political Science, Harvard University, 1978


Research Interests

Access, representation, and influence of Asian Pacific Americans and other racial, ethnic, and immigrant groups in American political, educational, and social institutions and sectors; the international political dimensions of minority group experiences; and public policy research focusing on poverty, race relations, and social justice.


Award Established:

Don T. Nakanishi Award for Outstanding Engaged Scholarship in Asian American & Pacific Islander Studies


  • For more information or to contribute to the Don T. Nakanishi Award, please contact us or click here.


Biographical Information

DON T. NAKANISHI, Ph.D., was the Director Emeritus of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, the largest and most renowned research and teaching institute in Asian American Studies in the nation, and Professor Emeritus of UCLA's departments of Asian American Studies and education. Prior to his retirement from UCLA in 2009 after a thirty-five year professorial career at the university (and the last twenty years also as Center Director), he provided leadership and vision for the national development of the fields of Asian American Studies and Race and Ethnic Relations Scholarship for four decades.


Born and raised in the multiethnic, working class community of East Los Angeles, California, Professor Nakanishi attended Theodore Roosevelt High School, where he served as Student Body President. He was also selected as Boy Mayor of the City of Los Angeles when he was a senior.


A political scientist, Professor Nakanishi received his B.A. in intensive political science from Yale University in 1971, and his Ph.D., also in political science, from Harvard University in 1978.


Professor Nakanishi was a prolific writer and highly influential teacher and scholar, who has written over 100 books, articles, and reports on the political participation of Asian Pacific Americans and other ethnic and racial groups in American politics; educational research on issues of access and representation; and the international political dimensions of minority experiences. Among his many former students are faculty members at colleges and universities across the nation and world, award-winning writers and artists, and highly committed elected officials, community leaders and educators.


Professor Nakanishi was widely recognized for developing the fields of Asian American political and educational research. He was the first to demonstrate that Asian Americans, despite their high group levels of education and income that are usually associated with active political participation, had very low levels of voter registration and voting. He also began in 1976 to compile lists of Asian American elected officials across the country, thereby launching the National Asian Pacific American Political Almanac, which is now in its 15th edition and has been touted as the "indispensable guide to Asian American politics." Two of his popular books -- Asian American Politics: Law, Participation, and Policy, which he co-authored with James Lai, and Asian American Educational Experience, which he co-authored with Tina Yamano Nishida - have served to capture and advance the study and teaching of Asian American political and educational research.


Professor Nakanishi has received numerous awards for his scholarly achievements and public service, including the National Community Leadership Award from the Asian Pacific Institute for Congressional Studies (2007). the prestigious Yale Medal from Yale University (2008), the inaugural Engaged Scholar Award from the Association of Asian American Studies (2009), the inaugural Distinguished Educator Award from the Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholarship Foundation (2009), the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Political Science Association, Division of Race, Ethnicity and Politics (2009), and the George Kiriyama Educational Excellence Award (2010). He also received lifetime achievement awards from the Los Angeles City Council, Los Angeles Board of Superviors, and the California State Assembly.


Upon his retirement from UCLA, faculty colleagues, alumni, students, donors, and friends also joined together to establish a special endowment at UCLA entitled, "Don T. Nakanishi Award for Outstanding Engaged Scholarship in Asian American & Pacific Islander Studies," which annually recognizes and provides cash awards to UCLA faculty and graduate students in Asian American Studies, who are pursuing outstanding community-based engaged research.


A former national president of the Association of Asian American Studies, Professor Nakanishi co-founded and served as publisher of Amerasia Journal, the top academic journal in the field of Asian American Studies, which was established in 1970, and more recently co-founded AAPI Nexus: Asian American and Pacific Islander Policy, Practice, and Community Research. Recently, A. Magazine identified him as one of the "100 Most Influential Asian Americans in the United States during the Decade of the 1990s," and the Smithsonian Institution appointed him to a 25-member national Blue Ribbon Commission to plan for the future of the Smithsonian during the 21st century. He also has been featured in a number of publications, including Nicholas Lemann's The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy, which chronicles his undergraduate career at Yale University, and a special tribute issue of Amerasia Journal, "The Political World of Asian Americans," which was published in 2010.


President Bill Clinton appointed Professor Nakanishi to the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund Board of Directors, which administered the nation- wide public education and research program that was established under the 1988 Civil Liberties Act that provided a national apology and reparations for the 120,000 Japanese Americans who were incarcerated in concentration camps during World War II. Both of Nakanishi's parents and older brother were among those who were interned. He also served on the seven-member Board of Transportation Commissioners for the City of Los Angeles during Mayor Thomas Bradley's administration.


A well sought after speaker and media commentator, Professor Nakanishi has been a member of the board of directors for numerous national and local organizations, including the Poverty and Race Research Action Council, Board of Governors of the Association of Yale Alumni, Asian Pacific American Caucus of the American Political Science Association, Harvard University Graduate Alumni Council, Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance, Japanese American National Museum, the AT and T Universal Service Task Force, Asian American Justice Center, Nielsen Media Research, Western Justice Center, Beverly Hospital and AltaMed Health Care Services of East Los Angeles.


The UCLA Asian American Studies Center, founded in 1969, is the largest, most comprehensive, and renowned research, teaching, publications, library and archival collecting, and public educational institute focusing on the Asian Pacific American population in the nation. It has over 40 tenure track faculty specialists in Asian American Studies; offers over 70 undergraduate and graduate courses which annually attract 3,000 students; publishes Amerasia Journal and AAPI Nexus and other books and publications; and has the largest and most significant library and archival collections in the field. It also maintains active partnerships with community based organizations, civil rights groups, museums, libraries, and elected officials throughout California, across the nation, and in other parts of the world. During Professor Nakanishi's directorship, the Center increased its endowment to over $6 million through generous gifts and donations from alumni and friends worldwide, including six endowed academic chairs.


Professor Nakanishi is survived by his wife, Dr. Marsha Hirano-Nakanishi, who recently retired from the California State University system and his son, Thomas Nakanishi, who completed his graduate studies in public policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.


Selective Bibliography


A partial listing of representative works is as follows:


"Japanese Americans in the City of Smog," Akira Iriye (ed.). Mutual Images: Essays in American-Japanese Relations. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975, pp. 223-257. (Article)


In Search of a New Paradigm: Minorities in the Context of International Politics. Denver, CO: University of Denver, Center for International Race Relations, Studies in Race and Nations, 1975, 36 pp. (Monograph)


"Toward the Second Decade: A National Survey of Asian American Studies Programs in l978," Amerasia Journal, Vol. 5, no. 1, 1978, pp. 1-20. (Article)


"What is Ethnic About the Los Angeles Unified School District? Phase I of the Los Angeles Ethnic Slice Project." Boston, MA: Institute for Responsive Education, 1978. (Report)


The Education of Asian and Pacific Americans: Historical Perspectives and Prescriptions for the Future. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press, 1983, 150 pp. (Book)

"Asian American Politics: An Agenda for Research," Amerasia Journal, Vol. 12, no. 2, 1986, pp. 1-27. (Article)


"The Untapped Recruiters: Minority Alumni and Undergraduate Admissions," Journal of College Admissions, vol. 112, Summer 1986, pp. 15-19. (Article)


The UCLA Asian Pacific American Voter Registration Study. Los Angeles: Asian Pacific American Legal Center, 1986. 78 pp. (Monograph)


Multiracial Los Angeles: Ethnic Minorities and the 1980 Census. Los Angeles: California Community Foundation and the Institute of American Cultures. 200 pages (Monograph)


"Seeking Convergence in Race Relations Research: Japanese Americans and the Resurrection of the Internment," in Phyllis Katz and Dalmas Taylor (eds.). Eliminating Racism. New York: Plenum Publishing Corporation, 1988, pp. 159-180. (Article)


"Asian Pacific Americans and Selective Undergraduate Admissions." Journal of College Admissions, Vol. 118, Winter 1988, pp. 17-26 (Article)


"A Quota on Excellence? The Asian American Admisisons Debate," Change, November/ December, 1989, pp. 38-47 (Article)


"An Emerging Electorate: The Political Education of Asian Pacific Americans," in Asian American Policy Review, Vol. 1, 1990. pp. 15-27. (Article)


"The Next Swing Vote? Asian Pacific Americans and California Politics," in Byran Jackson and Michael Preston (eds.). Racial and Ethnic Politics in California. Berkeley: Institute for Governmental Studies, 1991, pp. 25-54 . (Article)


"Finding Common Ground: Asian Pacific Americans In A Multicultural Context," Journal of Multicultural Studies, Vol. 1, 1991, pp. 66-79 (Article)


Co-editor (with Halford H. Fairchild, Luis Ortiz-Franco, and Lenore A. Stiffarm). Discrimination and Prejudice: An Annotated Bibliography. San Diego: Westerfield, Inc., 1991, 312 pp. (Book)


"Preface," in Maisie and Richard Conrat (eds.), Executive Order 9066: The Internment of 110,000 Japanese Americans. Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center, 1992, pp. 10-12. (Preface)


"Asian Pacific Americans in Higher Education: Faculty and Administrative Representation and Tenure," New Directions for Teaching and Learning.Vol. 53, 1993, pp. 51-60. (Article)


"The State of Asian Pacific America," in The State of Asian Pacific America: Policy Issues to the Year 2020. Los Angeles: LEAP and UCLA Asian American Studies Center, 1993, pp. xiii-xiv.


Guest Editor. "Commemorative Issue: Japanese American Internment, 50th Anniversary," Amerasia Journal, Vol. 19, no. 1, 1993, 211 pp. (Journal issue)


"Surviving Democracy's 'Mistake': Japanese Americans and Executive Order 9066," Amerasia Journal, Vol. 19, No. 1, 1993, pp. 7-35. (Article)


"Transforming Asian Pacific America: The Challenges of Growth and Diversity of Asian Pacific Migrants and Citizens in the United States," Asia-Pacific Migration Journal, Vol. 3, 1994, pp. 497-509. (Article)


With Tina Yamano Nishida (eds). The Asian American Educational Experience. New York: Routledge, 1995. 404 pp. (Book)


"Linkages and Boundaries: Twenty-Five Years of Asian American Studies," Amerasia Journal, Vol. 21, No. 3, 1995/1996, pp. xvii-xxv.


With Paul Ong "Becoming Citizens, Becoming Voters: The Naturalization and Political Participation of Asian Immigrants," in Bill Hing, et al. (eds.) Reframing the Immigration Debate. Los Angeles: LEAP and UCLA Asian American Studies Center, 1996.pp. 275-305. (Article)


"Potential Power, Real Power: The Political Participation of Asian Americans," in Chieko Kitagawa Otsuru (ed.). Diversified Migration Patterns of North America: Their Challenges and Opportunities. Osaka, Japan: The Japan Center for Area Studies, National Museum of Ethnology, 1997, pp. 183-216. (Article)


With James Lai. National Asian Pacific American Political Almanac. Eighth Edition. Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center, 1998. 322 pp.(directory and reference book)


"When Numbers Do Not Add Up: Asian Americans and California Politics," in Michael Preston, Bruce Cain and Sandra Bass (eds.) Ethnic and Racial Politics in California. Volume Two. Berkeley, CA: Institute of Governmental Studies, 1998. pp. 3- 43. (Article)


"Political Trends and Electoral issues of the Asian Pacific American Population," in Neil Smelser, William Julius Wilson, and Faith Mitchell (eds). America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 2001, pp. 170-197 (Article)


"Beyond Electoral Politics: Renewing A Search for a Paradigm of Asian Pacific American Politics," in Gordon Chang (ed), Asian Americans and Politics: Perspectives, Experiences, Prospects. Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center Press and Stanford University Press, 2001, pp. 102-132. (Article)


With Andrew Aoki (eds). "Asian Americans and Politics," Special Symposium, PS (publication of the American Political Science Association), Vol. XXXIV, Number 3, September 2001, pp. 602-644.


With Russell Leong (eds). Asian Americans on War and Peace. Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center Press. 2002. 224 pp. (book)


With Ellen Wu. Distinguished Asian American Political and Governmental Leaders. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003. 229 pp. (book)


With James Lai (eds). Asian American Politics: Law, Participation, and Policy. Boulder, CO: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2003. 474 pp. (book)


With James Lai and Daphne Kwok. The National Asian Pacific American Political Almanac. 12th edition. Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center Press, 2005. 210 pp. (book)


With Toyotomi Morimoto (eds) Ekkyo suru Tami to Kyoiku (Border Crossing People and Education). Kyoto: Akademia Shuppan-kai (Academia Press), 2007. 322 pp. (Book).


With Russell Leong. L. Ling-chi Wang: The Quintessential Scholar- Activist. Amerasia Journal , Vol. 33, no. 1. 2007, (Journal, special issue).


With Mitchell Chang, Julie Park, Monica Lin, and Oiyan Poon. "Beyond Myths: The Growth and Diversity of Asian American College Freshmen, 1971-2005." Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, 2007. 63 pp. (Research report)


With James Lai (eds). National Asian Pacific American Political Almanac. 13th edition. Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center Press, 2007. 254 pp. (Book)


"Forward," in Christian Collet and Pei-te Lien (eds). The Transnational Politics of Asian Americans (Philadelphia: Temple University Press). 2009, pp. ix-xiv.


Russell Leong (ed). The Political World of Asian Americans: A Tribute to Don T. Nakanishi. Amerasia Journal, Vol. 35, no.3, 2009. 239 pp. (Journal, special issue)


"To Our Readers: Lessons from Asian Australia," Amerasia Journal, Vol. 36, no. 2, 2010, forthcoming.

"From the Founding Publisher," Amerasia Journal, Vol. 37, no. 1, 2011. pp. vii-x.


With James Lai (eds). National Asian Pacific American Political Almanac. 14th edition. Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center Press, 2011. 260 pp. (Book).


"Forward: Never Forget What Happened and Never Forget What Can Be Learned," in Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga and Marjorie Lee (eds). Speaking Out for Personal Justice: Site Summaries of Testimonies and Witnesses Registry from the U.S. Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians Hearings, 1981). 2011. pp. xxi-xxiii.


"Preface" Special Issue on "Neglected Legacies: Japanese American Women and the Redress/Reparations Movement," Pan-Japan, Vol. 7, Nos. 1-2, 2011, pp. i-iii.


"Asian Americans," in Donald T. Critchlow and Philip Vandermeer (eds). The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Political and Legal History (New York: Oxford University Press. 2012.


"Toransunashonaru na Nikkeijin: Iju, Kikan, Saitogo," Hiromi Yoshida (trans.) in Toyotomi Morimoto and Sachio Negawa (eds.), Toransunashonaru na "Nikkeijin" no Kyoiku, Gengo, Bunka: Kako kara Mirai ni mukatte. Tokyo: Akashi Shoten, 2012, pp. 23-34.


With Russell C. Leong and Shan Te-hsing (eds). Global Identities, Local Voices: Amerasia Journal at 40 Years, Vol. 1. Collaborative Publication of UCLA Asian American Studies Center and the Institute of European and American Studies, Academia Sinica Press: Asian Culture Publishers, 2012. 510 pages. (Book)


"Achieving Racial Convergence: A Leadership Challenge," in Chester Hartman (ed), America's Growing Inequality: The Impact of Poverty and Race. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2014, pp. 35-36.


With James Lai (eds). National Asian Pacific American Political Almanac. 14th edition. Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center Press, 2014. 260 pp. (Book).


"45 Years of Asian American Studies at Yale University," CUNY Forum, Vol. 3:1. 2015-16, pp. 33-42.


"Amerasia Journal @ 45: More Than A Soliloquy," Amerasia Journal, Vol. 41, no. 3, 2015, pp. viii-xxi.


Editor. Asian American Leadership: A Reference Guide. Santa Barbara: Mission Bell Media, 2015. 560s pp. (Book).