The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

Sort Interviews by Affiliation or Theme

Patti Sakurai Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

March 2, 2015


Patricia Ann Sakurai was born in Van Nuys, California in 1966. A third generation Japanese American, Sakurai grew up harboring ambitions of becoming a lawyer as a means for fighting for social justice. She also developed a love of the written word and wound up studying Literature and Economics as an undergraduate at Claremont McKenna College. Sakurai entered college when she was seventeen and graduated in three years, completing her bachelor's degree in 1987.

After taking a year off to work in the private sector, Sakurai returned to school, enrolling in the doctoral program in English at the State University of New York - Stony Brook. It was during this time that Sakurai began to read broadly in the African American and Asian American literature and consequently found her footing as a young scholar in the emerging field of Ethnic Studies. While still affiliated with Stony Brook, Sakurai held fellowships at the University of California at Santa Barbara Department of Asian American Studies and in the English department at Colorado College. In 1995 she completed her doctoral dissertation, "Speaking of Identity: Naming, Experience, and Sexual Politics in Asian American Literature of the 1970s," and subsequently spent a post-doctoral year in the English department at Emory University.

Oregon State University began offering Ethnic Studies in 1996, and Sakurai is one of two faculty members originally hired into the department. In addition to playing a leading role in the development of the Asian American Studies component of the department's curriculum, Sakurai also wrote a successful Civil Liberties Public Education Fund grant to support a workshop that educated regional K-12 teachers on the history of Japanese American internship during World War II.

As her career at OSU moved forward, Sakurai's scholarship came to focus increasingly on concepts of Japanese American citizenship and on gender studies within communities of color. In 2007 she co-edited an anthology titled, Seeing Color: Indigenous Peoples and Racialized Ethnic Minorities in Oregon. She also nurtured an interest in multimedia, becoming a student at the Northwest Film Center and ultimately producing documentary shorts exploring, among other topics, Portland's Shanghai tunnels as well as the social, cultural and political significance of clothing in the United States. In addition, Sakurai spent five years as a producer and co-host of APA Compass, an Asian and Pacific American public affairs show broadcast on KBOO community radio.

Sakurai's primary research interest now is the stateside impact of the "Korean Wave" of television dramas and popular music - so-called "K-Drama" and "K-Pop." She also continues to serve her department - most recently as a lead in redesigning the OSU Ethnic Studies major and minor - and the university, particularly through her long participation on the Advisory Board for the OSU Asian and Pacific Cultural Center. The creator of nineteen different undergraduate and graduate Ethnic Studies and Women's Studies courses taught at OSU, Sakurai has received the Frances Darcy Hooks Award for fostering diversity and coalition building at OSU (1998) as well as the Thomas R. Meehan Award for Teaching Excellence (2002).