The following post was written by intern Maggie Su as part of a series of profiles of API members of the community.
Mike Murase, Director of Service Programs at Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC), has come full circle. As one of the original founding members of LTSC, Murase served as the board president from 1980 to 1985. He did not return until 2006, when he was charged with helping LTSC bridge the gaps between their different departments using his native understanding of the Japanese-speaking sector.
Murase, currently in his 70s, was born in Japan and moved to Los Angeles at the age of 9. It was during his time as an undergraduate at UCLA that he and his peers noticed the lack of an ethnic studies curriculum — including Asian American studies — in the education system. They then sought wisdom from elders in ethnic communities such as Little Tokyo, realizing in the process that many of them needed social services that the government did not provide them with. LTSC was founded with the goal of establishing a support system for these elders.
“Many monolingual first-generation immigrants in their 60s, 70s, 80s had no support system. They needed social services. In reality, those services should have been provided by the government,” Murase said. “But because most of these agencies didn’t have Japanese speakers or various languages that we have in L.A., we started providing these services ourselves.”
After serving on the LTSC board for five years, Murase spent over two decades outside of the Little Tokyo community working in law, politics and community organizing. He held positions such as state campaign manager for presidential candidate Jesse Jackson and district director for a member of Congress, working closely with the black community. A particular passion for him was working in the anti-apartheid movement, which gave him the opportunity to meet Nelson Mandela twice — once in Los Angeles and once in South Africa.