The Van Troi Anti-Imperialist Youth Brigade was one of many progressive organizations that sprang up as a response to the anti-Vietnam War movement, as well as the burgeoning ethnic studies and free speech movements of the 1960s. Formed in 1972 by over 150 students from Los Angeles high schools, Van Troi was a largely Asian American group that sought to organize against the Vietnam War. Their name was meant to honor the martyred Vietnamese revolutionary Nguyen Van Troi, who was executed in 1964 by the South Vietnamese government for his antiwar resistance.
Van Troi Demonstrators (1972-08-24) by Alan OhashiVisual Communications Media
Nisei Week Interruption
The annual Nisei Week Parade in Los Angeles Little Tokyo was a tradition started in the 1930s to celebrate Japanese heritage and traditions. It was not typically a space for politics.
“People were saying they wanted to demonstrate at the Nisei Week Parade. So aside from doing our regular jobs, we get all these young people together, and we’d do education around the anti-war movement and [talk about] who Nguyen Van Troi was. We talked a lot about ‘raising the stakes’ as the anti-war movement was already going on for years. We also wanted to say something about Japanese Imperialism during the Nisei Week Parade. So we just organized, and every week, more and more people were coming out.” — Eddie Kochiyama, Van Troi Youth Mentor
Van Troi Brigade at Nisei Week (2019) by Duane Kubo, Eddie WongVisual Communications Media
Van Troi: Warren Furutani and Robert Miyamoto (1972-08-27) by Alan OhashiVisual Communications Media
Warren Furutani and Robert Miyamoto
While a majority of the Van Troi Brigade were high-schoolers, a handful of college-aged students and young activists provided training and advice through a series of summer activist training workshops. Seen here are Warren Furutani and Robert Miyamoto (near left and near right).
Activist Sandy Wong (left) was a member of the Van Troi Anti-Imperialist Youth Brigade. Later, she established the T.H.E ("To Help Everyone") Clinic for Women with fellow activists Miya Iwataki and Irene Hirano.
Van Troi Anti-Imperialist Youth Brigade (1972-08-22) by Alan OhashiVisual Communications Media
Trained Youth Activists
The Van Troi Anti-Imperialist Youth Brigade, along with the companion Thai Binh Brigade, hosted summer-long youth activist training workshops for high school and college-aged students.
While the younger Van Troi marchers took to the streets to infiltrate the Nisei Week Grand Parade, members of Thai Binh snuck into buildings along the parade route and showered attendees with Anti-War literature.
Nisei Week Surprise
Over the years, Nisei Week organizers have sought to keep the focus on preserving Japanese culture and heritage for their children and grandchildren. No doubt, they did not expect to see their children reject that heritage in the name of social justice.
Veteran activist Charlotte Murakami cut her teeth in organizing by leading the Van Troi Anti-Imperialist Youth Brigade. Nisei Week organizers called in the police the disperse the protestors, and Charlotte ignored these commands.
Van Troi's Richard Nixon (1972-08-21) by Alan OhashiVisual Communications Media
Van Troi's Richard Nixon
During the Van Troi Youth Brigade march in Little Tokyo, a marcher wore a Richard Nixon mask to criticize the then-President's choices to escalate the Vietnam War.
“The thing that I like to tell people is how important it was for Japanese Americans to take something like Nisei Week, which was a showpiece to the larger world, and get out our anti-war message and especially talk about the complicit role of Japan at that time. You don't really hear about it.” — Mary Uyematsu, Van Troi Marcher
Van Troi Torches a Japanese Imperalist Flag (1972-08-20) by Alan OhashiVisual Communications Media
Van Troi Torches a Japanese Imperialist Flag
Before the end of their march, youth members of the Van Troi Anti-Imperialist Youth Brigade torched a Japanese Imperialist flag to protest Japan militarism and the Vietnam War.
“Really it was a life-changing thing, in a positive way. We still say, ‘that was like the greatest summer ever,’ you know? And besides the obvious politics, there’s nothing better than to be young, full of steam, and have somewhere to channel it, that you feel kind of proud about.” — Scott Nagatani, Van Troi Member
Van Troi Getting Ready (1972-08-23) by Alan OhashiVisual Communications Media
An Ongoing Legacy
Although the Van Troi Youth Brigade did not last longer than 1972, the Nisei Week event was a prime example of Asian American solidarity for social change. It inspired many of the young participants to speak up for the things they believe in, which they continue to do today.