Meredith Oda

Meredith Oda is an associate professor in the Department of History at the University of Nevada, Reno. She is interested in the ways that everyday life and ordinary places shape and are shaped by events, ideas, and people in seemingly distant parts of the world. Her research and courses focus on Asian American history, urban history, US-East Asian relations, the U.S. in the world, and the United States after the Civil War. She is the author of two articles and the book The Gateway to the Pacific: Japanese Americans and the Remaking of San Francisco (from the University of Chicago Press, 2018), which tells the story of the city’s relations with Japan after World War II and argues that those relations were made within and remade the intimate, local sites of neighborhood, civic life, and identity. Her next book will look at Japanese American resettlement from World War II incarceration camps. She earned her BA from the University of California at Berkeley and her doctorate at the University of Chicago. In the decades following World War II, municipal leaders and ordinary citizens embraced San Francisco’s identity as the “Gateway to the Pacific,” using it to reimagine and rebuild the city. The city became a cosmopolitan center on account of its newfound celebration of its Japanese and other Asian American residents, its economy linked with Asia, and its favorable location for transpacific partnerships. The most conspicuous testament to San Francisco’s postwar transpacific connections is the Japanese Cultural and Trade Center in the city’s redeveloped Japanese-American enclave.

Focusing on the development of the Center, Meredith Oda shows how this multilayered story was embedded within a larger story of the changing institutions and ideas that were shaping the city. During these formative decades, Oda argues, San Francisco’s relations with and ideas about Japan were being forged within the intimate, local sites of civic and community life. This shift took many forms, including changes in city leadership, new municipal institutions, and especially transformations in the built environment. Newly friendly relations between Japan and the United States also meant that Japanese Americans found fresh, if highly constrained, job and community prospects just as the city’s African Americans struggled against rising barriers. San Francisco’s story is an inherently local one, but it also a broader story of a city collectively, if not cooperatively, reimagining its place in a global economy.