American Studies mourns the passing of Professor Gary Okihiro

May 21, 2024

With great sadness, we write to share the passing of our dear colleague and friend, Professor Gary Okihiro, on May 20. His wife Marina Henriquez Okihiro was with him throughout his hospitalization.  Over the last couple of days, his large family and close friends traveled near and far to say their final farewell.

Gary had returned to New Haven a few weeks ago from his home in Hilo, Hawai‘i as he had done each spring since he arrived at Yale in 2017, to attend the cultural center graduations and meet with his students. Indeed, he came to Yale as a Visiting Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, Race & Migration after retiring from Columbia because of the community he found here, especially among students. 

This is what he said in an interview with RITM after he arrived:

“I’ve taught amazing first-generation working class students as well as equally awesome bourgeois students at Cornell, Columbia, and Princeton. But my Yale students have and continue to gift me with endowments I never dreamed possible.  I don’t know why that is so—brilliance, sincerity, fearlessness, honesty.  My Yale students have those qualities in abundance.  To be so rewarded at the end of my fifty-year career is more than I deserve.  Thank you my dearest students, my best teachers.  I will carry you with me through the void that is myself when at last we become all matter.”

Gary was the author of 13 scholarly volumes and monographs, including Third World Studies: Theorizing Liberation which informed his immensely popular undergraduate course of the same name. He was a critical figure in the development of Asian American studies and a past president of the Association for Asian American Studies, which also presented him a Lifetime Achievement Award, and was Professor Emeritus of International and Public Affairs at Columbia.

His passing leaves an enormous void in our community, and to the many people he blessed as a teacher, mentor, colleague and friend. We look forward to celebrating his life and legacy when we return to campus in the fall, and carrying on his memory in our work and relations.

With love,

Laura Barraclough
Daniel Martinez HoSang
Mary Lui
Ana T. Ramos-Zayas