History of Japanese Americans in Texas: Lillian Ogata Bonner

Lillian Ogata Bonner

Lillian Ogata Bonner's family
Lillian Ogata Bonner's family

Lillian Ogata Bonner now lives in Texas, but she was born in Tacoma, Washington, in 1942. According to Bonner, at the start of World War II, her birth father was deported back to Japan as he was in the US illegally. Her birth mother and her three young siblings were to be relocated to Tule Lake Internment Camp, so, perhaps overwhelmed by the situation, Bonner’s birth mother gave her up for adoption. During the war, she was among the 101 Japanese American orphans and foster children rounded up by the U.S. Army and sent to Manzanar Children’s Village in California.

Here, three-year-old Lillian was adopted by Toyoji “Frank” and Josie Hattori, who brought her to Nevada and, later, San Francisco, where Bonner spent the majority of her childhood. Josie Hattori was a Nisei: her father was a fruit farmer in Sacramento Valley and her mother was a “picture bride.” In a 2009 letter to the Japanese American Citizens League, shortly after her mother passed away, Bonner looks back on her childhood with great fondness:

“My father died very early in life, leaving my mother a young widow at 44. So, at the tender age of 11, I literally had to grow up overnight to take care of her. That was fine -- while other teenage friends worried about dates and new dresses, I took care of mom and never thought otherwise. I started taking piano lessons at 6 years of age and in my later teen years, I taught piano lessons on weekends. With my extra spending money, I would treat mom to a nice Saturday night dinner at Fishermans Wharf in San Francisco where I grew up! I also had enough funds to take her home in a taxi too and it was my pleasure to make her new dresses while she was working. I did all of this with great love and affection!”

Today, Bonner plays an active role in telling the history of the Manzanar Children’s Village. She has formed friendships with other survivors from the Village as well as shared her story with volunteers and staff at what is now the Manzanar National Historic Site. Bonner has also successfully contacted with her birth family: her birth mother and siblings moved to Ogden, Utah, and her birth father eventually came back to the US to reunite with his family. To learn more about Bonner’s work with the Manzanar National Historic Site, please see the sources below.


Ogata-Bonner, Lillian. “Lillian Ogata-Bonner.” Japanese American Museum of San Jose. Diana Tsuchida. https://www.jamsj.org/manabu/lillian-ogata-bonner.