Alan Sugiyama’s grandfather first came to Seattle from Japan in 1899. His mother Susan was born and raised in Seattle and was interned at Minadoka during World War II. Alan grew up in Seattle’s Central Area, and became a leader in the Asian youth movement in the late 1960s and 1970s.
Along with former Black Panther Mike Tagawa, Sugiyama co-founded the Oriental Student Union at Seattle Central Community College (SCCC) and led a series of protests in 1971 demanding Asian American studies classes and the hiring of Asian administrators and faculty. The protest was in part modeled after a successful Black Student Union (BSU)
protest at SCCC in 1969.
Sugiyama transferred to the University of Washington in 1971, where he was a leader in its Asian Student Coalition. He also organized local middle school and high school students into Asian Student Coalitions, particularly at Franklin High School.
In 1972, Sugiyama co-founded the Asian Family Affair newspaper, a monthly periodical that he helped lead for over ten years. Throughout the 1970s, he was particularly active in promoting the teaching of Asian American history, demanding an end to derogatory media representations of Asian Americans, and publicizing movements that called for the preservation of the Chinatown/ International District. In 1980, Sugiyama founded the Center for Career Alternatives, where he continues to serve as Executive Director as well as participate in the Minority Executive Directors Coalition. In 1989, he became the first Asian American elected to the Seattle School Board, and helped oversee the dismantling of Seattle's busing program while serving as the Board's President.
Alan Sugiyama shared his memories the Project in two interviews: one with Trevor Griffey and Jennifer Speidel on November 16, 2004, and the other with Trevor Griffey and Sarah Miner on November 2, 2005.