Judge Don Cosby of the 67th District Court in Tarrant County still remembers his childhood during the 1960s living in Lena Pope, then a children’s home. 

Asako Hayashi Cosby, Cosby’s mother, sent Cosby and his two siblings to live at the home because she was struggling to provide for them as a single mother. 

On top of being a single mother, she also was a recent Japanese immigrant who spoke limited English. Her husband abandoned her and their three children. She was left to care for them and pay a mortgage — by herself. 

“My mom never wanted us to see her cry,” Cosby, 67, recalls. “We knew she was in pain. We knew she struggled. I saw the hardship that she had, but she made the best of it.”

Asako met Cosby’s father in Japan when he was stationed there around 1951 as an U.S. Air Force serviceman during the Korean War. They got married in Japan and came to Texas shortly after. Over the decades, Asako became an active community member in Fort Worth. Asako died in her sleep February 2022. She was 93. 

The Fort Worth Japanese Society wants to preserve stories like Cosby’s and his mother’s. The organization is working on a video project to document the history and experience of Japanese Americans in and around Fort Worth. The North Texas Community Foundation recently awarded a $15,000 grant to the society for the project, which is expected to be completed in March 2023. 

Harvey Yamagata, the society’s president, said it’s important to gather the testimonies of Japanese Americans in the area as fast as possible. Many of them are aging. A lot of them have been through world wars and multiple hardships.

“If we don’t do it now, we’ll never capture their story. And as it is, many have already passed away,” Yamagata said.

‘The doughnut lady’

Asako arrived in Hurst, Texas, when she was about 23, Cosby recalled. Her first son was born in 1953, about one year after she arrived here. Cosby was born in 1955, and his sister was born in 1957.

That same year, their father abandoned them, Cosby said.

Before Asako sent her children to the children’s home, they lived in a small house in Hurst, north of the old State Highway 183. Asako worked as a seamstress. But when she could not keep up financially, she sent her children away. She sold her car, too. She was working to sell the house and pay off the debt that her husband left behind, Cosby said.

But Asako did not want to be separated from her children. She made weekly trips to the children’s home, where Central Market stands today. She took the buses, and carpooled with friends whenever she could.

Her weekly visits eventually led her to befriend Lena Pope, the founder of the children’s home. Pope offered her a job at the home. She worked in the laundry service, then in the kitchen and eventually became a house parent, mothering children of a specific unit in the house.

Working at the home allowed Asako to live on site and see her three children every day. 

“We’d get our food (in the cafeteria) and she’d be there giving us food,” Cosby recalled. “And then she would come to our dorms every night and check on us to make sure we were doing homework, making sure that we weren’t doing bad things.”

Through the home, Cosby was connected with the family of former Fort Worth Mayor Bob Bolen, who served from 1982 to 1991. Growing up, Cosby spent the weekends, holidays and summers with Bolen and his family. Soon enough, Bolen became Cosby’s father figure.

Bolen’s service in the public sector had a big influence on Cosby and his decision to be a public servant, Cosby said. Bolen’s activism rubbed off on Asako, too.

Asako was a Buddhist in Japan, but she converted to Christianity after living in the U.S. She attended Broadway Baptist Church, 305 W. Broadway Ave, and was actively involved with the youth programs, Cosby said.

Every Sunday, someone was in charge of bringing doughnuts to the youth, Cosby said. Asako would always call the person who was on duty to make sure they didn’t forget and children got their doughnuts.

“It would be a different person (on duty every week), but she would follow up with them,” Cosby said. “They called her the doughnut lady.”

Asako also was an active volunteer with Fort Worth Sister Cities International. In the 1980s, she was part of the first delegation representing Fort Worth to visit Nagaoka, Japan, a sister city of Fort Worth, Cosby said. The nonprofit honored her with the “Volunteer of the Year” award in 1999. 

She was always the go-to person for help when a new Japanese family or person arrived in town, Cosby recalled.

“Texans and Japanese people are so similar,” Cosby said. “They both have a hard work ethic. They both have dedication, committed to families. It just amazes me that my mom was fortunate in that of all the places she landed was here in Texas. And Texans are just great people with a heart of gold, just like the Japanese people are.”

Harvey Yamagata, longtime president of the Fort Worth Japanese Society, has been involved with the group since its creation in 1985. His parents were co-founders alongside fellow Japanese-Americans. (Keren I. Carrión | KERA News)

A place in America

The Fort Worth Japanese Society’s video project started in 2018, but it came to a halt when the COVID-19 pandemic took over every part of the country. The society also was running low on funding, Yamagata, the group’s president, said.

The Fund to Advance Racial Equity grant allowed the society to resume the project and to hire professional videographers to make the final product as polished as it could be, he said. The society received the grant in June.

Garrett March is the associate director of community impact at the North Texas Community Foundation. March said the grant committee saw the value of the society’s venture. 

The project “was touching on part of our population that we don’t hear about a lot, which is the experience of Japanese Americans,” March said. “(But) it’s not just learning about the history. It’s also helping us think through how we can move forward successfully as a country.”

Besides sharing the experience of the older generations, the project also seeks to tell the stories of newly-settled Japanese immigrants, Yamagata said.

Voices of the younger generations will show current and future immigrants that there is a place for them in America, Yamagata said.

“It’s a lesson that applies not just to Japanese Americans,” he said. “It’s a lesson to all immigrant groups. This country will continue to have plenty of immigrants. We want people to feel like they can be an important part of America.”

Chongyang Zhang is a summer fellow reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at chongyang.zhang@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter

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Chongyang Zhang

Chongyang Zhang graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington in 2021. Previously, he worked for his school newspaper, The Shorthorn, for a year and a half.