City College of San Francisco on Nov. 19 held a special ceremony and honoring its former Nisei students from 1941-42 and their families.
The CCSF event was one of many held over the past year on University of California, California State University and California Community College campuses in recognition of Japanese Americans who were unable to attend their commencement ceremonies because of the World War II internment.
These students lost, among many things, the critical school years during their youths. Most were unable to resume their college educations when they were released from the camps up to four years later. Many of the honorary diplomas were awarded posthumously, since 68 years later, most of these Nisei have passed away.
Under AB 37, authored by Assemblyman Warren Furutani (D-Long Beach) and signed into law in October 2009, CCSF sought to locate over 200 Nisei who attended San Francisco Junior College, as it was known at the time, with the help of the California Nisei College Diploma Project at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California.
Diplomas were presented to 15 former students or their family members by CCSF Chancellor Dr. Don Griffin. Accepting in person were Takako Suzuki Ishizaki, Saburo Arthur Kitagawa and Kayo Nakamura.
Represented by family members were Genzo Gene Harada, Aeji Hedani, Nagako Bernadette Hirai, Chiye Nao Hiura, Kei Hori, Kimi Nao Matsumoto, Makoto Nao, Setsuko Nao, Helen Osada, John Tetsuomi Shinagawa, Emi Jane Matsumoto Shiozaki and George Yaki.
Also honored were Yasumasa Furuya, Roy Hashioka, Tadayuki Tad Kawaguchi, Charles Shizuo Kawano, Roy Iwao Kawashiri, Hirofumi Frank Minami, Jim Nakayama, June M. Nakayama, Takako Nishikawa, Akira Fred Obayashi, Katsu Sakai, Takio Thomas Shiozaki and Toshio Henry Shiozaki.
“Unfortunately, City College of San Francisco failed as well as the rest of country, failed … the young, hopeful, expectant, bright-eyed young people who came to City College of San Francisco with the full expectation of being treated as Americans like the rest of us,” Griffin said. “And instead of getting the honor and respect they deserved, received the treatment that is so negative that even today when you think about it, we need to apologize.
“We need to apologize as a college, we need to apologize as a state, we need to apologize as a country and we must give this apology to the young people whose lives were changed. Today we are here to honor, to respect, to apologize as well as to celebrate. We want you to know that you always are and always will be in our hearts CCSF students.”
Other speakers included CCSF Board of Trustees President Milton Marks, Trustee Steve Ngo, and Kimiko Yamaguma, who received an honorary diploma in 2008. Both the Chancellor’s Office and the Board of Trustees sponsored the CCSF Nisei Diploma Project.
“I think about the contributions that your generation made to my work, to my life,” said Ngo, the first Vietnamese American elected to public office in San Francisco. “It’s your generation’s quiet courage that inspired your children’s generation to show fierce courage.”
The keynote speaker was civil rights advocate John Tateishi, former national executive director of the Japanese American Citizens League. He gained national prominence in 1978 when he led a campaign to seek redress for Japanese American internees. As JACL’s redress director, he crafted legislative and public affairs strategies that culminated in 1988 with an apology from President Ronald Reagan and Congress and monetary compensation for the victims. He is also the author of “And Justice for All” and a former CCSF English Department faculty member who retired in 1981.
The ceremony was coordinated by Kitty Moriwaki, CCSF matriculation assessment coordinator, and Wilbur Wu, CCSF associate registrar.
The last piece of the project is to establish a permanent memorial to the Nisei students as “a testament to the discrimination and loss they endured due to a policy that Ronald Reagan declared, when signing into law the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, was not justified by military necessity, but caused by racial prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership,” Moriwaki said in her proposal to the campus Works of Art Committee.
“I thought it would be powerful and meaningful to install a permanent collection of artwork created by CCSF employees of the Sansei generation to honor the generation of their parents, the Niseis, whose stories of internment we grew up with. While it was the Isseis, our grandparents, and the Niseis, our parents’ generation, who directly bore the injustices of forced evacuation and incarceration, the experience is indirectly a Sansei story as well.
“It was the Sansei generation, which the Isseis and Niseis worked so hard to provide mainstream lives for, who sought monetary reparation for the affected Isseis and Niseis. It’s the Sansei generation that links the excluded, traditional Japanese American identity and the mainstream, modern Japanese American identity that the Sanseis and our children are able to enjoy.”
Sansei artists at CCSF include Glen Moriwaki, Robin and Dawn Kaneshiro of the Art Department faculty, and Robert Nishihira of the Photography Department faculty.
“Next to the collection would be a plaque describing the evacuation and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II and honoring the former CCSF students,” Kitty Moriwaki said. “It would be wonderful if the memorial could be located in a building with student traffic since so many young students are not aware of this misguided homeland security policy, which has great relevance today.”