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WW II documents portray interned Stanford students

STANFORD -- The mimeographed alumni newsletter seems dreadfully routine - reports on career activities, marriages, births and deaths; queries on addresses of missing alums; and news from campus, including a change in the ratio of men to women students.

This newsletter, however, was published in 1944 by Japanese American alumni of Stanford University, most of whom had been removed from their West Coast homes and sent to remote detention camps on orders of the U.S. government.

Gordon Chang, assistant professor of history, who is directing a project documenting the history of Asian Americans at Stanford, found the Stanford Nisei Alumni Newsletter in the Hoover Institution archives.

On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which led directly to the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans.

With the evacuation of Santa Clara County in May 1942, "practically the whole Nisei student body of Stanford was gathered at the Santa Anita Assembly Center, near Pasadena," the newsletter reported.

In June, Yoshiro Oishi, president of the Japanese Students Association, wrote to Charles H. Danforth, professor of anatomy, and Mrs. Danforth, acknowledging their "warm letter."

"All of us from the Clubhouse are living together and things are not much different from life at school," he wrote. "Many of us are working on a project making Army camouflage nets, while others have made applications for positions in other fields. Everything here has been much better than expected and the Stanford family is in the best of health."

Chang is researching the life of a Stanford professor, Yamato Ichihashi, who, like his students, was interned during the war. Ichihashi, who was born in Japan in 1878, earned his bachelor's degree and a master's degree in economics from Stanford, and was appointed instructor in Japanese history in 1912. He became professor emeritus in 1943, while living in the relocation camp at Tule Lake, Calif.

Ichihashi left his personal papers, including material he collected during internment, to Stanford.

A trained social scientist, Ichihashi kept diaries of his experiences during the war, and also exchanged letters with members of the Stanford faculty, including fellow historians Edgar Robinson and Payson Treat. The collection "is one of the richest set of personal observations we have on the camp experience," Chang said.

Chang said his interest in compiling a history of Asian Americans at Stanford was sparked by the current focus on the very high rates of enrollment of Asian American students at the most selective American universities.

Although many articles have been written on this phenomenon, Chang said, he knows of no historical study of Asian Americans in higher education. Stanford, he said, is an ideal place to do such a study.

"We're finding that Stanford, from its earliest days, had great interest in East Asia," Chang said. "As a consequence, Stanford developed ties with China, Japan and Korea early on and admitted students from those countries."

That, in turn, he said, influenced the university's attitude toward Asian Americans, who enrolled at Stanford much sooner than did other minorities.



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