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Japanese American alumni interned in WWII honored at ceremony

STANFORD -- Nine former Stanford students who were relocated to internment camps during World War II were honored Friday, Oct. 1, in an emotional ceremony organized by current student members of the Asian American community.

Stanford President Gerhard Casper told the returnees that all three branches of government failed the Constitution during World War II, when American citizens of Japanese descent were "forced to evacuate the West Coast and imprisoned without any evidence of wrongdoing in camps scattered in desolate areas throughout the country.

"Though it is a difficult issue, it was not the Constitution that failed but the institutions that failed the Constitution," Casper told an audience of 200 at the ceremony honoring nine of more than 30 Japanese Americans who left Stanford during the war.

"Our Japanese fellow citizens were treated differently from other citizens, they were even treated differently from citizens of German and Italian descent," said Casper.

President Franklin Roosevelt's Executive Order No. 9066, authorizing the military to exclude whole classes of people from designated areas, was subsequently confirmed by Congress and then upheld in a unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, Casper said.

At Stanford in April 1942, Casper said, then-President Ray Lyman Wilbur wrote to Congressman John H. Tolan, chairman of the Section Committee Investigating National Defense Migration, that "it has been impossible for me to answer the many questions put to me by these students as to why. Everything that they have learned from babyhood up in this country is negatived by their present experience."

Casper also quoted from a telegram Japanese-American students sent Nov. 20, 1942, from a relocation camp in Utah:

"President Wilbur: On this eve of Big Game we are with you in spirit if not in body - Japanese Alumni and Stanfordites of Topaz, Utah."

Casper told the nine returning alumni that "by your presence you are sharing a history and experience in a deeper manner than a mere history book can convey. The values of a university are not, and can never be, in accord with the views that underlie the actions of the government in your case."

Also taking part in the ceremony was Ray Lyman Wilbur III, grandson of Stanford's third president. Wilbur read the text of his grandfather's letter to Tolan.

Anthropology Professor Sylvia Yanagisako told the audience in Campbell Recital Hall that some Japanese American alumni of the war years probably could not have predicted when they left campus that individuals honoring them at their reunion 51 years later would include a third-generation Japanese American (sansei) female priest of the Episcopal faith - Associate Dean of the Chapel Diana Akiyama. She delivered the invocation.

Yanagisako said they also might be surprised to find her, another sansei and a professor, delivering remarks at the reunion, to which they were invited by a president who is a German immigrant.

On behalf of the Stanford American Indian Organization, students Marissa Flannery and Myra Parker talked about the similar experiences of Japanese Americans and American Indians, including the fact that both groups have experienced mass relocation.

"We honor you for your strength," Parker said, then she and Flannery presented each of the nine men with a silver feather pin.

Students Kord Honda and Alisa Kamigaki presented each of the nine with a plaque, a poster commemorating the Japanese American reunion and a T-shirt from Stanford Nikkei, the Asian- American student organization.

While introducing each of the honored guests, they provided biographical background:

The event was organized by the Japanese American reunion committee: Wendy Hara, Rochelle Higa, Kord Honda, Eiko Itoh, Alisa Kamagaki, Julie Kikuchi, Ron Nakao and David Tanaka. Hara and Tanaka shared master-of-ceremony duties.

Earlier in the day, the alumni attended the rededication of Okada house, which moved across Wilbur Hall to the former Madera house.

Members of Stanford Taiko drummers performed two traditional songs for about 75 students, alumni and staff who gathered in the newly renovated Okada lounge.

Anthropology Professor Harumi Befu encouraged students to continue lobbying for an Asian-American studies program.



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