Dressed in a red sweater and old cap, a man wheels himself across stage with one hand; the other is thrown up in a fist, pumping. He is in his nineties and being rewarded his undergraduate diploma from the University of British Columbia (UBC). He is one of many Japanese-Canadians who was contacted by Mary and Tosh Kitagawa. As part of a research project, the couple worked for three years to have UBC grant honorary degrees to Japanese-Canadian students forced out of the university in 1942.
“A dark part of history was recognized,” said a daughter of one of the recipients. For those who had died, family members were asked to walk. “I had no idea about the internment camps. I came home from school one day and asked my parents. They told me they left Vancouver for Toronto in 1942 to hide with cousins.”
The Japanese community are often viewed as less vocal about injustices they’ve faced.
“It hurts that the University didn’t do more to stand up for these kids,” said the President of UBC who was noticeably choked up. “Universities should protect students.”
The war officially ended in 1947, but because of racist attitudes that developed and competition in trades like fishing, politicians felt pressure to keep Japanese citizens away. Most returned, if at all, years later.
An Asian Studies class was created to educate students on this time period.
“It feels like a chapter was closed,” said a woman clutching her diploma for a degree in education.
In 2008, the University of Washington also awarded honorary degrees to Japanese-American students who were interned during the Second World War.
Editor: Brianna Bemel
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