Nisei will finally claim diplomas at Washington Union graduation

The Fresno BeeJune 5, 2014 

Seven decades after their classmates collected their diplomas, four Nisei alumni will wear caps and gowns alongside the Washington Union High School Class of 2014 Friday night in the new John Ventura Stadium.

Fifty honorary diplomas will be presented for Nisei -- second-generation Japanese-Americans -- who were supposed to graduate from Washington Union in 1942 through 1945 but could not because they were forced to relocate to internment camps.

Hisaye Shiba of South Pasadena, Sadako Sogioka of Temple City, Kikuye Takanishi of Reedley and Akio Mukai of Selma are the only four still healthy enough to attend, organizers said. Family members wearing purple stoles will stand in for 26 Nisei who are unable to attend or who have died.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government in 1942 forced 120,000 Japanese-Americans to relocate from their homes on the West Coast to 10 internment camps across the country.

In 2003, a new state law permitted schools to grant diplomas to Nisei, which sparked the California High School Nisei Diploma Project.

"I knew I wanted to do it when I first heard about it," said organizer Jean Yamamoto, who graduated in 1973 from Washington Union. "I told my friends, 'Let's do this!' and tried to find someone to organize it, and it came full circle."

The process began by looking through the Washington Union 1942 yearbook to find Nisei, Yamamoto said. She identified 50, which represented about 11% of the school's enrollment at the time. Only 16 of them are still alive.

She had already contacted family members of most of the Nisei but turned to The Bee for help in April because she needed to find 19 more. After The Bee published their names, help arrived.

An alumni living in Sacramento, Ben Arikawa, helped track down about 15 of the missing Nisei.

None of this would have been possible without Washington Union's principal, Derek Cruz, Yamamoto said.

"He's been really supportive and helpful," she said. "We're really thankful for him."

Cruz took the ceremony one step further. He invited local experts Sab and Marion Masada to talk about the Japanese internment camps to students. Freshmen and seniors study the issue in history classes, but most students never talked to someone who personally experienced it.

"I knew the students would be respectful," Cruz said, "and now they have a new understanding of what really happened."

Cruz said the Masadas' presentation was "priceless" and he was impressed by their insight.

"Very few of my generation are willing to talk about it," Sab Masada said. "We try to make up for the many who are silent."

Students know what happened now because it's in history books, but Masada said for many years students never learned about it. He also said most students he's talked to in California are familiar with the issue, but students in Alaska and Minnesota were surprised when he spoke to them.

At least six other central San Joaquin Valley high schools have given honorary diplomas to Nisei: Clovis High, Caruthers, Fowler, Reedley, Sanger and Edison.

Fowler was among the first after the law passed, in a 2005 ceremony. Reedley honored 89 Nisei in 2006.

Washington Union's Nisei graduates

What: Washington Union High School will present 50 honorary diplomas for Nisei -- second-generation Japanese-Americans -- who were supposed to graduate from the school in 1942 through 1945 but could not because they were forced to relocate to internment camps

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Where: John Ventura Stadium, corner Lincoln and Clara avenues, Easton

Nisei on hand Friday: Hisaye Shiba, Sadako Sogioka, Kikuye Takanishi and Akio Mukai

Nisei who will be represented by family members: Lloyd Fujii, Tadashi "Ken" Nagai, Shizuko Yamazaki, Fusako Fukushima, Yoshiye Sue Bungo, Mari Tsuboi, Marie Nakajo, Kiyoshi Muroi, Mary Masako Sugai, Hinako Sasaki, Roy Sato, Kenji Fukuda, Hiroshi Hayashi, Mitsuye Tsukiji, Katsuko Matsumoto, Mits Matsumoto, Mitsuji Gene Fukuda, Ben Senaye Honda, Osamu Honda, Tom Nakayama, Eiso Arakawa, Roy Yamagiwa, Yuriko Noma, Chiyeko Yagura, Haruto Niino and Haruye Ushiyoji

Nisei who will be honored: Asako Hatake, Jimmy Yasuto Hirasuna, Emma Kataoka, Toshio Nakagawa, Miyeko Furukawa, Noboru Yamaoka, Edward Kurushima, Karen Akiko Scott, Satsuko Yoshihara, Kazumi Fujii, Minoru Outa, Ethel Misao Shibata, Yutaka Tokumoto, Ayako "Judy" Masada, Tomiyo "June" Matsuo, Setsuko Kuda, Aiko Kusaba, Mickey Kawai, Sanai Watarida and Sumiko Nakagawa

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6679 or bvaccari@fresnobee.com.

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