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Nisei Degrees Celebrated in Film

A Cal State documentary tells the story of WWII-interned students who finally received their degrees.
A picture of Japanese-American students from the 1942 Del Sudoeste yearbook.
A picture of Japanese-American students from the 1942 Del Sudoeste yearbook.

After six decades, Carl Yoshimine, Junko Kizuno and Viola Midori Takeda finally received their bachelor's degrees from San Diego State University.

All three were students at the university when World War II broke out and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 that forced Japanese Americans into internment camps. Once the war ended and their confinement ended, they and others never returned to campus to complete their education. 

"Executive Order 9066 authorized the internment of over 120,000 Japanese Americans," said SDSU President Elliot Hirshman. "Families lost their homes, their professional lives and over 250 students in the CSU, many at San Diego State, lost their educational opportunities.

"We can not, as a country, ever fully right these wrongs," he continued. "But, we can explicitly recognize that grievous wrongs were committed. One way we do this is by honoring those who were wronged." 

Story retold

Their story was retold in "The CSU Nisei Diploma Project: San Diego State University." A screening of the documentary was held Feb. 6 in the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center. Students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members attended the screening.

"Today, we honor those who were interned by listening to, and showing the deepest respect for their personal stories," Hirshman said. "In doing this, we attempt to move forward as one community, united by our common humanity." 

Other event speakers included Colleen Bentley, CSU director of special projects, and Carl Yoshimine, SDSU alumnus. Guests toured SDSU art professor Wendy Maruyama's "The Tag Project" in the University Art Gallery prior to the event.

Finding CSU Nisei

In 2010, the CSU embarked on a search to identify Japanese-American students forced to leave their studies in 1941. It is estimated that 2,500 students were forced to abandon studies in California, with approximately 250 from CSU campuses.

The campuses searched their yearbooks, archives, library records, historical documents and other materials and were able to contact or locate about 125 of the 250 former students or their families.

About the film

George Takei, actor and member of the CSU Nisei Honorary Committee, provides an introduction in the video, and Bob Suzuki, president emeritus, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, is the narrator. Assembly Member Warren Furutani, author of AB 37, the legislation that called on the CSU to award the honorary degrees, also is interviewed.

For more information about the CSU project, visit the Nisei honorary degree website.

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