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20 Japanese American college students forced into internment to receive honorary degrees

May 20, 2011 | 11:28 am

I4t935kf Seventy years after they were forced into internment camps during World War II, 20 former Japanese-American Santa Ana College students will be conferred with honorary degrees Friday during the campus' graduation ceremony.

The 20 -- some living, others deceased -- are among more than 1,000 Japanese Americans who have received such recognition from 32 schools under a 2009 law that requires California’s public colleges and universities to bestow honorary degrees to former students who had their education interrupted.

Another 1,500 former students have yet to be located.

The Orange County community college began searching its paper archives last fall for students who were forced from the classroom, said Mark Liang, associate dean for administration and records.

“We went page by page and cast a wide net,” he said.

Among the reasons listed in the records for leaving school were “evacuated” and “necessary” -- chilling euphemisms for internment.

Reaching out to Japanese American media and community organizations led to calls from former students and family members.

“When I called someone I was very nervous. I didn’t know how they’d react,” Liang said. “This was a very traumatic thing that happened to them. But they all replied very, very positively. I was so happy that they were happy. It’s an honor to be able to recognize them this way.”

Among those whom Liang called was Margaret Funakoshi Masuoka, an 89-year-old San Francisco resident who will receive an associate of arts degree Friday -- not an honorary degree.

“She had turned in all of her assignments and was awarded a degree” at the time, Liang said. “But, of course, she couldn’t attend commencement.”


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-- Mike Anton

Photo: Manzanar, the camp in the Eastern Sierra that housed 10,000 Japanese American internees during World War II. Credit: Los Angeles Times