80 years later, 40 Japanese Americans Get School Diplomas

This year’s graduating class at Mt. Diablo High School will include 40 Japanese American classmates who were denied their diplomas eight decades ago.

At barely 17, Tatasuki Kanada was taken away from Mt. Diablo High School and transferred to an internment camp with his family during WWII. “Having to be pulled away from high school and pack up everything into suitcases, and be hauled into a camp,” said Karen Leong, describing what her uncle lived through.

According to Stephanie Patino, a student at the high school in question, “I was shocked knowing that people who actually attended my school had to go through something so bad.” 

When ethnic studies students realized that Japanese American students had not received their degrees, they set out to rectify the situation.

When students come here seeking an education, they are robbed and put to these camps, says Brandon Dominguez, a student at the university.

It took the children two years of letter-writing and public speaking before they learnt in March that their efforts had been rewarded. A diploma in each of the 40 pupils’ names will be awarded. It provides them an opportunity to do something they’ve never been able to do before, says student James Hutalla. In the grand scheme of things this is merely a token of appreciation. Ethnic Studies instructor Laura Valdez stated, “We know this is 80 years late, but we simply wanted to inform them that they matter to us and that they are part of our community.”

Kanada’s niece and nephew will collect their uncle’s graduation on his behalf. In 2007, the military veteran died. He would be “humbled and overjoyed” if he were still living today, according to Leong. All four of his brothers served in the military during the Second World War. The Purple Heart was awarded to one of them for their actions in battle. As Leong put it, “They were faithful to the country they served in the war to prove their worth as an American.”

It means everything to them that Kanada received her graduation, and they express their gratitude to the students who battled for justice.

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