In 1945, about two years after he had left the internment camp, Oyama joined the U.S. Army, where his superiors assumed he spoke Japanese and wanted to send him to the South Pacific as an interpreter. When he explained that he did not speak Japanese, they thought he was trying to buck the assignment. They sent him to the Military Intelligence Service-Language School. After four months, he earned a diploma. By then his superiors were convinced that he did not speak Japanese and instead was fluent in Spanish. As a result, he was assigned to the Counter-Intelligence Service.
Oyama left Pueblo High School in 1970, served as Pima Community College’s director of bilingual and international studies, and later became associate dean of that program in 1978. In 1989, he was appointed a vice-president at the college. He retired in 1991 and was named vice-president emeritus.
A Profile of Hank Oyama, The Son Of A Mexican-born, Spanish-speaking Japanese Woman and One Of The Leaders Of Bi-lingual Education In America.
Henry “Hank” Oyama, who can trace his lineage through his father back to Kumamotoken, Japan, is a man of many parts.
Hank and his mother left the barracks-style housing 16 months later for employment at a hotel in the state of Missouri. Strangely, this was permissible as long as detainees didn’t go to areas from which Japanese Americans had been evacuated. Hank's sister had married in the camp and so stayed behind with her husband.
Oyama then held a series of jobs until at age 18 he was inducted into the army. In typical bureaucratic fashion, the army sent him to a language school in Minnesota to become a Japanese language interpreter. Military officers refused to believe he could not speak Japanese. Ultimately, however, they recognized their error, as well as his ability to speak Spanish, and made use of his linguistic abilities in intelligence. Later, he was awarded a reserve commission and retired at age 60 from the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel.
After the war Oyama earned bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Arizona in Tucson and subsequently began teaching there.
The second high school established in Tucson, Pueblo High School, was designed to address the needs of Mexican-American students in the southwest part of what was then a small city. Administrators chose as teachers those who had a strong interest and dedication to that goal. Oyama was one of those selected.
At Pueblo, Oyama and two other teachers, Adalberto Guerrero and Maria Urquides, started a program that provided Spanish for native speakers so they could improve their linguistic ability to be used in more adult, professional work. Now, these kinds of classes are commonplace throughout America. But they were of ground breaking quality three decades ago.
Oyama and the other two educators conducted a survey of education for Mexican-Americans in the Southwest and wrote a report called "The Invisible Minority." The plight of education for Mexican Americans at that time truly was invisible. People in other parts of the country didn’t even know Mexican Americans existed, much less understand the educational needs of this large population.
So Oyama, Guerrero and Urquides held a national symposium on the topic. It drew wide attention and the attendance of national education officials, congressmen and senators. The gathering was so impressed that one participant, Senator Yarborough of Texas, went back to Washington and introduced legislation that became the Bilingual Act.
Out went "Fun With Dick and Jane." In came books and materials bought from Mexico, Spain and Cuba. Oyama eventually left secondary schools for the local community college.
Of racially mixed marriages in general, he says that it is the spouse of Anglo background "who makes more of a contribution toward erasing injustices than does the minority member. People feel more negative toward the Anglo or Caucasian rather than toward the minority member".
Oyama has led a full, rewarding life, and he is well traveled. One place he hasn’t been?
You guessed it. Japan.