|Yone, Margaret, Janet, Poston and Ray Tanaka|
Q-C woman honors parents
by Bill Wundram
August 28, 2009
A collection of 29 centuries-old Japanese woodblock prints hangs at the Putnam Museum in Davenport, Iowa. In them is a poignant memorial story. The collection will be dedicated tonight in memory of [Shigeru] Ray and Yone Tanaka, who were interned in the Poston, Arizona internment camp, [block 45-8-D]. The Tanakas' daughter, Quad-City businesswoman Janet (Tanaka) Masamoto, was 6 months old when she was banished with her parents and 3-year-old sister, Margaret, from their home in Los Angeles.
The saga of the family's internment is interwoven with tonight's dedication of the exhibit titled "Images of the Floating World," which was how Japan was known when it was an isolated country in the 17th and 18th centuries. Hundreds of years ago, the woodblock prints - often called "the people's art" - sold for the price of a bowl of noodles. Now, their value can be counted, in part, as emotional linkage to the past.
"I visited the Putnam archives and was impressed by the vast amount of Japanese material, especially the collection of woodblock prints not being displayed," Masamoto says. "I wanted to sponsor an exhibition in my parents' name."
The exhibit opens to the public Saturday after a private showing tonight. To provide a counterpoint for the framed prints, which rim the walls of one of the museum's largest exhibition halls, there is Japanese craftwork from the Putnam collection: a delicate Japanese apricot-shaded kimono, an ivory geisha holding a bird cage, a fierce samurai warrior - one of nine in the museum archives - and other artifacts.
Masamoto was a toddler on May 29, 1942 when her family was hurried away from Los Angeles and arrived to the parched internment camp in Poston, Arizona [block 45-8-D], in a roundup ordered by President Franklin Roosevelt in response to strong anti-Japanese sentiment. "It was insulting for my family to be put away because we were not aliens, but American citizens," Masamoto says. "My mom was born in Missoula, Montana." Her father was born in Hawaii.
Masamoto, who is founder and president of JTM Concepts, a technical services company, talks candidly about the years her family spent in internment.
"Dad was in the produce business when he was closed down. Japanese-Americans were herded off to 10 relocation centers. The centers were more like prisons, with barbed wire fences and barracks. "Dad said we could take only what we could carry. It was insulting! People came by our house, offering pennies or nickels for what we had to leave behind. This was not to be believed. We were Americans, true citizens. "We were put in barracks on an old Indian reservation in Poston, 18,000 of us, to live in little sections, depending on the size of the family."
A monument at the site today says the barracks were flimsy, tarpaper-covered, "open to relentless summer sun and chilling winter winds."
Masamoto says. "My parents were given some straw and gunny sack material and told, 'Here is your bed.' I really don't remember anything, except that it was very hot. Dad worked as a guard at the swimming pool. Some of the internees tended gardens. But believe me, it was a prison camp; you didn't get out. "From 1942 until 1945, we were interned. During this time, my parents had a baby. They called him Poston, after the camp where we were held."
Today, Poston Tanaka is an architect who lives in Long Beach, Calif. According to his sister, he was one of the designers of EuroDisney. Her sister, Margaret, lives in Lake Forest, Calif.
Masamoto says one of the ironies of their internment was that an uncle, Ernest, served during World War II with the U.S. 442nd Infantry Regiment, made up of Japanese-American (Nisei) citizens. "I was about 3 years and 6 months old when we left the camp in 1945," Masamoto says. "My mother never talked about her years in the camp; she blanked it out. But she did say that when they were finally released, all she had was a little money and a dozen eggs." [Note: The family left Poston, Arizona on March 15, 1945 and went to Albuquerque, New Mexico. ]
Her father, Shigeru Ray Masamoto, returned to the produce business in California, joining a partner. He died 36 years ago, at the age of 64. Her mother, Yone Tanaka, died in March 2009 at the age of 94.
"From all I learned of the years of internment, dad never complained. It was a matter of accepting. He was never bitter," Masamoto says.
Tustin woman is oldest city employee at 90
by Elysse James
TUSTIN – Tomoko (Kitasaki) Mizusawa is a short, soft spoken woman who likes to work. At 90, she is the oldest employee for the city of Tustin working for the Tustin Area Senior Center. On Friday, employees and friends gathered to surprise her with a 90th birthday party at the center. She became the city's oldest employee at 81, and could also be the most humble.
Mizusawa grew up in Tustin. During World War II she lived in a Japanese internment camp where she met and married her husband. Later, she raised three boys while running a farm in Garden Grove.
"She is an absolute inspiration to everyone. She's just a survivor. I tell her she's my role model," said Sherry Geyer, chair of Tustin Senior Advisory Board.
Mizusawa doesn't talk much about her past, but she's seen much in her 90 years. And she's never stopped working through it all. Those who frequent the senior center say the place couldn't run without her.
"She always does what she needs to do. She doesn't complain about it, she just goes and does it," said her son, Steve.
She's always held jobs, said her son Robert. As a child, she helped out on her family's vegetable farm in Tustin. Her family rented the land because her parents had emigrated from Japan, and the family was not allowed to own land under California's Alien Land Law.
"She's lived a hard life," said daughter-in-law Jenny. "She raised three children, she's been in an internment camp. But she's always been really happy, outgoing and always friendly to everybody."
Mizusawa graduated from Tustin Union High School in 1939 and attended Santa Ana College until World War II, when her family was taken to an internment camp in Arizona.
Tustin's only police officer, "Big John" Stanton, knocked on her family's door with two FBI agents to escort the Kitasaki family away. Her father, Zenjiro Kitasaki, was charged as an enemy and sent to Santa Ana Jail in February 1942. He was exonerated after a year and a half, and was sent to join his wife, Tsugi, and their children, Tomoko, Tomiko, Zenjiro and Utaro, at the Poston Indian Reservation in Poston, Arizona block 38-11-C. His daughter had been working as a secretary for the camp's fiscal officer, making $16 a month. While at the camp, she met Minoru Fred Mizusawa, and the two were married in a small ceremony in 1943 and lived at Poston block 38-5-D. "We had no cake, no gifts," Mizusawa said.
The couple moved to Denver for two years because they were not allowed to live near the coast. Fred worked for American Potato, and she for Denargo Market as an accountant.When the war ended in 1945, the Mizusawa family moved to Garden Grove, where they built a house and began farming.
In the 1950s, Mizusawa gave birth to three sons. In 1961, Fred passed away, and Mizusawa leased her ranch and took care of her family.
"Nowadays it surprises me how much she fed us," says Steve. "She would make four cookie sheets of tempura to feed the family."
When the boys left home, she sold the place and moved to a house on Browning Avenue in Tustin. Mizusawa went back to school at age 57 to learn medical terminology and took a job at CBC Laboratories where she worked 17 years. She worked at UC-Irvine Health Center for three years, followed by two years at the American Red Cross.
"Wherever she goes, people comment that she's the nicest person they've ever met," Steve said. In 2001, she joined the Tustin Area Senior Center as an aide 20 hours a week, hired by Parks and Recreation Supervisor Marilyn Esposito.
"I love working here," Mizusawa said. "I'm not going to ever retire because I love working."
At the senior center on Friday, Parks and Recreation Supervisor Marilyn Esposito hands Mizusawa a large knife to cut the cake.
"I look forward to every day because of Tomo," recreation coordinator Vanessa Osborn said. The employees prepared the room in secret, telling Mizusawa it was closed for a city function. Now, balloons, flowers and photographs of Mizusawa decorate the room.
Mizusawa had left to grab lunch in the middle of her busy work day. Esposito called her, saying there had been an emergency and she was needed at the senior center.
"Tomo is one of the most amazing people I have ever met. I mean that from the bottom of my heart," Esposito said. "She is so loved by everyone – volunteers, staff and patrons alike. When she's not at work, something's missing."
Mizusawa rushed back to the center to find no emergency. Instead, she was surprised by the party in her honor. Her two sons and two daughters-in-law were there, along with friends and coworkers from the senior center. Her middle child, Ron, lives in Chigasaki, Japan. Steve and Jenny snuck into her home after she left for work to bring some of her photos to share at the party.
"She has a busier social schedule that any of us," said daughter-in-law Donna Mizusawa of Tustin.
She and her sisters, Yuki of Fullerton and Tomi of Fountain Valley, meet up each Sunday for dinner and shopping. "She has always kept busy, and I think that contributes to her longevity," Steve said.
Mizusawa often brings treats to her friends at the senior center. She taught Gloria MacDiarmid of Orange to enjoy green tea, and sneaks little gifts to Dick and June Reger of North Tustin.
"If you say 'senior center,' you say 'Tomo'," said volunteer Joan Featherstone.
As the party comes to a close, Mizusawa starts cleaning up. Though she could go home to relax, she chooses to stay and finish her shift.
Vets can receive missing diplomas
by Craig Schultz
July 22, 2011
Military veterans in Riverside Country who missed out on high school graduation because they were on active duty can apply for a diploma through a program known as "Operation Recognition". The program is open to people whose high school education was interrupted by military service in World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam War.
"Operation Recognition" also awards diplomas to Japanese-American citizens who did not complete high school due to internment in a World War II relocation camp.
More than 200 veterans have received high school diplomas through Operation Recognition since 2007.
The 2011 ceremony will be November 9, 2011 at the Moreno Valley Conference and Recreation Center. To participate in the ceremony, application forms and supporting documentation must be received by Sept. 30, 2011.
Applications are available online at www.rcoe.us/operationrecognition or can be requested by calling Tracey Rivas at 951-826-6570 or emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looks Japanese, speaks Spanish Must be all American
July 20, 2011
By Thelma Grimes, The Explorer
|Henry "Hank" Oyama|
Oyama, of Oro Valley, has crossed racial divides, challenged laws and changed the nature of bilingual education, but the humble 85-year-old gives the credit to his country and the three women who have influenced him most. With both his parents coming from a Japanese heritage, Oyama may look like he’s from Japan, but his primary language is Spanish, and his secondary language is English.
“My father died when my mother was five months pregnant, so I never knew him. I never learned Japanese,” said Oyama. “My mother grew up in Mexico. After her mother died, her father, who was Japanese, decided that he wanted to move to Mexico. She grew up as a Mexican girl.”
Oyama’s story begins with his mother, a woman he credits for instilling in him the principle that has guided his life. “She used to say in Spanish, ‘Don’t worry, my son, there’s nothing bad that happens but for some good reason.’ My life has been a series of experiences that came up. I don’t really know if there was a pattern that was predestined, but I think many things that happened turned out in the long run to be for the best.”
After his father died, Oyama and his older sister were raised by their mother in a Mexican barrio.
“I grew up learning Spanish first because that’s all I heard,” he said. “It became my first language. Because my mother felt more comfortable around Spanish speakers, I grew up like a Mexican-American boy.”
However, despite the Mexican-American upbringing, it was his Japanese heritage that caused the Oyama family to face stiff American judgment in the 1940s.
When Oyama was 15, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Oyama, his mother and sister, and 120,000 other Japanese-Americans were sent to relocation camps, where they were ordered to stay until the end of the war or they found work in another part of the country.
After 16 months in the relocation camp in Poston, Arizona, Oyama’s mom found employment in Missouri. His older sister stayed at the camp with her fiancé, and Oyama and his mother moved on to Kansas City. For two years, Oyama worked with his mother at the Aluminum Company of America, making aircraft parts, until he was drafted into the U.S. Army.
After being forced into relocation camps, and moving across the country, Oyama said he wasn’t angry about being drafted. Instead, he was excited to serve. “I always wanted to be in uniform. When you’re a kid and all the movies show guys in uniform flying planes with all the beautiful ladies chasing after them, you want to join,” he said. Oyama said he would have joined willingly before he was 18, but his mother would not sign off so he could wear a uniform to catch girls. However, the romantic images of the war portrayed in the movies were far from the reality Oyama would face. Because of his heritage, the military assumed he spoke Japanese. After basic training, he was transferred to the Military Intelligence Service-Language School. He was ordered to brush up on Japanese to become an interpreter in the South Pacific.
“I told them they didn’t understand. I don’t speak Japanese. I speak Spanish,” he said. “They thought I was just trying to get out of service. I told them they would have to assign an interpreter to me. They sent me anyway. After four months they said, ‘you’re right, you don’t speak Japanese, but you speak Spanish.’”
After admitting the error, the military recognized the benefit of Oyama’s Spanish skills, and he was sent to encounter intelligence training.
“Again, it’s like my mother said, everything happens for a good reason,” he said. “Speaking Spanish saved my behind. I learned we need people in the military who have good command of other languages.”
Oyama served 24 years in the U.S. military, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.
In 1947, while remaining on active duty, Oyama and his mother returned to Tucson, where he enrolled for classes at the University of Arizona.
Oyama was able to earn a degree thanks to the GI Bill, which was established in 1944. As a reward for service, the GI Bill helps soldiers pay for college.
“One special lesson that we all should learn is that we are very fortunate that we are Americans,” he said. “Being sent to an interment camp in the long run turned out for the best. The government drafted me, but it turned out for the best. Especially for the GI Bill. It’s one of the most important civil rights that Americans have.”
Oyama earned a bachelor’s degree in education and studied Spanish. He started his 40-year teaching career at local schools teaching American history and Spanish.
In 1953, Oyama met his first wife Mary Ann, but getting married wasn’t easy since Arizona was one of 20 states with a law prohibiting interracial marriage. Wanting to change the law, Oyama said he and his future wife became the first case taken by the American Civil Liberties Union. With Mary Ann being a stewardess for American Airlines, and him being a captain in the military, a teacher of American History and Spanish, Oyama said the ACU knew they were the model couple to challenge such a law.
“I wasn’t looking for a cause or anything,” Oyama said. “I was just pushed into it. I just wanted to get married.”
The battle was taken to the Supreme Court, but before an official ruling could be made, the Arizona Legislature eliminated the law, allowing Oyama and Mary Ann to wed legally. The couple had one daughter, who died of cancer at the age of 2. They then adopted four children.
Mary Ann died in 1987. Four years later, Oyama married Laura Oyama, who added five children of her own to his diverse family.
“My life was really guided by three women,” Oyama explained. “My mother, my late wife and my present wife. Women are really the survivors in this world. They sometimes do things that are maybe seen like no big deal, but actually, that’s what makes the difference in a person’s life. I think a lot of things in my life were the result of wise thinking.”
While Oyama may credit the women in his life for most of his accomplishments, many would say he is the one who is wise when it came to his impact on education in Tucson and the nation.
Again, taking what many would see as a problem, Oyama took on the need for more funding for bilingual education as an opportunity to make a difference.
Oyama, along with colleagues, conducted a survey in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico on the successes of bilingual-education programs.
The survey results turned into a report known as “The Invisible Minority” in 1966. Lawmakers took notice of the report, creating the federal Bilingual Education Act of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1968. After teaching at Pueblo High School until 1970, Oyama went on to serve as the Pima Community College director for bilingual and international studies, and later became associate dean of the program in 1978. In 1989, he was appointed a vice president at the college. He retired in 1991 and was named vice president emeritus.
Receiving the highest honor any educator can receive, Oyama also had a school named after him. In 2003, the Oyama Elementary School opened in his honor in Tucson. Now retired, Oyama, the 2001 Tucson Man of the Year, spends his days at the Fairwinds-Desert Point Retirement Community in Oro Valley.
Kiyo Sato, a Japanese-American woman born in 1923 in Sacramento, California has written the saga of the Sato family's life in America: Dandelion Through the Crack.
It is the compelling story of starting a family in California, coping during the Depression, being swept off to Pinedale Assembly Center, then the Poston, Arizona internment camp II and ultimately surviving and succeeding despite terrible odds and oppressive prejudice.
To view the video, click here:
Santa Ana College Bestows Honorary Degree on Nisei Generation Students
May 23, 2011
Seventy years after being forcefully removed from their homes, former students and surviving family members were bestowed with an honorary Associate’s Degree.
This video shows details of Kaz’s life before and after his time in the Poston, Arizona internment camp block 21-6-D.
|Margaret (Funakoshi) Matsuoka|
A Long Time Coming
Santa Ana College awards honorary degrees — and one associate’s degree — to wartime Nisei students.
May 25 2011
By Gwen Muranaka, Rafu English Editor in Chief
SANTA ANA — The Santa Ana College Class of 2011 stood as one last Friday night to give a standing ovation to a fellow graduate who tenaciously completed her studies many decades before.
"Margaret Funakoshi (Poston, Arizona internment camp block 328) completed the requirements for her degree in 1942, but today she will receive her diploma,” the public address announcer declared to the cheers of 500 graduating students and an audience of parents and friends at Santa Ana Stadium. With that a circle completed for Margaret (Funakoshi) Masuoka, wearing a floral lei and black cap and gown, as she received her Associates of Arts degree in botany — 69 years after she was forced to leave the campus, yet refused to give up her studies. “I was so overwhelmed, to think of that all the waiting and no diploma,” Masuoka said. “Every time I would hear the graduation march, it reminded me that I couldn’t complete my education.”
She was among four Nisei graduates to attend the Santa Ana College ceremony and the only one to have completed her studies. Masuoka, 89, incarcerated at Poston block 328, took a typewriter and her books with her to the Arizona desert. In 1942, she mailed in her typed papers and assignments, and was later informed of her successful completion of the work by U.S. Postal Service. “I took books instead of clothing to camp with me and wrote term papers. But they never wrote back to say they received anything,” she recalled. “I never heard, so I never knew if it was accepted or not.”
She was joined on the field by her husband, David, who was honored in 2008 by USC as one of 130 Nisei who were denied degrees at the outbreak of World War II. They both reside at Kokoro Assisted Living in San Francisco and were volunteers at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo for over 15 years.
Santa Ana College was able to identify 22 Japanese American students who were forced to give up their studies due to the signing of Executive Order 9066. Assembly Bill 37, which became law in October 2009, requires California’s public colleges and universities to retroactively grant honorary degrees to Nisei students whose educations were interrupted during World War II.
Honorary degree recipients are: Tommy Tamio Furukawa, George J. Higashi, Shizuko Ikeda, William Noboru Kobayashi, Masao Frank Masuda, Kiyoshi Elden Minato, Charles Y. Miyada, Sunao N. Murakami, Paul Murata, Tom Hitoshi Nagamatsu, Violet Fumiko Nagamatsu, Migaki Nakamura, Mitsuko Ochi, Minoru Otsu, Gladys Tsutaye Otsuka, Rakumi Sasaki, Kazuo Sato (Poston 21-6-D), Mary Ayako Watanuki, and Michiko Yamada.