Monterey Park

Monterey Park woman, placed in WWII internment camp, finally receives college degree

By Sandra T. Molina, Staff Writer
Posted: 06/08/2010

Photo: Masako Yoshida (Poston 36-5-A), right chats with Eiko Watanabe Nomura. Yoshida and three other women attend the LA City College graduation at the Greek Theater in Hollywood, June 7, 2010, to receive their honorary degrees. Yoshida of Monterey Park was attending Los Angeles City College when WWII broke out and was rounded up and sent relocation camps along with thousands of other Japanese Americans and never finished her education. (Correspondent photo by Mike Mullen/SWCity)

LOS ANGELES - Masako Yoshida (Poston 36-5-A), 85, is no longer her family's only college dropout.

She received an honorary degree Tuesday from Los Angeles City College at the school's graduation ceremony held at the Greek Theatre.

Yoshida, of Monterey Park, was attending LACC when Japanese- Americans were rounded up and placed in camps during World War II.

The family, including her parents and an older brother and younger sister, went from living in a rented home in Boyle Heights to an internment camp (Poston I) in Arizona.

"It was quite a shock," Yoshida said. She was 17.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, thousands of Japanese-Americans living across the nation were forced to relocate and sent to camps.

Yoshida's family was sent to the relocation camp in Poston, Ariz.

"Evacuation orders were put on telephone poles," she said.

The family spent just over a year at the camp, which Yoshida describes as "terrible."

There were no doors or partitions for the bathrooms and showers.

"It was very uncomfortable," Yoshida said.

On Oct. 11, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law A.B. 37, which provides for the conferring of an honorary degree upon each person, living or deceased, who was forced to leave his or her postsecondary studies, said Lawrence Bradford, vice president of Student Services.

"Today we are fortunate to have four Nisei (second-generation Japanese American) students present," he said.

After leaving the camp, she went east and met her future husband, Mitsuo Yoshida, in South Carolina. He served in the infantry in a segregated unit in the U.S. Army.

The couple, who had three children, moved to Monterey Park in 1953, where they had a hard time finding a place to live.

"They wouldn't rent to Japanese," Yoshida said.

The Yoshidas found a "wonderful" woman who sold them a home, with a deed that disallowed discrimination.

Since Yoshida had a family to raise, she did not go back to school.

For about 25 years, she was an instructional aide in the Alhambra Unified School District, where she still volunteers in her retirement.

When Yoshida got the call from LACC about the degree, she was surprised.

She realized she would join the rest of her family as a college graduate, including her parents, siblings, husband, children and now her grandchildren.

"A degree means something to me," Yoshida said.


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