Henry “Hank” Oyama

Henry “Hank” Oyama was born in Tucson on June 1, 1926. His father died 5 months before he was born. His mother, Mary, was born in Hawaii but grew up in Mexico. Her first language was Spanish. Oyama said his mother was a hard worker who had an indomitable spirit and always saw the bright side of things. Oyama grew up as a Mexican-American in a barrio in Tucson, and his knowledge of the Spanish language would play a major role in his life. Occasionally, someone who was not from the neighborhood would refer to him as a “Chino” - meaning Chinese.

The racial divide first came into focus for Oyama when he was in junior high. He had been invited to a home in Fort Lowell, and the home had a swimming pool. He had never been in such a palatial home, and he noticed a difference in the living conditions among communities, “depending upon whether you were Caucasian or others.”

But the division between races was put in starker contrast when he turned 15 years old and was hauled off with his family to a World War II internment camp near Poston, about a dozen miles southwest of Parker in La Paz County. 

It was May 1942, and the war was well underway. Oyama recalled that he, his sister and his mother were taken by a bus from Tucson to Phoenix, then to Mayer, an “assembly center,” and finally to Poston (camp I). 

During his 15 months of internment, Oyama attended school and learned the cooking trade. “The school was set up in one of the barracks, so you could have some classes there but your next class might be in another block, so you had to walk through the sand to get to the (next class),” he said. “As you know, summers get a little hot here, and it did in Poston.”

The food was “terrible,” he said. They arrived at the camp at night and were served a bowl of chili beans. It was windy, dusty, and there was sand everywhere, even on the beans. They were given a mattress ticking and were told fill it with straw. The makeshift mattresses were set on Army cots. They also were given Army blankets. But his mother never let her spirit get down while in the camp, Oyama said. “I think because she didn’t want us to become depressed,” he said. Oyama said he signed up for cooking school out of fear that food would run short, and, as he put it, “I could sneak some off for my mother and my sister.”

After internment, he and his mother moved to the Kansas City area. His sister stayed a little longer in the camp because she was engaged to one of the young men there.

Back to the barracks
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.

After his training, he was sent to the Panama Canal, where he worked as an undercover agent. As a spy, Oyama said he had his own apartment and his own car. He wore civilian clothes to blend in and carried a “snub-nosed .38.” His job was to make sure security was adequate in the Canal Zone. It also included surveillance, as well as protecting high-ranking officers who were passing through the Panama Canal. His undercover unit also conducted “loyalty checks” on personnel, an ironic situation for a Japanese-American forced into an internment camp due to his ethnic ancestry. 

Oyama later retired as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.

After his military service, Oyama went back to Tucson, earned a bachelor’s degree in education and studied Spanish. He then began teaching American history and Spanish at local schools. Initially, he worked at Pueblo High School, where he and a group of educators pioneered the creation of a Spanish-language program to meet the education needs of Spanish-speaking students. He also helped conduct a survey in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico on the successes of bilingual-education programs. They produced a report called “The Invisible Minority,” which directly contributed to the creation of the federal Bilingual Education Act of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1968. 

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. 

In one of the greatest honors that could be bestowed on a teacher, a school was dedicated in his name - Oyama Elementary School - in 2003.

Exerpt from: http://azcapitoltimes.com/news/2009/11/01/couple-broke-down-barriers-to-interracial-marriage/
When "Fun with Dick & Jane" Went out The Window

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.
By Keith Ray
It is ironic, but one of the fathers of federally funded modern-day bilingual education in America, which focuses on teaching Spanish-speaking students in their native language rather than English, is of Japanese ancestry.

Henry “Hank” Oyama, who can trace his lineage through his father back to Kumamotoken, Japan, is a man of many parts.
     Born in the border town of Nogales, Arizona, USA, he is the son of a Mexican-born, Spanish-speaking Japanese woman whose husband died while she was pregnant with Hank. As a teenager, Hank and his mother were interned during World War II, but Hank later served U. S. forces with distinction. Hank became an educator after the war and early in his career he had to fight another major battle, one that helped change American laws that forbade his marriage to a Caucasian woman.
     The soft-spoken Oyama, now 70, retired as a lieutenant colonel from the U. S. Air Force and as vice president of Pima Community College, one of the largest multi-campus community colleges in the country with five campuses. As a youngster, he grew up in the Hispanic barrios of Tucson, Arizona, where Spanish was his first language. His mother, whose parents emigrated from Japan through a circuitous route that included Hawaii, had settled in Mexico. So Oyama's mother spoke mainly Spanish with very little Japanese. "My father was of Japanese descent, and I suppose I would have learned Japanese, but he died when my mother was pregnant with me, so therefore I grew up speaking Spanish," said Oyama.
      He began to learn English only after beginning elementary school. It was while growing up that the White House issued an executive order requiring all persons of Japanese descent, citizens or non-citizens, to be evacuated to relocation centers throughout the country. There were 10 of these centers that housed some 120,000 Japanese Americans. Two were in Arizona. Hank's family, which included an older sister, were sent to one in Poston, Arizona. It housed 19,543 detainees between May 1942 and November 1945.
      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. 
      It the age of 33 Oyama met and fell in love with a fellow teacher, Mary Ann Jordan, who accepted his proposal of marriage. Unfortunately, a law still on the books in 1959 forbade the marriage of a Caucasian, as Jordan was, to non-Caucasians. The lovers took their battle to court, lost round one, won round two, got married and eventually saw the archaic law stricken from the records. Their first child died of leukemia shortly after birth and the Oyamas adopted four other children.
      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.
     He has received enough awards to literally fill a book, but he remains active in many civic organizations. He recently founded a Hispanic Scholarship Fund at Pima College. He believes that working with others through organizations, as he does, "prevents some racial tensions from becoming too great. This augurs for a safer, more American society that is willing to accept and understand others."
      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.

Source: http://www.urbanmozaik.com/2001.may1_htmls/may01_fea_oyama.html

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