Marielle Tsukamoto with her mother Mary
Japanese-American groups are applauding a decision by the California State University system to grant honorary degrees to former students sent to internment camps during World War II. But they’re worried those students may not find out about it.
CSU’s Board of Trustees approved the measure this week honoring former students whose studies were interrupted more than 60 years ago.
“I think it’s wonderful. I don’t know how many people are still alive. But it is a gesture.”
Marielle Tsukamoto is president of the Florin Chapter of the Japanese American Citizen’s League in Sacramento.
“I was 5 when we went into the internment camp and 9 when we came back. Sacramento had a very, very large Japanese immigrant and Japanese-American community. But of course 85% lost their property and many didn’t come back.”
Tsukamoto says that’s why it’s hard to estimate just how many Sacramento area residents may be eligible for the honorary degree. And she says getting the word out may not be so easy.
“People may be out there, but if they don’t hear about it and they don’t know how to apply for this, it will be difficult.”
CSU officials estimate nearly 250 Japanese Americans were enrolled at campuses in 1942 when they were forced to live in internment camps throughout the West.
“It’s a way to achieve a small right in the face of such a grave wrong.”
Spokesman Erik Fallis says the degrees will also be awarded to former students who have passed away.
“Their family can call and call and claim the honorary baccalaureate degree in honor of that person.”
Campus officials are asking for the public's help in identifying former students who would qualify for an honorary degree. Local Japanese-American Citizen’s League President Marielle Tsukamoto says they’re also trying to spread the word.
“So that if they had an uncle or a grandfather or somebody that might be eligible that the family would have an opportunity to apply.”
CSU’s decision follows the University of California's move a few months ago to award honorary degrees to its former students who were interned.