Transcript: May 20, 2010
Thank you, Vice President Oliaro, for your kind introduction. I am honored to add my welcome to the honorees and their families and friends. Special greetings to my cousin Dr. Donna (Arase) Uyehara representing honoree, Harold Arase, and Kikuye Ikeda, uncle Harold's sister and my mother.
President Welty, members of the Board of Trustees, members of the Planning Committee, faculty and staff of California State University, Fresno, on behalf of the Japanese American Citizens League and the broader community, thank you for honoring the Nisei whose educations were interrupted by internment during World War II. This ceremony helps restore the dignity and honor of loyal Americans wrongfully removed from their schools, homes, farms, businesses and careers. They were held against their wills by their own government, our government, without charges or trial. Their only crime was they looked like the enemy.
As a Sansei, I thank the Nisei for their sacrifices, perseverance and patriotism. You paved the way for a better life for your families and future generations. You have made our successes possible. We are grateful that you taught us to set high goals, get a good education, work hard, play by the rules and love this country and its ideals.
On behalf of the Japanese American community, I also wish to thank our many friends and neighbors who helped the Japanese Americans during the war. Their acts of compassion and kindness during the worst of times inspire us still. One of those stories of compassion involves Dr. Masao Yamamoto of Clovis and Dean Troy Daniels of the University of California, San Francisco, School of Pharmacy. Uncle Mas was in his final year at pharmacy school in 1942. There were eight Nisei in his class. Dean Daniels met with General John l. Dewitt, commander of the western defense command who issued the orders establishing curfews, travel restrictions, exclusion from the west coast and internment of Japanese Americans. Dean Daniels implored General Dewitt to exempt his pharmacy students, personally vouching that they were good and loyal Americans. When General Dewitt refused, Dean Daniels accelerated their studies and arranged for the Nisei to take their state licensing exams early so they could complete their degrees and become licensed pharmacists before reporting to internment sites. He even arranged safe passage for the Nisei to return to their communities despite the travel and curfew restrictions. Uncle Mas, who graduated first in his class, was relieved and grateful that he would be ready to assume his career someday. He eventually became Director of Pharmacy here in Fresno at Valley Medical Center, where he served for nearly four decades, and as director of pharmacy at Valley Children's Hospital. He also became a clinical instructor for his alma mater, UCSF, at VMC. He taught and mentored many of the pharmacists who practice in the valley. Mas, 90 years young, received an honorary degree from UCSF at a Nisei college diploma ceremony in December 2009.
Here at this institution, Mary C. Baker, Dean of Women, and Dr. Hubert Phillips courageously spoke out in support of Japanese Americans when public sentiment turned against them after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Dean Baker protested the internment orders, helped place students in schools in the Midwest and East and defended the Issei and Nisei's right to return to the west coast. The Japanese American community remembered their acts of compassion and established the Mary C. Baker Endowed Scholarship and contributed to the existing Dr. Hubert Phillip Endowed Scholarship in the 1960's. Those scholarships are still awarded here at CSU, Fresno.
The American Friend Services Committee helped Japanese Americans leave the war relocation centers to work or go to school in the interior. One of those students was Enid Okawara, a sophomore at Fresno State College in 1942. With the help of the Quakers, she completed her undergraduate degree at Ohio State University albeit after a two year delay. Enid's father, Tom Okawara, was the first Japanese American attorney in Fresno. He along with Dr. Tom Yatabe and five others, founded The American Loyalty League in 1918. The A.L.L. was a predecessor to the Japanese American Citizens League Founded in 1929, which is the oldest and largest Asian American Civil Rights Organization in America.
Charles Pashayan was one of many neighbors who took care of the Farms of the Issei and Nisei during the war years. He returned Minoru Omata's Farm to him after the war for the agreed price of $1. Four decades later, Charles' son, Congressman Chip Pashayan, became the first Republican co-sponsor of the Redress Bill that recognized the injustice of internment. The Pashayan family will be honored with Jacl's "Spirit Of Compassion Award" at the district's next day of remembrance banquet on February 20, 2011, in Fresno.
It is a great nation that can admit its mistakes, make amends and strive to live up to its highest ideals. That was the purpose of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which provided for a presidential apology to Japanese Americans whose rights were stripped from them during World War II. This ceremony continues the healing process and inspires hope for the future. Let us renew the declaration that all Americans are endowed with the unalienable rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Let us recommit ourselves to form "a more perfect union" with equal justice for all under the law. Let us work together to create a society where each person has the opportunity to achieve his or her highest potential as just, productive and contributing members.
Finally, to the honorees, congratulations on this special day and for leading exemplary lives.