SJSU apologizes for its role in incarceration of Japanese Americans, recognizes Day of Remembrance

"On behalf of San Jose State University, I apologize to the people who were processed on our campus."

Dustin Dorsey Image
Tuesday, February 20, 2024
SJSU apologizes for role in Japanese internment during WWII
On this Day of Remembrance, San Jose State is apologizing for its role in the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- In the early 1940s, San Jose State University played a role in the incarceration of tens of thousands of Japanese Americans.

There's no changing the past, but leaders on campus want to shape the future for the better after those events.

Like a rain cloud hanging overhead, Executive Order 9066 represents a dark day in U.S. history.

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February 19, 1942, 82 years ago, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the order in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

It led to the incarceration of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans.

Judy Nagai remembers the struggles her father and others faced in the camps.

"The red dirt and dust came up through the floorboards of the shoddily constructed barracks," Nagai said. "They were subjected to extreme weather and the constant reminder that they were labeled as enemy aliens within their own country."

Her perspective was one of many shared during a Day of Remembrance event hosted by San Jose State.

It's a place where a reminder of the mass incarceration still lives on campus today.

Yoshihiro Uchida Hall is now named after a San Jose State alum whose family was interned.

VIDEO: Day of Remembrance: It's been 80 years since Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps

It's been 80 years since FDR signed Executive Order 9066 that put 120,000 Japanese Americans into internment camps during World War II.

But it was formerly a processing center for the local Japanese community, 125 SJSU students were among those forced into camps.

"That was maybe my family, or somebody else's family in the same space that I have classes," SJSU Student Jake Shimada said. "And that really changed my perspective - this is history right in front of us. And we have to tell these stories because who else is going to tell the story that they were here?"

Those stories were on display at this annual event.

The hope is to honor the Japanese culture and recognize the atrocities of the past in order to create a better future.

VIDEO: Japanese Americans reflect on World War II-era concentration camps, racism today

About 120,000 people of Japanese descent, most of them American citizens, were forced into concentration camps following an executive order signed by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1942 in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces.

"On behalf of San Jose State University, I apologize to the people who were processed on our campus," SJSU President Cynthia Teniente-Matson said. "We can't turn back the clock, we can't undo the damage, but we can learn from what happened."

"Never again is very important for Day of Remembrance and it's never again for anyone," SJSU Asian American Studies Assoc. Professor Yvonne Kwan said. "This is the story of Japanese Americans, but it's not just that. It's for everyone."

Soon a mural on Uchida Hall will recognize the role the school played in the Japanese incarcerations.

Because part of healing is admitting wrongdoing in order to move forward.

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