Honorary Degrees awarded 70 years later

By Danielle Carlson | Staff Writer

Two former students, whose lives were disrupted by forced relocation during World War II, received honorary degrees in a special ceremony conducted yesterday by Citrus College officials.

During World War II, 127,000 United States citizens were sent to internment camps. What was their crime? Being of Japanese descent.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942, authorizing the relocation of all West Coast Japanese-Americans. 

Americans of Japanese ancestry were forced to sell their homes and most of their belongings when they were relocated to the internment camps in scattered locations around the country. 

At a historic ceremony yesterday, Citrus administrators did their best to right that wrong.

“[Roosevelt] authorized the U.S. Secretary of War to remand certain areas of the United States as military zones and gave the military power to ban any citizen from a 50-mile to 60-mile wide coastal area stretching from Washington state to California and extend it inland to Arizona,” said Geraldine M. Perri, Ph.D., superintendent/president of Citrus College.

As a result, two first-year Citrus Junior College students, Toshio Asano and Masako Muki Kusumoto, were unable to complete their degrees.

During the ceremony Gerald Sequeria, dean of admissions and records, explained what happened to Asano and Kusumoto. 

“Mr. Asano’s education was cut short by Executive Order 9066 when he and his family were forced to evacuate to the Heart Mountain Camp in Wyoming,” Sequeria said. “While in the camp, Mr. Asano was drafted into the U.S. Army and became an interpreter, serving in the Philippines and Japan.”

Sequeria went on to say that the U.S. Army also recognized his athleticism, which lead to Asano playing softball in the Army Olympics.

After being discharged in 1945, Asano returned to Monrovia. He continued to play softball for 20 more years until he was in his early 50s.

He worked for MidWay Ford until his retirement. He was married in 1949 and has two daughters.

Asano attended the ceremony and accepted his honorary degree.

Next, Sequeria went on to narrate what happened to Kusumoto.

“In 1942, during her fourth semester, Executive Order 9066 interrupted her studies,” Sequeria said. “Her permanent record card states that she left in March 26, 1942.”

Kayle Matsushima, Kusumoto’s grandniece, said that her great aunt choose to go to Iowa during her relocation. Matsushima explained that the transfer from California did not stop her great aunt from receiving her education.

Kusumoto attended Iowa State Teachers College. She moved to Hawaii in 1945, where she taught school on a sugar plantation in her childhood neighborhood and later specialized in reading and teaching grade school.

“I believe she also went to Columbia and got her masters in education,” Matsushima said. “I know more about her as a kid where she was my private educator. Ultimately it worked out very well. She got to travel the world a couple of times.” 

Kusumoto died in 1980 in Wailuku, Maui. Matasushima received her honorary degree in her aunt’s honor.

“This is awesome,” Matasushima said. “It’s something that a lot of places are doing. It does seem a little overdue, but it is great that it’s happening. We are more than happy to accept this on behalf of my great aunt.”

In 2009, then California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law AB 37, which requires public colleges and universities to confer honorary degrees upon persons, alive or deceased, who were forced to leave their studies due to Executive Order 9066.

Asano and Kusumoto were found through a records search conducted by Sequeria and ERP Coordinator Joyce Miyabe.

Miyabe connected to the students’ stories personally. In a phone interview, she said that both of her parents were mandated to move to internment camps. She said that her family was seen as enemy aliens because of their Japanese ancestry. 

Miyabe’s father was relocated to a camp in Wyoming while her mother was relocated to Idaho. 

Miyabe said that she discovered that her father and Asano had similar stories because both men were drafted into the U.S. Army.

It is significant that the United States is finally recognizing the wrong done to Japanese Americans so many years ago, Miyabe said.