Sunday, June 6, 2010

May Was a Whirlwind Reason #2

My deceased grandfather, Kuni Yamamoto, was awarded an honorary degree from UCLA.

In 1942,  President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 requiring all US citizens of Japanese decent to be relocated to internment camps.  Japanese Americans at UCLA, including my grandfather received notice that they were no longer students.  Many were forced into internment camps like my Great Aunt Coralee with her new husband and toddler son, Gary.  Other Japanese Americans fled to other states.

After receiving Executive Order 9066, the Japanese Americans had mere days to leave their homes before the deadline.  They tried to sell their belongings and property in the hopes of taking some security with them, but many were offered mere dollars and change for a house full of furniture. 

With his college education interrupted and only a few days to get himself and his  before they needed to be out, my Grandpa Kuni along with 4 of his 9 brothers and sisters left everything and moved back to Nebraska, where they had grown up on a sugar beat farm.  The trek back to Nebraska was difficult with numerous issues with car trouble, sleeping in cars without heating because hotels refused them accommodations, and stopping the car to have the children run around outside to warm themselves up before continuing on.

In Nebraska, they started over and made a way for themselves and their families.  Grandpa Kuni was never able to return to UCLA.  Though they issued him the offer for him to come back anytime, by that time he had been drafted to fight for the US.  After his return, he had a family of his own and had to get a job to provide for them.  He worked very hard to find work to care for his family, but encountered constant glass ceilings, preventing him from promotions and other positions.

I am so proud of my grandfather and his siblings who experience so many hardships and disappointments, yet never complained or badmouthed those responsible for their suffering.  Even in my late Great Aunt Lily's journal entries narrating the trek to Nebraska in which she, her husband, and her two sons were forced to leave their home in California, she is respectful and shows no hostility even when describing acts of prejudice their family experienced.

For me, the honorary degree ceremony was very bittersweet.  I cannot help but wonder how things may have looked had my grandfather been able to complete his college education.  Grandpa Kuni's life was filled with joys, but much suffering, which I won't write about here.  It is too personal and too  hard.  Yet, the ceremony reminded me of how much he accomplished despite so much.

One of the speakers at the ceremony said that when a high school awarded honorary diplomas to Japanese Americans whose education was interrupted, one little old lady smiled and said, "I could have used this 50 years ago."  It made me cry inside.

My Uncle Eric, Grandpa Kuni's youngest son, accepted the award on his behalf.  As so many of the honorees are deceased, many beloved family members or spouses were there to receive the honor. on their behalf.  It was joyous to see the honorees who were still alive finally receive their degrees.  It was hard to see them receive the degree in their 80s and 90s, knowing they will never get to use it.  Bittersweet.

My dad wrote a joyous article on the UCLA website:  Click Here

Uncle Eric & my mom holding a picture of my Grandpa Kuni

 Uncle Eric receiving the honorary degree for Grandpa.

Remembering Grandpa.



Kelly said...

Wow. Well said Kimberly. I can imagine the whirlwind of emotions on that day. Pretty crazy.