Photo courtesy of roadcs.com
Canadian. Japanese. UBC Alumni.
Just a few words that might be found on my Twitter profile (if I took the time to write one). Words that I identify with, some more strongly than others. Also words that, regardless of the varying importance they may play in my identity, are all equally reasons why I am excited, proud, and shaking my head to see UBC finally awarding honorary degrees to those Japanese Canadians whose post-secondary education was cut short by the Second World War.
It surprises me to find out how many Canadians are unaware or have little knowledge of the internment of Japanese Canadians during WWII. Sure, I may have a slight bias and know more about the internment than the average Canadian, given that both my grandparents were sent to internment camps, but my bias may surprise you.
I grew up spending a lot of time with my grandma, visiting every Saturday evening for dinner. A visit to my grandma's house was not complete without at least a few mentions of her memories before, during, or after the internment. In a way, I almost became de-sensitized to the internment, after hearing about it so many times. And my grandma's experience didn't help my understanding, as she was just a pre-teen at the time and perhaps didn't fully understand the injustices being experienced by her and her family.
My grandpa was another story. I never had the privilege of meeting him, but I've heard stories from my mom that throughout his life after the war, he carried a chip on his shoulder from the internment. He was much older than my grandma, and came out of the camp with little to nothing to his name, at a time when most Canadian men would be starting their families, careers, life. He had to start all of this from nothing.
Photo courtesy of ubyssey.ca
It was after hearing stories like this that I began to understand the injustices experienced by Japanese Canadians during WWII. Imagine, being forcibly removed, all possessions taken from you, just for being associated with a country that you have never seen and a language that you cannot speak.
Now, imagine you are a Japanese Canadian in 1942, and in university. Not only are you associated with the enemy, but you are also bright, educated, and may likely go on to be a leader of the community. Heaven forbid.
So in 1942, when all Japanese Canadians along the West Coast were forcibly removed from their homes, so too were the JC university students, meaning they were also stripped of their degrees, or denied the opportunity to attend graduation ceremonies and officially "cross the stage".
On the 70th anniversary of the internment, UBC will finally award these students with honorary degrees. As an alumni, this makes me beam with pride. But 70 years is a long time to wait for a degree, and many of these students have passed on, with their families accepting the degrees on their behalf. It's a shame that they can't be there to witness the righting of the wrongs they experienced in 1942.
Mits Sumiya, one of more than 70 Japanese Canadians who will receive honorary degrees from UBC. Photo courtesy of ubcapro.hk
When I mentioned this ceremony to my grandma, she immediately listed off names of people she knew receiving honorary degrees. She told me exactly where and what Mits Sumiya did after the war. She told me where Henry Okada was before the war, and where he ended up after. Moments like this have me in awe of the connections within the Japanese Canadian community. I can almost give my grandma the name of any Japanese Canadian from Vancouver and she will quickly figure out who their grandparents are, where they lived before the war, where they were interned, the whole nine. I'm sure connections like this helped Mary & Tosh Kitagawa compile the list of 70+ students who will receive honorary degrees at the end of the month.
For those interested in attending, the ceremony will take place on Wednesday, May 30th at 4PM at the Chan Centre. For more information on the ceremony and how to get tickets, please visit japanese-canadian-student-tribute.ubc.ca/the-ceremony/. The ceremony will also be broadcast live online at graduation.ubc.ca/ubc-vancouver/live-webcast. I really couldn't think of a better way to round out your Asian History Month.
Although no one from my family will be receiving degrees, we will be there in full force. It's really the gesture that counts, and we (as Japanese Canadians) have been waiting 70 years for this.
Kayo Homma-Komori is a Toronto-born, Vancouver-bred UBC marketing graduate who moonlights as a drummer with Chibi Taiko