Japanese-American students get overdue diplomas at Bakersfield College

Japanese-American students get overdue diplomas at Bakersfield College »Play Video
Mary Higashi Kinoshita being awarded degree from Bakersfield College 68 years after war interrupted her education.

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – Mary Higashi Kinoshita was just 19 years old when her education at Bakersfield College was suddenly interrupted. It was war time, and the U.S. government issued Executive Order 9066 which meant scores of Japanese-Americans were rounded up and sent to internment camps.

Mary's family landed in the hot dusty place of Poston, Arizona. "I couldn't believe it," said Kinoshita.

"I felt that an injustice was being done and I wondered how could America do this to me?" said Kinoshita.

Born and raised in Bakersfield, Kinoshita attended Roosevelt elementary and Emerson Jr. High and Bakersfield High School. None of that mattered, as Japanese-Americans were routinely sent away.

But 68 years later, Kinoshita and three others representing their deceased family members finally got what they had been denied more than six decades ago. Bakersfield College conferred honorary diplomas and certificates of achievement to them under a new law known as the California Nisei Diploma Project.

The project awards the diplomas on Japanese-Americans living or deceased who were denied their education as a result of being sent to an internment camp.

Kinoshito and three others received the diplomas at the 96th Bakersfield College Commencement Ceremony on Friday, May 14.

George Tatsuno of Bakersfield was there representing his father George Tatsuno Sr. who died in 2001.

"To hear them talk about it is hard, but it's fitting that he would get honored today," said Tatsuno as he fought back tears.

So far Bakersfield College staffers have found 33 former students who were denied their diplomas.