Courage and Compassion!

Last year it came to my attention that Oberlin College was chosen to host a wonderful exhibition and series of events entitled “Courage and Compassion” thanks to the Go For Broke Foundation. Here’s an excerpt that was included in the Oberlin Alumni “Around the Square” Newsletter. My name is listed!

Courage and Compassion: Our Shared Story of the Japanese American WWII Experience

The History of the Project and Its Inception

Clyde Owan ’79 became interested in learning more about Nisei students at Oberlin during the war years when he realized that family friend, Alice Takemoto ’47, had left Jerome War Relocation Camp to pursue her studies at Oberlin. In 2013, he joined with then East Asian studies major Cassie Guevara ’13, and Oberlin College Archivist Ken Grossi, to uncover the history of Japanese American students at Oberlin during World War II. They combed through college records, looked at yearbooks, worked with the alumni office to track down former students, and uncovered the rich stories of Nisei students who studied at Oberlin during the war. In 2013, this research became the basis for a featured article in the Oberlin Alumni Magazine.

In 2015, staff members at the Go For Broke Foundation came across the story in the alumni magazine as they searched for communities that treated Japanese Americans with generosity and compassion during the war. They contacted Renee Romano, professor of history and chair of the Oberlin College History Department, to see if Oberlin would be interested in participating in the grant to mount a traveling history exhibit.

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Here is a link to the full article with more information: https://www.oberlin.edu/events/special-events/courage-and-compassion/history-project  this blog is listed there!!

I’m also extremely excited to have been invited to speak to current students at a new module course dedicated to the subject of Japanese-American internment, as well as to Asian American alumni. As I live in Japan now, I’ll be flying in on March 7th and will be able to meet the documentary filmmaker Vivienne Schiffer who directed “Relocation: Arkansas”.

Being asked to take part in this research as a senior at Oberlin was truly one of the most memorable experiences of my life– as well as being able to come into contact with family members of these former students through my blog. Thank you to Clyde Owan, Suzanne Gay, Anne Sherif, Ken Grossi, Renee Romano (whom I’ll be meeting for the first time soon!) and all of you for your support, and I hope that if you are passing through Oberlin until mid March you can see the exhibition yourself!

~Cassie

UPDATE:

Since my last blog post almost a year ago I WAS able to go see George Takei’s screening of “Allegiance” in Odaiba, Tokyo. Not only that, I saw George himself when he and some others gave a talk about the musical. (He came to the stage from the back of the theater and I was so close! Not fast enough to turn on my phone for a photo, though.) Please watch this musical if you can!

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Featured in the Alumni Magazine…

So this is old news (published fall 2013, after I graduated), but I was super happy when my former advisor mailed me a copy of the Oberlin Alumni Magazine in which an article featuring some of my research was printed! Image(Took this picture right before I left for my two month spring travels- in January! My how time flies.)

You can find the online version of the article here! The article “Oberlin Vouches for Them…” was written by Lisa Chiu, who kindly interviewed me over the phone towards graduation day last year. (Perhaps it has been exactly one year since then!)

Pretty proud moment! I have started to consider presenting at the topic at my current school in Tokyo. Students at my school know about the existence of Oberlin College, but maybe they and faculty members will be interested in hearing more details about its history with Japanese-American students.

 

 

Research featured in the Oberlin Alumni Magazine

I was recently contacted by Clyde Owan, Alice Takemoto, and my father to let me know that an article by Lisa Chiu about my research has finally been published in the summer edition of the Oberlin Alumni Magazine! How exciting! I don’t own a physical copy myself (it’d be great if someone sent me one!) but my father did send me some pictures. I’m very honored to have had the opportunity to research Japanese Americans at Oberlin during WWII, and I wish I could have continued! Perhaps in the future..

For now I guess I’ll need to watch what I post on this blog, as it may gather some new alumni visitors! (Hopefully everyone can appreciate the more lighthearted posts about Japanese playlists-you-want-to-listen-to-when-your-wife-of-a-year-finally-farts-in-front-of-you.)

For a summary of my research processes click here.

To read profiles of various students at Oberlin during the war click on my “Oberlin Nisei” or “Research” tabs on the Topics sidebar.

Thanks again for reading!

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the student files I painstakingly gathered over the semester.

with Ken Grossi on my last day of the job!

with Ken Grossi on my last day of the job!

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Mitsuko “Mitsi” Matsuno Yanagawa ’43

Mitsi Matsunaga was born on February 16, 1919 to Kamezo Matsuno and Tomoyo Nishimura Matsuno. She was attending Oberlin Conservatory during the Pearl Harbor attack and the start of World War II. Despite growing up in America her whole life, she was questioned by FBI and her room was searched.  She graduated from Oberlin Conservatory in 1943 with a degree in Music Education. She continued her education and received an M.A. at the Teachers College of Columbia University in 1944. Mitsi worked for the State Department of Education as teacher and school administrator in Hawaii, becoming Vice Principal of the Kaiolani School. She also founded and became President of her own business, Kelden Enterprise.

In 1946, three years after graduation, she married Yoshio Yanagawa, who had been stationed in the army at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, and later became manager of Hula Land Travel. They had two children, Peter Nobuo Yanagawa and Lauri Mieko Yanagawa. At 92 years, Mitsi passed away in Honolulu on June 14, 2011. She is survived by her brother, Rex Matsuno, her children, one grandchild, and two great-grandchildren.

December 7, 1941

I was a junior when war started and was very alarmed over the ramifications of it all. Momentarily I wondered about my loyalty: “Which side do I belong?” But I only knew how to be an American! But would the Americans trust me?

My dormitory friends remained true friends, their relationship with me never severed. In fact, they were more sympathetic and especially so when the FBI came to investigate.

I was called down to be questioned while my house mother knitted in the background. I felt the FBI was awfully silly and stupid to spend time asking me questions about Japan, how the war started, and communism. How did I know? I had no secret communications. Reading about the bad relationship between the two countries, everybody should have known something was going to happen!

While I was being questioned, another agent went through my room to search for any suspicious materials. One of my dormitory friends hovered over the agent to make sure he left the place in order. And later she reported to me that nothing was taken out.

Is it laziness or the desire to forget all this as “the past” that I don’t wish to recount all the incidents during this period of my life?

My Research Process

First of all, I wanted to thank everyone who has taken time out to read my blog– and even subscribe to it! Thank you so much! After tomorrow I will no longer be actively researching Oberlin Nisei, as I will be graduating next Monday. Soon a new chapter of my life and my blog will begin– when I travel to Japan to teach English for two years through Oberlin Shansi. 🙂

Clyde Owan, the Obie Alum who commissioned this research project, asked me a few questions that might be interesting to all of my readers, as well as to the people who will take over my project after I graduate.

What kind of information did I collect?:

  • Full name (including spouse’s last name if necessary)
  • Date of Birth
  • Parents
  • Siblings (Any Obie siblings?)
  • Years attended Oberlin
  • Graduated? (Y/N)
  • If Nongraduate, years attended Oberlin
  • College or Conservatory? (Major?)
  • Relocated/Interned? Name of camp
  • Military Service? (Y/N + where)
  • Post-Oberlin Education
  • Post-Oberlin Occupation
  • Any significant achievements?
  • Spouse
  • Children
  • Deceased? Date

What were my sources of information?:

  • Old Oberlin yearbooks (“annuals”)
  • Student files kept in the Archives (if deceased prior to ’07)
  • Student files from the Oberlin Stewardship office (if deceased after ’07 or still living)
  • News articles (about the student or about a family member of the student)
  • Published scholarly articles (by the students)
  • Obituaries (of either the student or a family member- parent, sibling, or cousin)
  • University websites for profiles/bios (for students who became professors)

Which Nisei provided information to me?:

Alice Imamoto Takemoto and I have corresponded a few times via email. Her son, Paul K. Takemoto wrote the book Nisei Memories: My Parents Talk About the War Years.

Kenji Okuda (Oberlin Student Council President) has an extensive collection of letters that have been transcribed to the University of Washington’s website.

What key questions/issues remain unanswered?:

Many. I hoped to find more detailed information about how students lived and were treated here (at Oberlin) at the time. I found many essays written prior to admission and after graduation (usually to the alumni class or for a school or organization), but I wish I was able to find more writings that were produced while at Oberlin. The exception is Kenji Okuda’s extensive collection.

What findings inspired you?:

My absolute favorite findings were personal essays written from internment camps to the Admissions Offices.  I was inspired to read these stories of strong and optimistic young people, many of whom were forced to leave home with next to nothing, and then see many of them graduate and lead illustrious careers, marry wonderful and loving spouses, and touch the lives of so many others around them.

The decision of the Oberlin President at the time to welcome Japanese-Americans just seemed so “Oberlin”, and this research has made me even more proud to be an Obie.

(I still remember writing my essay to Oberlin College… I was studying abroad at an all girls’ school in Osaka, Japan at the time.)

1942, WWII: Oberlin College Welcomes Japanese-American Students

“Oberlin Offers a Friendly Welcome to Seventeen Japanese-American Students”

Oberlin News-Tribune, October 1, 1942

This community will be host during the coming college year to a group of approximately 17 students who, though they are all American citizens, are of Japanese ancestry.  Five of these young people have previously been enrolled here, but the others are new to Oberlin.  Eleven will arrive here this weekend who are evacuees from the Pacific coastal areas and who have been living in the evacuation camps of the West.

True to its best traditions the Oberlin community bids these Japanese Americans a completely friendly welcome.  They were all born in the United States—in California, Oregon, Washington, New Jersey and Hawaii.  They all have excellent records for scholarship, character and citizenship.   They have been excellently recommended by friends of Oberlin, and Oberlin College vouches for them.

Oberlin residents will look upon these students, certainly with unusual interest, but with neither prejudices nor suspicion.  The war situation makes their lot a difficult one.  Oberlin can help by treating them no differently than it treats any of its other 1800 or more student residents.

For an example of how not to act we can take that of Parksville, Missouri.  There in recent weeks, the mayor and city council have been “up in arms” over the prospective arrival of seven Japanese American evacuees as students.  Boasting that they were not as “soft” as the F.B.I., the city officials threatened to run these students out of town.

We do not believe there are any Oberlin citizens who are so lacking in common humanity, or whose patriotism is of such an empty, bombastic variety as would allow them to adopt the attitude of Parksville’s mayor.  If so they surely do not deserve the name of Oberlin, and we wish them elsewhere.

No, in this respect we are still the Oberlin of old.  We wish for these fellow American citizens an entirely happy and intellectually profitable stay in Oberlin.  May their experiences here only serve to strengthen their belief, and our belief, in the democratic way of living.

Mai Haru Kitazawa Arbegast ’45

Landscape architect Mai Haru Kitazawa Arbegast was born in San Francisco, California in 1922, the eldest of six children (June OC ’46, Ernest, Thomas, Rose, Helen), to Mr. Gijiu and Mrs. Kikuno Kitazawa, who owned the Kitazawa Seed Company in San Jose. She attended San Jose State College until WWII, during which the family was relocated and interned in a detention camp at Heart Mountain, WY. From here she was permitted to leave and attend Oberlin College, from which she graduated in 1945.

After Oberlin, she received a Masters in Ornamental Horticulture at Cornell University. Following the end of World War II, she and her family returned to San Jose, and Mai earned a second Masters degree in Landscape Architecture from UC Berkeley in 1953.  (In Cornell’s Department of Horticulture alumni newsletter, Mai noted she was “the only woman around as a graduate student in Horticulture from 1947-49”). After teaching in the UC Berkeley Department of Landscape Architecture from 1953-1967 while maintaining a professional practice, she opened up her own Landscape Architectural office, lecturing, touring, and consulting. She received numerous awards, including a Life Time Achievement Award from UCB and a Horticulturist of the Year award.

Mai married David Elwood Arbegast and they had four children, Deborah, Lisa, Michael, and Katherine, and granddaughters Victoria, Mikayla, and Allison. Mai passed away in April 2012.

Obituary

Mai’s Berkeley Profile