Japanese-American Internees Get Diplomas 60 Years Late

Toshiko Aiboshi remembers swelling with pride at her grandson's high school graduation — and now she hopes her grandson feels the same pride for her.

Aiboshi and nearly 60 other Japanese-Americans (search) sent to internment camps during World War II belatedly received their high school diplomas on Sunday amid tears and shouts of joy from their children and grandchildren.

Aiboshi's grandson, 23-year-old Nicolas Echevestre, accepted a diploma for his late grandfather.

"We both went to Nic's graduation. That was a very special moment," Aiboshi said. "I hope Nic will feel this is a special moment."

The honorees, wearing colorful leis and sashes, walked down the aisle of Los Angeles Technical Trade School's (search) auditorium. Some needed canes, a few were in wheelchairs, and more than a few had tears in their eyes.

The graduates represented the largest group of former internees to ever receive their diplomas at one time.

Takashi Hoshizaki, who should have graduated from Belmont High School (search) in 1944, was one of two student speakers. He told the crowd how his education and life detoured when he was sent to the camps in Wyoming.

"Some may consider a high school diploma just a piece of paper, but it's a symbol to me," Hoshizaki told a crowd of several hundred.

The diploma project is the result of legislation sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Sally Lieber (search) allowing school districts to bestow diplomas to students of all races interned by the government during World War II.

They included Niseis (search), second-generation Americans of Japanese ancestry who were sent to the nation's 10 wartime internment camps, and the vast majority were from California.

The federal government interned more than 120,000 ethnic Japanese, most of whom were born in the United States, amid widespread anti-Japanese sentiment, between 1942 and 1945. Children went to school in the camps and received diplomas there, but not from the schools they were taken away from.

Since Lieber's legislation passed last year, more than 400 people have received diplomas, some posthumously.

Aiboshi was 14 and living in Boyle Heights when she and her mother were shipped to a camp in Amache, Colo.

"For quite a long time, most Japanese-Americans did not talk about being in the camp. It was as if you were in jail and then released. You didn't talk about being released," said Aiboshi, of Los Angeles.

Even when she did, it was hard for her children to relate to her experiences.

"As children, it takes a while to for you to see your parents had some kind of life," she said.

In 1988, the U.S. government officially apologized for the internments and offered $20,000 to eligible survivors, but the diplomas have helped survivors make their experience relevant to the younger generations.

"For all you young people who are going to call out to grandma for representing your family today, this is the unfolding of history right before your eyes," said Warren Furutani (search), board of trustees member for the Los Angeles Community College District (search).