More WWII-era Japanese Americans Receive Delayed Degrees

July 30, 2008

Now, Oregon State University has followed suit and PBS's NewsHour interviewed some of the former students including 87-year-old Jack Yoshihara who was the only Asian American player on an OSU football team to make it to the Rose Bowl (but was banned from even attending the competition) and Kay Nakagiri who recalls having guns stuck in his stomach as he crossed campus.

OSU president Edward Ray said: "This is the commencement ceremony that you should have had so many years ago. And this is the opportunity for all of us to tell you publicly how sorry we are for your pain."

America has been apologizing a lot lately: North Carolina apologized for slavery back in April, and just the other day Congress apologized for both slavery and Jim Crow.  Even abroad choruses of "sorry" are ringing out, such as Australia's apology to the Aborigines back in February for...pretty much doing what the U.S. did to its native population.

What does an "official apology" for grave injustices really mean, especially decades or generations after the fact? I can understand the unfairness of current officials having to make apologies for policies made (for the most part) before their time, but I can also see some of these apologies as a kind of generic "our bad" that's more of an appeasement to them and their predecessors rather than the victims themselves. If you say you're sorry, I guess the follow-up would naturally be, "So now what?"

But since I've been fortunate enough to have never experienced discrimination of this caliber in my lifetime, I also can't say that an apology wouldn't be significant, or wouldn't provide a sense of closure for victims. For the OSU students such as Nakagiri —who had the most mixed feelings about returning to campus for the commencement — was said to have "planned to have his new Oregon State diploma framed" instead of rejecting his college experience there.


Sylvie Kim

contributing editor & blogger

Sylvie Kim is a contributing editor at Hyphen. She previously served as Hyphen's blog coeditor with erin Khue Ninh, film editor, and blog columnist.

She writes about gender, race, class and privilege in pop culture and media (fun fun fun!) at and at SF Weekly's The Exhibitionist blog. Her work has also appeared on Racialicious and Salon.



I'm from Oregon, and I think there are certain political motivations involved in these "apologies" that go beyond supposed remorse over past wrongs. They are probably somewhat similar to Bill "I feel your pain" Clinton's apology for slavery while in Africa several years ago. One underlying motivation is to burnish the image of these institutions, whether that be the US government or US colleges.