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Garden of Remembrance dedication at San Francisco State University honors 19 former Japanese students interned during World War II



Christina Holmes
SFSU Office of Public Affairs

(415) 338-1665


Press Release published by the Office of Public Affairs

Japanese American community and mayor of Osaka to be on hand for April 19 ceremony

SAN FRANCISCO, April 12, 2001 -- - The dedication of a permanent memorial and waterfall garden at San Francisco State University to honor Americans of Japanese ancestry who were sent to internment camps during World War II will be held at 3 p.m. on Friday, April 19.

The memorial specifically recognizes the 19 Japanese American students forced to withdraw from classes at SFSU in 1942 and taken to the camps.

Helen (Nitta) Hori and Kaya Ruth (Kitagawa) Sugiyama, two of the former students, and Vivian Nelson, daughter of former student Aiko (Nishi) Uwate, are expected to attend. The program includes purification and tree planting ceremonies and a taiko drum performance.

SFSU President Robert A. Corrigan along with Takafumi Isomura, the mayor of Osaka, Japan (San Francisco's sister city), 12 Osaka council members, Consul General of Japan Shigeru Nakamura, California State Librarian Kevin Starr and Japanese American community members will take part in the dedication.

"It is important for us as a University community to recognize a terrible injustice inflicted upon loyal American citizens and remind ourselves, our students and community, of our shared responsibility to uphold the rights of all people at all times," said Corrigan. "We also want to acknowledge our alumni who for no other reason than their ancestry were denied a college education at the time and to remember them in perpetuity as esteemed members of our University family."

Renowned Japanese American artist, teacher and former camp internee Ruth Asawa designed the Garden of Remembrance. Asawa, a San Francisco-based artist whose pieces are displayed at such as places as the Oakland Museum of California, the Japanese American Internment Memorial at the Federal Building in San Jose and the fountains in San Francisco's Nihonmachi and Ghirradelli Square developed her love for art during a yearlong incarceration in the Rowher, Ark. internment camp. This memorial in a serene setting, she said, allows students to contemplate the horrible acts that took place years ago.

"A lot of students don't know about the internment camps. They believe that it doesn't affect them but I think it's important that they recognize what took place," said Asawa, who was 16 and a high school junior in Norwalk, Calif. when she and her family were ordered into the camps during the spring of 1942.

"I thought it would be nice if we could do something that told the story but not in a bitter way and not just as a Japanese story. This is a story about liberty and freedom," Asawa added.

The memorial and waterfall are located in the serene courtyard between Burk Hall and the Fine Arts Building in the center of campus. It is the largest and most extensive permanent memorial on the University's campus.

Ten large boulders now sit in the grassy lawn representing each of the 10 internment camps set up during World War II. The stones symbolize the deprivation of the camps that were located in desolate places. In contrast, the waterfall signifies the return of the internees to the coastline after the war.

At 7 feet long and 22 inches wide, the bronze marker shaped as a scroll bears the names of the camps and the names of 19 SFSU students. The marker also tells the story of the internment through official documents.

"I want this memorial to be very pleasant and a place for people to gather, to think and to enjoy," said Asawa, who was awarded an honorary degree from San Francisco State University in 1998. In addition, the 19 former students also received special honorary degrees the same year.

Assisting Asawa with design and construction of the project were Isao Ogura and Shigeru Namba of the Professional Gardeners Federation of Northern California. Phil Evans, director of campus grounds, and Mark Johnson, director of the art gallery, also worked closely with Asawa, Ogura and Namba.

The Garden of Remembrance is made possible by a $125,000 grant from the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program.

One of the largest campuses in the California State University system, SFSU was founded in 1899 and today is a highly diverse, comprehensive, public and urban university.

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Map of SFSU The Garden of Remembrance is located in the courtyard between Burk Hall and the Fine Arts Building in the center of campus.

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Last modified April 24, 2007, by the Office of Public Affairs