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About this Collection

During World War II, over four thousand Japanese American students were able to leave the camps their own government had imprisoned them in to attend college. The Institute for Asian American Studies (IAAS) at the University of Massachusetts Boston has captured the unique wartime experiences of some of these students in an oral history project titled, “From Confinement to College: Video Oral Histories of Japanese American Students in WWII.” This project is being lead by Dr. Paul Watanabe, director of the Institute and president of the Nisei Student Relocation Commemorative Fund. He recently received a grant from the National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant program to carry out this project. For 2010, Congress appropriated $3 million to the grant program to fund 23 projects that will help preserve and interpret historic locations where Japanese Americans were detained during World War II. This is the second year of the program and IAAS was the only organization in the Northeast to be awarded this grant.

The goal of the oral history project is to interview former Japanese American students and to collect their first-hand accounts of being incarcerated and leaving the camps to attend college. We also want to document the impact that these students’ wartime experiences had on their later commitments to certain causes and organizations such as the NSRCF. Because Japanese Americans were excluded from the West Coast, many of these students attended universities in the Midwest or East Coast; some were even the first Asian American students on campus. The interviews will briefly cover their pre-war experiences and how the education they received affected their career choices and opportunities. These oral histories will not only help tell the lesser-known story of Japanese American student relocation during WWII, but will also highlight the individuals and organizations who stood up against an injustice by providing Japanese American students with assistance in college enrollment and securing scholarships for them. As Allan Austin states, “Student resettlement remains an underexamined topic within the widely studied history of the Japanese American wartime experience” (From Concentration Camp to Campus, p.1).

At least fifteen oral history interviews were conducted with individuals throughout the United States. The videotaped interviews, along with written transcripts, are available online for students, researchers, and educators to access.

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