Students 'Righting the Wrong' of WWII

As part of their Unity Week celebration, Irvine High School students Monday honored peers from East Los Angeles who have raised awareness of Japanese American internment during World War II.

Coinciding with the event was the opening of a Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit at the school. "Whispered Silences: Japanese American Detention Camps 50 Years Later" will remain on public display through May 17.

Between the exhibit and assemblies featuring students from Roosevelt High School, Irvine teens said they came away with a new respect for what youth can do to promote tolerance and diversity.

"To hear about what the Japanese students at Roosevelt went through in the 1940s brought it all to life for me," said Sandhya Radhakrishnan, a junior at Irvine High.

Roosevelt students said that in reviewing old yearbooks about two years ago for a school history project, they learned that the now predominantly Latino school once had a substantial Japanese American population, as well as a traditional Japanese garden.

The Japanese American students disappeared from the school's yearbook with the entry of the United States into World War II in 1941--when they and their families were sent to internment camps. The garden was destroyed soon after.

Will Adams, who teaches Japanese and martial arts at Roosevelt, said that once students found out about the school's history, they set about "righting the wrong."

First, they held a ceremony to honor students who had been interned, and then, with the support of alumni, the Japanese American Historical Museum in Los Angeles and local businesses, the garden was restored.

On Monday, Irvine students presented a plaque to their Roosevelt peers, along with a check for $300 to buy a tree for the restored Japanese garden. The program was sponsored by Irvine High School's Students for Social Responsibility.

Bruce Kagi, head of the Japanese American Historical Museum and a former student at Roosevelt, recalled for students his days at the high school.

"I was a 10th-grader when the war broke out, and I was taken on a train to an internment camp," he said. "A couple of years ago, after all these many years, I got an invitation to a reunion being held by the Roosevelt Class of 1944. Even though I hadn't graduated from there, because of the war, I went to the reunion.

"We were treated as special guests, and at the end, in a totally unexpected moment, we were called up to receive our high school diplomas. It's so convenient today for people to forget about something they don't want to remember. I'm glad they didn't forget about us."

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