Academics and Research

DU opened doors to Japanese-Americans imprisoned during WWII

Rose (Hanawa) Tanaka, (BS ’48), was just 15, a sophomore in high school, when President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942.

That order placed approximately 120,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans in 10 internment camps. Tanaka was taken to Manzanar, a War Relocation Center in California.

“My father was a farmer and was taken to an enemy alien camp and questioned by the FBI,” Tanaka says. “An older brother was called into the military in 1941, serving in the U.S .Army in Europe. The rest of us were sent to Manzanar following the difficult days at the beginning of World War II.”

Tanaka spent two years at the internment camp with her mother and her three other siblings. Her father was released and able to join them soon after a retired naval officer was able to get him a hearing.

She attended high school at the camp, graduating in 1944. Upon graduation from the camp high school, Tanaka received financial help from the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council (NJARSC), an organization that helped some 3,500 graduates who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford higher education.

At the time, few universities allowed Japanese Americans to enroll, but the University of Denver was an exception. DU’s then-Chancellor, Caleb Gates Jr., encouraged state leaders to give educational opportunities to Japanese-Americans.

The NJASRC funded and placed Tanaka at DU for her first year. She completed the following three years with scholarships and tuition assistantships from DU.

“DU was generous to me. I was employed in the publications department, and I earned enough waiting tables and odd jobs to pay for living expenses,” she says.

She met her husband, Floyd Tanaka (BS ’51), at DU; he had also been an inmate at Manzanar. The successful Colorado architect and urban planner died in January 2008.

Three years ago, the couple and family members made the journey to visit Manzanar, now a national historic site near the California-Nevada border. The Tanakas wanted to show their children and grandchildren a glimpse of their past.

DU archaeologist Bonnie Clark is beginning a long-term project for the preservation, research, and interpretation of the tangible history of Amache, a Japanese internment camp in Southeast Colorado.

While she hasn’t visited Amache, Rose Tanaka is aware of her alma mater’s archaeological work at the site and thinks such sites have important historical significance.

“They should not be paved over and forgotten,” she says.

In July, the Japanese American National Museum’s National Conference will be held in Denver. Conference attendees and Japanese-American DU alumni are invited to the Museum of Anthropology for a dessert reception and open house on July 3, from 7–9 p.m.

Comments are closed.