The University of Southern California is apologizing to former Japanese American students whose educations were interfered with by the school during World War II.
USC President Carol Folt will issue a formal apology to the former students and award them honorary degrees posthumously, according to the Los Angeles Times. The school is also asking the public for assistance in locating the families of around 120 students who went to USC from 1941-42.
“This is a stained part of our history,” USC Associate Senior Vice President for Alumni Relations Patrick Auerbach told the Times. “While we can’t change what happened in the past … the university can certainly still do right by their families and let them know that we are posthumously awarding them honorary degrees so that they can occupy that place in the Trojan family, which they deserve.”
An executive order issued by former President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943 forced the removal of people of Japanese descent from the West Coast, placing tens of thousands of people in detention camps.
USC refused to release the transcripts of Japanese American students so they could attend another university, the Los Angeles Times reported. When some students attempted to return to USC after the war, the school would not recognize their previously completed courses and told them they would have to start over, their surviving family members noted.
USC alumni have been pushing for the school to apologize for their actions toward Japanese American students during World War II for years, but the issue gained new momentum after George Floyd’s murder last year, which prompted many institutions to examine their roles in acts of racism.
USC law students last year publicized their research project centering on the issue, titled “Forgotten Trojans,” and an Academic Senate committee also pushed for the school to formally recognize the issue, the Times reported.
Folt will officially make the apology and award the degrees next spring at an Asian Pacific Alumni Association gala and will also recognize the former students at the school’s commencement in May, according to the Times.
Sylvia Mendez knows a thing or two about breaking barriers. But, as she noted Wednesday, this may have been her first time cutting a ceremonial ribbon.
Not far from where she and her brothers were denied enrollment at a school because of their Mexican heritage, setting in motion a landmark desegregation case with national reverberations, the civil rights icon visited Westminster High School to help dedicate a brand new learning pavilion named in her honor.
“I am very aware how much work went into putting this together,” Mendez said. “Muchísimas gracias. I am so grateful, and so thank you. Thank you very much.”
On an outside wall, a towering mural created by artist Chuck Adame — with the help of fellow artists Israel “Ezra” Cervantes and Jose Joaquin — captures both the vision of the pavilion and the significance of Mendez v. Westminster.
The dignified profile of Sylvia Mendez occupies the top left corner of the mural, along with the year her case was resolved. Also depicted are her parents, Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez, the Presidential Medal of Freedom she was awarded in 2011, a blindfolded Lady Justice, books with the term “equality” written on their spines in multiple languages, and the Japanese kanji character for “harmony.” The latter symbolizes the family’s bond with members of the Munemitsu family who leased their farmland to the Mendezes after being ordered to an internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II.
This story begins in 1943, also in Westminster. That’s where Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez tried to enroll Sylvia and her brothers, Geronimo and Gonzalo, at 17th Street School, known as “the white school.”
But district officials directed the family to Hoover Elementary, a campus for Mexican American children. Sylvia Mendez, just 8 years old at the time, would later describe Hoover as “a terrible little shack” with dirt for a playground.
Her parents hired a local attorney, who later consolidated the case with four other Orange County families who were willing to take legal action. Mendez, et al v. Westminster claimed that 5,000 children throughout the county were unjustly harmed by unconstitutional segregation policies.
The families won a groundbreaking victory in the U.S. District Court in 1946 that was upheld by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals the following year. On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Brown v. Board of Education decision, which asserted that all laws promoting school segregation were unconstitutional.
Gonzalo Mendez died in 1964, and Felicitas Mendez died in 1998. In accordance with her mother’s wishes, Sylvia Mendez has spent much of her post-retirement life speaking publicly about the case and talking to students about the importance of education.
She’s now 85, and there is little doubt that her efforts to raise awareness have been successful, expanding the case’s profile across the country.
The Santa Ana Unified School District opened Gonzalo Felicitas Mendez Fundamental Intermediate School in 2000. More recently, the Westminster School District rededicating its central office with a marquee that reads, “Westminster School District, In Honor of La Familia Mendez.” And last year, Felicitas Mendez became the subject of a Google Doodle.
“In Mendez v. Westminster there was no violence, I have to tell you,” she said. “People came together to right a wrong. It took my parents and the other families a lot of courage. This court case is all about the struggle for equal education and for basic human rights.”
The unmarked graves of more than 751 people have been discovered at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, after hundreds of remains were found in other provinces in the past month.
“We are seeing the results of the genocide that Canada committed — genocide on our treaty land,” Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron said in a virtual press conference Thursday.
Cameron said the burial site on Cowessess First Nation, 90 minutes east of Regina, is evidence of “a crime against humanity, an assault on First Nation people.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a statement shortly after the announcement saying he is “terribly saddened” by the news. “My heart breaks for the Cowessess First Nation, and for all Indigenous communities across Canada,” he said.
The news comes after Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced in May that the remains of 215 children were found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. Researchers say hundreds of unmarked graves are also believed to be located in Manitoba related to the residential school system in that province.
There has been considerable political pressure in recent years on federal party leaders to accept the past treatment of Indigenous peoples in Canada as genocide, including the nationwide residential school system removed children from their families to enroll them in a system that strove to “take the Indian out of the child.”
A 2019 inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women concluded what has happened was genocide.
“This genocide has been empowered by colonial structures, evidenced notably by the Indian Act, the Sixties Scoop, residential schools, and breaches of human and Inuit, Métis and First Nations rights, leading directly to the current increased rates of violence, death, and suicide in Indigenous populations,” read the report.
Following the discovery in Kamloops, Trudeau said earlier this month he accepted the conclusion of a 2019 inquiry that “what happened amounts to genocide.”
“Removing headstones is a crime in this country,” he said. “We are treating this like a crime scene.” Delorme suggested through the oral history of community members, the headstones were removed by representatives of the Catholic Church in the 1960s.
Small flags, 751 of them, now dot the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School, each marking the remains of a body. Delorme said both adults and children are believed to be buried in the graves.
Because of poor record keeping, it’s hard to pinpoint what the cause of death was for many students who disappeared at residential schools. Survivors have said some students who were hospitalized never returned, inadequate food supply left some children more vulnerable to disease, and others were threatened with death if they reported physical and sexual abuse.
A North Carolina high school student was denied his diploma Thursday after he draped the Mexican flag over his graduation gown.
The 2021 graduate of Asheboro High School walked up to the stage with his classmates during their graduation ceremony. When his name was called, he walked across the stage to shake the principal’s hand and receive his diploma holder. The ceremony was being live-streamed to Facebook, and the student can be seen wearing the flag of Mexico across his shoulders.
The video shows the graduate reaching for his diploma holder before being stopped by a school administrator. She hesitates to give him the holder and can be seen talking back and forth with the student. The announcer can be heard continuing to read off the names of graduates as the student and administrator spoke about the flag. The student then begins to take off the flag, but he struggles to remove it. He stops when she eventually handed him the diploma holder.
After the ceremony when the student went to pick up his actual diploma, the school allegedly refused to give him the document and asked him to apologize for disrupting the ceremony, WDTN reported.
When the live-streamed video was posted to social media, viewers accused the school administrators of being racist, WXII reported. The statement from the school addressed these allegations.
“We strongly support our students’ expressions of their heritage in the appropriate time and place,” it said. “The accusations being made about our school and district are disheartening. We work with each student daily to ensure they receive rigorous instruction, equitable opportunity, and compassionate care in a safe and inviting learning environment. Across our school and district, we are passionate about seeing all students succeed.”
The Asheboro High School commended the student for his hard work and achievements during his time at the school. The district said they are working with the student and his family to make sure he receives his diploma.
A mass grave containing the remains of 215 children has been found in Canada at a former residential school set up to assimilate indigenous people.
The children were students at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia that closed in 1978.
The discovery was announced on Thursday by the chief of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it was a “painful reminder” of a “shameful chapter of our country’s history”.
The First Nation is working with museum specialists and the coroner’s office to establish the causes and timings of the deaths, which are not currently known.
Rosanne Casimir, the chief of the community in British Columbia’s city of Kamloops, said the preliminary finding represented an unthinkable loss that was never documented by the school’s administrators.
Canada’s residential schools were compulsory boarding schools run by the government and religious authorities during the 19th and 20th Centuries with the aim of forcibly assimilating indigenous youth.
Kamloops Indian Residential School was the largest in the residential system. Opened under Roman Catholic administration in 1890, the school had as many as 500 students when enrolment peaked in the 1950s.
The central government took over administration of the school in 1969, operating it as a residence for local students until 1978, when it was closed.
What do we know about the remains?
The Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation said the remains were found with the help of a ground-penetrating radar during a survey of the school.
“To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,” Ms Casimir said. “Some were as young as three years old.”
“We sought out a way to confirm that knowing out of deepest respect and love for those lost children and their families, understanding that Tk’emlups te Secwepemc is the final resting place of these children.”
What reaction has there been?
The reaction has been one of shock, grief and contrition.
“The news that remains were found at the former Kamloops residential school breaks my heart,” Mr Trudeau wrote in a tweet.
What were residential schools?
From about 1863 to 1998, more than 150,000 indigenous children were taken from their families and placed in these schools.
The children were often not allowed to speak their language or to practise their culture, and many were mistreated and abused.
A commission launched in 2008 to document the impacts of this system found that large numbers of indigenous children never returned to their home communities.
The landmark Truth and Reconciliation report, released in 2015, said the policy amounted to “cultural genocide”.
The Pasco County, Florida Sheriff’s Office allegedly has a private database of parents and children they say are likely to become “prolific offenders.” Most of these individuals have no idea they are on the list and now, civil rights and privacy groups are saying it’s illegal and discriminatory.
Orange Coast College’s 164-acre campus is located in Costa Mesa just minutes from Southern California’s beautiful beaches. Founded in 1947, with classes beginning in 1948, OCC has grown into one of the nation’s largest — and finest — community colleges, enrolling more than 25,000 students each semester.
OCC features exceptional facilities and the latest in technology and offers more than 135 academic and career programs, including one of the nation’s largest and most acclaimed public nautical programs. Nearly half the students on campus are enrolled in one of OCC’s Career and Technical Education programs.
OCC ranks first out of Orange County’s community colleges in the number of students it transfers to the University of California and California State University systems. Over the past decade, thousands of OCC students have transferred to UC and CSU campuses. Additionally, many Orange Coast students go on to transfer to private colleges and universities within California and across the nation.
A member of the Coast Community College District, OCC offers fall, winter, spring, and summer classes and is fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Some in the graduating class laughed. Others at the ceremony jeered. One person on a video can be heard saying “What?” in a confused tone. The university president apologized seconds later and corrected himself after someone on the stage let him know about the error.
Caslen, an Army general, told the gathering “I owe you pushups” after using the incorrect name.
“The president speaks at 15 separate ceremonies all across the state during spring commencement season, congratulating thousands of University of South Carolina system graduates,” said USC spokesperon Jeff Stensland. “It’s a joyous time for our graduates, their families and the entire university community. President Caslen apologizes for accidentally saying ‘California’ instead of ‘Carolina’ at the end of last night’s ceremony and regrets any attention it may have drawn from the accomplishments of our graduates.”
The 2021 Class of USC has had graduation activities all week, culminating in Friday evening’s commencement. Another commencement occurred on Saturday morning and another is planned for Saturday evening.
USC has over 35,000 students.
A California school and the University of South Carolina have clashed in the past. In 2009, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office determined the term “USC” belonged to the University of Southern California. Carolina sued, but the courts sided with Southern California, according to an article from the Los Angeles Times.
The Los Angeles of 1871 was a violent, lawless place.
Historians have described it as one of the last cities to establish civil law enforcement institutions, relying instead on vigilante justice and mob rule.
It also was a place notorious for its mistreatment and exploitation of Black, Asian, Latino and Native Californians at the hands of white settlers. But the venom against Chinese Americans was particularly poisonous, fueled by editorials in the Los Angeles News that attacked them as “barbarians taking jobs away from whites.”
“Los Angeles in 1871 was a dirty, violent city of nearly 6,000 people. Though the city had a higher homicide rate than New York or Chicago, it employed only six police officers to maintain law and order. Lynchings and mob justice were commonplace,” the Los Angeles Public Library wrote.
It was this world 150 years ago that spawned the Chinese Massacre, a bloody siege that brought shame to Los Angeles and widespread changes in the way the city operated. But it did little to alter the core racism that Asians and other groups would continue to endure.
Oct. 24, 1871
The violence of this day was on a scale that even a city known for its brutality and racial attacks had never seen. In 1999, Cecila Rasmussen of The Times provided this narrative of the chain of events:
Gunfire erupted at 4 p.m., just as former city assessor-turned-patrolman Jesus Bilderrain was polishing off a whiskey at Higby’s saloon. Most of the barroom patrons shrugged off the commotion, but Bilderrain — pistol in hand — dutifully went out the swinging doors into the street. A short distance away, he found a man named Ah Choy shot through the neck (it was later determined this shooting was related to a feud between two Chinese gangs). As Bilderrain blew his whistle to summon help, bullets struck him in the shoulder and wrist.
Running to his rescue, saloon-owner-turned-rancher Robert Thompson was killed, shot through the heart by the same unseen gunmen, who also wounded some of the bystanders.
The rioters, meanwhile, rampaged on. Some climbed to the rooftops and used pickaxes to chop holes, firing through them at the immigrants inside. Two men who ran out into the street were cut down by gunmen on the roofs.
One by one, more victims were hauled from their hiding places, kicked, beaten, stabbed, shot and tortured by their captors. Some were dragged through the streets with ropes around their necks and hanged from a wooden awning over a sidewalk, a covered wagon or the crossbeam of a corral gate. Finally, 15 corpses — including those of a 14-year-old boy and the Chinese community’s only physician, Chee Long Tong — dangled in the City of the Angels. Four others died from gunshot wounds, bringing the death toll at the hands of the mob to 19 — 10% of the city’s tiny Chinese population.
Then, every rickety shanty in Chinatown was looted. “Boys, help yourselves,” was the cry. One lynching victim’s finger was cut off for the diamond ring he wore.
The leaders of the massacre paraded through the streets, displaying their booty, to the laughter and praise of the mob. An estimated $40,000 in cash, gold and jewels was stolen.
The next day’s local newspapers called the riot a “victory of the patriots over the heathens.”
In the end, 19 people died in the attacks.
“Ten percent of the Chinese population had been killed. One of the Chinese caught up in the mob violence was the respected Dr. Gene Tong. In fact, of the killed, only one is thought to have participated in the original gunfight,” the library wrote in its history of the massacre.
Bringing justice for the massacre was going to be a tall order for a city with such weak government institutions and little inclination to hold those who killed accountable. As Rasmussen wrote:
During the subsequent coroner’s inquest and grand jury hearings, police and other city officials — fearful of being labeled “Chinese lovers” — shielded the guilty. “I didn’t recognize anyone” was the recurring statement.
There were no other witnesses, since discriminatory state legislation then prohibited Chinese from testifying in California courts. Still, 37 rioters were indicted, 15 tried and eight convicted of manslaughter. A little more than a year later, however, the California Supreme Court reversed the convictions on the grounds that the original indictment had failed to establish that the Chinese physician had been murdered.
An embarrassed U.S. government subsequently paid imperial China an indemnity to settle the whole affair.
The massacre was a black mark for Los Angeles, and city leaders responded by building up the Police Department and criminal justice system. Vigilante rule began to fade. But the racism endured by Chinese and other minority groups actually worsened.
“The massacre did not result in racial tolerance, in fact, anti-Chinese sentiment increased in the following years. The Anti-Coolie club was formed in 1876, counting many prominent citizens among its members, and the newspapers resumed their editorial attacks against the Chinese,” the library said in its account.
The massacre was largely forgotten for generations. But the history was revived in recent decades, in part by Chinese American activists. It was the subject of two history books: “Eternity Street” by John Mack Faragher and “The Chinatown War” by Scott Zesch.
“Zesch asks whether the right lessons have been learned. He argues that the 1871 massacre may have marked the end of mob justice in Los Angeles. But Zesch attributes this milestone primarily to improved law enforcement, not to the better angels of our nature taming our impulse to scapegoat, pander and pick up a gun.”