The Nisei in Nebraska
Research compiled by Miranda M., Samantha K., and Hannah K.
In the Japanese Internment Camps, there were hundreds of Nisei students whose education was interrupted. UNL was one of only a few schools in the country who allowed these students to attend. By the end of the war, UNL had the 3rd largest number of Nisei students in the country. When the Nisei students would receive their acceptance letters from places like UNL, they would be shocked since so many other schools declined them. Many of the Nisei applying would not have a letter of recommendation or even a typewriter. They would write their letter on notebook paper. Patrick Sano, a UNL Nisei student, wrote that when he received the acceptance letter from UNL it was as if it was "God-sent." This could be credited to people like Dr. G.W. Rosenlof, who was a major influence in bringing Nisei to UNL. Many universities had a quota or limit on how many Nisei they would let in; most universities quota was around 50 students. Rosenlof was able to persuade the chancellor to continue to raise the quota and eventually there were over 100 Nisei students enrolled in UNL. For example, Patrick Sano was accepted to UNL even though at the time the quota was filled. This was just the beginning of the Nisei's positive experiences in Lincoln.
When the Nisei came to UNL, there was a general acceptance of the students, and it was a shock to them to be treated so well after facing so much discrimination on the West Coast. Roy Deguchi, part of the Nisei program, was invited to church and even into the home of a Nebraska family. Roy believed that this family, who had experienced a loss in the war, showed "the Nebraska spirit." Gladys Aoki, another Nisei student, emphasized how much joy being at UNL brought her. She said that "Kappa Phi brought happiness to my college life when the whole world seemed to have turned against me." UNL also helped Nisei students excel in school and prepare the students for their future. Dr. K. George Hachiya said that "the good Nebraska experience helped erase the bad memories of the relocation and direct me toward the future." Dr. Tom Miya, a graduate from the Nisei program, had a professor at UNL who became his mentor that he looked for advice all throughout his life. Many of the Nisei were involved in activities and clubs. For example, Kaz Tada, who was also in the program at Nebraska Westland, was on the Plainsman basketball team and was the senior class president. The Nisei students have shown how much they love UNL and how much the school means to them by donating their reparation money to fund the Nisei Plaza and contributing to scholarship funds. Dr. Miya has given enough money to UNL that he is now part of the Presidents Club.
In 1994, the Director of Communications for the UNL Alumni Association, Andrea Cranford, arranged a reunion for the Nisei students that attended from 1942-1945. Cranford organized this reunion for the Nisei to remember and reflect on their time at Lincoln and how their lives had changed since World War II.
Out of the 104 Nisei students in the program, about 30 showed up to the two day event. People shared their stories about their time at UNL and during World War II. Everyone who was present appreciated the reunion. “It was the most wonderful weekend I’d ever experienced,” Fred Ishii, UNL class of 1946, said. Many of the attendees said that they enjoyed being at UNL and were honored to be recognized by the university. When the reunion was over, a decision for a plot of land on campus for the memorial was decided.
The internment of the Japanese from 1942-1945 took away their privacy, their homes, and their dignity. Almost 50 years later, in 1990, President George H.W. Bush gave $20,000 in reparations to each Japanese person interred during World War II.
This money was an apology to the Nisei for their internment. Some of the Nisei chose to give their money to UNL. Tom Miya, a student from 1942-1945, donated all his reparation money to the university. He donated it because he loved the school so dearly and UNL helped him reach his goals. With the money, the university has kept the Nisei memory alive through the Nisei Plaza and scholarships. The UNL Alumni Association announced that the memorial would be located on campus just east of Kimball Hall. There is a plaque that lies on a rock which memorializes these Nisei Students. In 1999, the memorial was completed.
Following the events of Pearl Harbor, over 120,000 Japanese Americans living on the west coast were put into Internment Camps. Everyone who went into a camp had to answer a loyalty questionnaire challenging their loyalty to the United States. Even though they had every reason to oppose America, over 300,000 Japanese Americans fought for the United States in WWII. Roughly one out of four Nisei men left the University of Nebraska to fight. While they were in the internment camps, they had the chance to apply to different colleges across the country after the FBI had cleared them.
Many of the colleges rejected them due to their ethnicity or if they had a large military program. The University of Nebraska Lincoln was one of the very few colleges that let them attend; in spite of their large military program, they admitted Nisei students and let them join ROTC. Tom Miya, one of the Nisei that was in the program at Lincoln, stated that when he was registering for classes, the counselor asked if he wanted to join ROTC. Miya did join and later, with many others, voluntarily chose to serve. Even though Executive Order 9066 deemed them an enemy, at least 23 Nisei men from UNL willingly left to serve and help America in WWII.
Miya proceeded to go to Arkansas for training, while not far away his parents were living in one of Arkansas's two internment camps. In this picture taken of his parents, the background was whited out in order to hide the conditions of the camp. He studied Japanese culture but then was told that he was being switched to another aspect of the war: intelligence. Dr. Miya would drive an hour to the Pentagon to deliver information regarding German and Italian Prisoners of War (POW). Even though at the start of 1942 he was considered an enemy and possibly a spy, he now was working with special intelligence. Likewise, one out of five of all men in the Nisei program at UNL went into some type of military role during World war II.
In this lesson, students will explore how Nisei were treated in Nebraska compared to the West Coast of the United States during Japanese Internment.
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