NOAH ADAMS, host:
Back in 1942, Ruby Inouye was a junior at the University of Washington when the United States forced her to stop her college education. Like thousands of other Japanese-Americans, she was sent to an internment camp. Later, Ruby Inouye was able to get a degree in Texas and became a successful doctor in Seattle.
Dr. RUBY INOUYE: When I started practice, I was maybe the first Japanese-American woman physician. There were other Japanese male physicians, but as a woman, I think that I was more like a pioneer.
ADAMS: This weekend, Ruby Inouye will head back to the University of Washington. The university will present her, and about 400 other Japanese-Americans, with an honorary diploma, the degree she never got to complete so long ago.
When I talked with her, Ruby Inouye took me back to the uncertain days right after Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor.
Dr. INOUYE: We as students at the UW campus were trying to be very discreet and in a way in quotes hiding away, because we were embarrassed that Japan would have the nerve to attack America. And the other students were looking at us as though we were part of the enemy, so we didn't know how to feel because we were Americans, and yet we have the Japanese face. So we tried to just go to classes and go home as soon as possible.
ADAMS: Did some of your fellow students at that time begin to predict that you would be taken to an interment camp?
Dr. INOUYE: To be told that we'd be all herded off into some camp I think was a big surprise to us.
ADAMS: Where did you go?
Dr. INOUYE: Well, first we went to Puyallup Fairgrounds, which is outside of Seattle, a temporary camp. And then from there, a few months later in August, we were put on a train and went to Idaho, Minidoka Internment Camp.
ADAMS: And were you with your entire family at that point?
Dr. INOUYE: Yes, entire family, except my older sister, who was a senior at the University of Washington. We were evacuated in May, and she would have graduated in June, so some official from the UW went to the internment camp and handed all diplomas to those students who were about to graduate. And then another thing that happened was there were some men and women who were going around together, you know, like sweethearts, and they were so afraid that they might be separated that there was something called, I would say, hurry-up weddings. And so my sister got married to her boyfriend. So she moved in with their family and they went to internment camp, same camps but in different areas.
ADAMS: When you were in the camp talking with your family and with your friends, were you angry at being there? Were you following the news of the war? Did you think it was the right thing to do to bring everybody together and put them in one place, Japanese-Americans?
Dr. INOUYE: I know that I was not very socially conscious of how we were being treated. I think we were just all trying to stick together. Mainly we were incensed that we as Americans were treated as Japanese aliens and as though we're enemies and that we were growing horns and claws and stuff like that.
ADAMS: The ceremonies coming up Sunday, the honorary degrees will be given out by the University of Washington. Many of your classmates will be there, and I assume that you'll be seeing people you haven't seen for 50 plus years, I guess.
Dr. INOUYE: Sixty-six.
ADAMS: Sixty-six. What's that going to be like?
Dr. INOUYE: Well, there won't be that many. We are all very elderly. I am already 87. And I know that several of my friends, they have - have died, and I just feel sorry that they won't be here to attend this occasion. I think that the ceremony would mean the most to students who were attending the university but because of the internment had to withdraw, and then maybe they never had a chance to go back to college.
For me, well, you know, I have a degree for University of Texas and from medical school, so I feel like, well, that's fine. I'm grateful that they - even though it's many years later that they feel some obligation to the students.
ADAMS: Dr. Inouye, thank you very much for taking time to tell us this story.
Dr. INOUYE: You're welcome.
ADAMS: And you can see pictures of Dr. Ruby Inouye during her student days in the University of Washington. Those are at NPR.org.
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