Don Nakanishi

I didn’t know Don Nakanishi. But, I wish I did.

I received this morning a heads up that Don has passed away. I didn’t know anything about him, and so, I hit a link to read more. Here’s what I learned:

When he arrived [on campus] in 1967, approximately 1,000 men (Yale was all-male until his junior year) were in his class – ten were black, ten were Asian American, one was Pacific Islander, three were Puerto Rican, and none were Native American….

During Don’s freshman year, December 7 began as an uneventful day. That evening, it became vividly memorable. At 9:00 p.m., after settling into his room to study, everyone in his McClellan Hall dorm went to Don’s room and began pelting him with water balloons, loudly chanting, “Bomb Pearl Harbor! Bomb Pearl Harbor! Bomb Pearl Harbor!” A fellow student went up to Don and recited from memory President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s ‘This day will live in infamy’ declaration of war speech.

After his fellow classmates left, Don didn’t know how to respond. As he later recalled, he didn’t know whether “to laugh or cry.”

The incident weighed on Don. He did not seek guidance from his freshman counselor, college dean or anyone else – he did not believe anyone would understand. Instead, he felt compelled to learn about what happened to his parents during the war. Like many Japanese Americans, his parents had remained cautious and stoically silent about their wartime internment camp experience. His schooling had taught him nothing about the forced incarceration.

I will be giving a gift to Yale College in Don’s memory. I feel like he blazed a trail for people like me.  I also was in Saybrook, like he was.


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