A Tsawwassen educator and human rights crusader is among 14 exceptional civic leaders who will be receiving the province’s highest form of recognition.
Mary Kitagawa was appointed to the Order of British Columbia this week.
“My reaction was a real shock. I kept asking the lady are you sure you have the right person,” said Kitagawa when she learned of the recognition. “I never do anything to get accolades, so that was a real surprise. I think I’m still in a little state of shock.”
The 50-year resident of South Delta helped facilitate a shift in public consciousness by bringing the realities of the Japanese Canadian internment experience to the public through her media interviews and tireless educating, speaking and lobbying of government organizations.
“I do all of these things in memory of my parents because I am who I am because of them,” she said. “I watched their suffering and the suffering of 22,000 innocent Canadians of Japanese descent when Canada forgot that she was a democracy sending her soldiers to make sure that freedom was still our place of how we live here and at the same time it was uprooting and deporting people of Japanese descent, so it was very hypocritical in that way.”
Kitagawa began her teaching career in Kitsilano, but it was not without its controversy.
“I originally wanted to start teaching on Salt spring Island, but when I went to the school board asking for a job the fellow said to me ‘no Jap is going to teach our kids,” she recalled. “So I went and applied in Vancouver and was accepted to teach in Kits, which was a wonderful experience. Then when Landon and Karen were born I decided to look after them at home. When they were old enough I substitute taught so I could be home when they got home. I then retired and went back to UBC for a year or so.”
Kitagawa said her family and friends are all very proud of her latest achievement.
“They are all very happy, but I must say whatever project I started my husband Tosh was always half of the effort. Without his help it would have been very difficult,” she said. “People who came on board to support anything were very important also. You can’t do anything by yourself. You need support. I have to give credit to all those wonderful people who believed in what I was doing.”
This year, 203 British Columbians were nominated for the order. Since its inception, 432 British Columbians have been appointed to the order from all regions of the province.
“British Columbia is strong because of our people. This year’s recipients represent the diversity and strength of our province,” said Premier John Horgan. "They have all dedicated their lives to making B.C. a better place, and I commend them for their tremendous achievements and service.”
Tsawwassen’s Mary Kitagawa was appointed to the Order of British Columbia this week.