KINGSBURG – A nationally touring exhibit detailing the experiences of Japanese Americans during World War II is coming to the Kingsburg Historical Society Park Jan. 6 to Feb. 5.
The Go For Broke National Education Center is sponsoring the exhibit entitled “Courage and Compassion: Our Shared Story of the Japanese American World War II Experience.”
“The exhibit honors everyday people who rose above the public hysteria of World War II to recognize Japanese Americans as friends, neighbors and citizens,” Go For Broke President Mitchell T. Maki said. “These untold stories have real relevance today as we debate issues of loyalty, citizenship, due process and Constitutional rights.”
“Courage and Compassion” will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays and by arrangement by calling David Meyer at 481-0480. The exhibit is at the Kingsburg Historical Park at 2321 Sierra St. Admission is free.
The expression ‘Go for broke’ is an Hawaiian slang term for ‘shooting the works.’ It’s meant to signify risking everything for a big win which reflects what Nisei soldiers did while fighting in the field in WWII and facing prejudice at home in the U.S. The motto was adopted by the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated Army unit composed of Japanese Americans from Hawaii and the mainland.
Included in the exhibit will be stories of local residents who were either relocated to internment camps of locals who helped their neighbors despite the prevailing fears following the Pearl Harbor attack.
Local organizers said they were surprised to find out just how much influence Japanese Americans had in shaping the town that’s traditionally known for its Swedish heritage.
“In 1940 Kingsburg’s population was 1,504 citizens,” Kingsburg Historical Society board member David Meyer said. Meyer is serving as the curator of the local portion of the exhibit.
At the time, Meyer said, there were three Japanese grocery stores, one of which housed a labor contracting business and boarding house for Japanese laborers. There was also a noodle house and a Japanese farm labor camp. A Buddhist church schooled Japanese American children in the language of their parents.
In the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941, many U.S. officials and residents viewed Japanese Americans with fear and mistrust. Thus, they were targets for harassment and discrimination. Families on the West Coast were forcibly removed to government internment camps.
“After the wartime incarceration, many Japanese Americans were able to return to their ranches and business thanks to the kindness of their neighbors,” Meyer said. “Many others never returned.”
The exhibit will be interactive and feature images and audio of first-hand accounts, including interviews of Japanese American soldiers from the Go For Broke’s Hanashi Oral History Collection.
The exhibit will feature interviews and artifacts documenting local residents’ experiences such as that of Robert Yano. Yano left the Gila River Concentration Camp to join the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He fought in Italy and Germany and eventually returned to the Kingsburg farm that he and his family were forced to leave.
Selma native Kan Tagami’s story will also be included. Tagami eventually became a resident of rural Kingsburg and was drafted in the U.S. Army. He volunteered for a dangerous assignment in Burma. When the Japanese surrendered to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Tagami was the general’s personal interpreter. He once delivered a sensitive message to Japan’s Emperor at the Imperial Palace and thus became the only member of the Occupational Forces to be granted a private audience with Emperor Michinomiya Hirohito.
The story of Sukio and Hamayo Seto and the aid they received from other Kingsburg residents will also be part of the display. The Setos lived on a ranch outside of Kingsburg with daughters, Betty, Ruth and Gladys. It was ranching neighbors such as Bedros Michigian and his wife, Aznive, who helped by leasing the Setos' ranch during the war until they returned home.
In compiling a series on Kingsburg’s World War II veterans, local historian Michael Dunn said it was an honor to meet and interview Yano. He hopes the community takes advantage of the touring exhibit to learn from this period of history.
“The Yano family story is one of personal tragedy, victory over racial bias and injustice at the hands of their own government, offset by heroism and honor in service to their country. I hope everyone takes the time to visit the Historical Park’s exhibit.”
The exhibit is funded in part by a 2016 Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant administered by the National Park Service. It will go on to visit 10 communities throughout the United States through the summer of 2019 where citizens came to the aid of Japanese Americans.
The Kingsburg display received additional support from The California State Library Civil Liberties Program, the VFW Post #8499 and The Central California Japanese American Citizens League.