KINGSBURG – The Go For Broke National Education Center’s traveling exhibit about Japanese American’s World War II experience commenced with an opening ceremony that was tinged with tears and pride.
The exhibit is entitled “Courage and Compassion: Our Shared Story of the Japanese American World War II Experience.”
The Jan. 5 opening ceremony included speakers from the Go For Broke Center, a viewing of Valley PBS’ related film project, prayers, a sake ceremony and dinner.
Kingsburg Mayor Michelle Roman was among speakers who said the community was deeply honored to be among only 10 cities that would host the traveling exhibit.
“If you look to my right, there are names of 27 Japanese Americans from Kingsburg who served in World War II. Throughout the Central Valley, we know hundreds more served. I’m just in awe and humbled to have the exhibit here,” Roman said.
Reflecting on his research of local residents incorporated into the exhibit, Kingsburg Historical Society’s Dave Meyer said the showing is important in that tells of little-known local history that many find difficult to talk about and highlights the bravery of the Army’s 100th Infantry Battalion which was later formed into the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
“It’s a piece of history a lot of people don’t know about,” Meyer said. “It’s been 70 years since [attacks on Pearl Harbor and resulting internments] occurred and many of the people involved have died off so the story’s not being told any more. Also the fact that the Japanese culture is very inclined to keep things close. They don’t wear their emotions on their sleeves, so that plays into it.”
Meyer said that while there was widespread fear at the time, there were also instances of bravery displayed by local residents.
“When you look at the stories here, you’ll find some Kingsburg residents were very kind and helped out their Japanese neighbors. But then there was the other side of the story, too. Some of their fear was understandable because we’d been attacked very grievously and great harm had been done to many of our military people.”
Meyer said he’d discovered that during the war, none of the nearly 200,000 Japanese Americans living in the U.S. were prosecuted for any type of sabotage and yet up to 120,000 that were imprisoned in concentration camps.
After the war, many Japanese did not return to the West coast.
“The people in the concentration camps moved east to Chicago, Minnesota, or Ohio,” Meyer said. “There were people like Frank Furuhashi who had a grocery store here in Kingsburg. It was intentionally burnt down during the war. He had nothing to come back to. I think that family ended up in Sacramento.”
While Meyer said he hopes those reading the informational displays consider how relevant this history is today.
“There’s an interesting part in the exhibit that asks, ‘Could this happen in our country again?’ We have the current issues with refugees and with foreign-born people. It’s a legitimate question to ask if the same things could happen again. Most people say ‘no’ but we’ve seen it happen in the past. We haven’t gotten rid of [fear and prejudice] by any means.
Among attendees at the opening ceremony was local WWII and 442nd Regimental Combat Team veteran Robert Yano. Local historian Michael Dunn has compiled his interviews with Yano into a book entitled “Endure With Dignity.” Copies were presented to him and his family that night.
“Bob’s story is unbelievable,” Dunn said. “His whole attitude is just an amazing thing. He was a great source of information and so was his whole family. We’ve got many of his artifacts in the display.”
Dunn said being able to record this history and pass it on to Yano’s children and grandchildren became more important as he realized not everyone shared what had happened with their families.
“I think what’s important for people to learn from the Japanese American experience is how fragile democracy can be and that prejudice, coupled with some legitimate fear and hysteria, can take us in a bad direction really fast. I think there are possibilities the United States can go that way again so it’s important to keep the lessons of the past current.”
Yano said the one thing he’d like everyone to realize now is that no matter where people have originated from, once they’re in America they all share the same home country now.
“I want them to know that we were all good Americans,” Yano, 93, said. “At that time, there were people who were suspicious. But when you think about it, why would my dad leave his country to come all the way here at 16 years old? He came here for a purpose to make life better. He thought of America as the land of opportunity.”
Yano’s daughter, Chris Yano-Goss, attended the ceremony with their extended family. She said both of her parents shared their internment experiences as they grew old enough to understand.
“They shared their stories and their heartaches and disappointments, but they were never bitter. They wanted us to know so we could share with the people we knew, and our children and grandchildren, in hopes it would not happen again. That’s why it’s so important to educate and talk about it.”
Yano-Goss said she’s grateful for her parents’ generation and attitude about their country now.
“It started with them. If they didn’t fight for the reasons they fought for – they were proud of their country and it’s the best country in the world. He went out there to protect America and make sure it was safe. It’s the land of the free because of them.”
“If I didn’t do what I did then, I couldn’t be here today and my kids wouldn’t be either,” Yano said.