A traveling exhibit about the WWII Japanese American experience is currently on display in Kingsburg.
The Kingsburg Historical Society will host “Courage and Compassion: Our Shared Story of the Japanese American WWII Experience” by the Go For Broke National Education Center until Feb. 5 at Kingsburg Historical Park.
The exhibit tells the story of Japanese Americans who were forced to live in internment camps after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. “Go For Broke” was the motto of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was a segregated Army unit composed of Japanese Americans in Hawaii and on the mainland during WWII. The term was Hawaiian slang for “shooting the works,” or risking everything for the big win in gambling—as the Nisei soldiers did while fighting in the field in WWII and facing prejudice at home in the U.S.
Kingsburg’s personal connection
Kingsburg is the smallest of only 10 communities in the country hosting this exhibit.
“It’s a real honor to have a nationally touring exhibit in a town of 12,000 people,” said David Meyer, the local curator of the exhibit. “We have a local story, which is pretty interesting.”
In 1940, Kingsburg’s population was 1,504 citizens. At the time, there were three Japanese grocery stores, a noodle house, Buddhist church, and a Japanese farm labor camp.
“I was amazed to find the extent of the Japanese influence in this valley town traditionally thought of as primarily Swedish,” Meyer says. “After the wartime incarceration, many Japanese were able to return to their ranches and business thanks to the kindness of their neighbors. Many others never returned.”
The interactive exhibit is funded in part by a 2016 Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant administered by the National Park Service.
Images and audio of firsthand accounts, including interviews of Japanese American soldiers, are featured, as are the stories of local residents.
The personal artifacts of Kingsburg’s Robert Yano are on display. Yano and his family were forced to leave their Kingsburg farm and live at the Gila River Concentration Camp after the United States government issued executive order 9066.
Yano was living in the camp when he turned 18. He joined the United States Army and fought with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Italy and Germany.
“The exhibit honors everyday people who rose above the public hysteria of WWII to recognize Japanese Americans as friends, neighbors, and citizens,” says Dr. Mitchell T. Maki, President and CEO of the Go For Broke National Education Center. “These untold stories have real relevance today as we debate issues of loyalty, citizenship, due process, and Constitutional rights.”
“Courage and Compassion” is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Kingsburg Historical Park, located at 2321 Sierra Street—about 20 minutes south of Fresno.
You can learn more at KingsburgHistoricalPark.org.