Santa Cruz County History - Cultural Diversity



Nihon Bunka/Japanese Culture: One Hundred Years in the Pajaro Valley
by Jane W. Borg and
by Kathy McKenzie Nichols

Chapter 4:
A Time to Reflect: 1945 to Present [1992]

The Issei had come to the Pajaro Valley with dreams of a new land where they could prosper. Now, after the war, they and their children had to put the pieces of the broken dream back together.

According to Kazuko Nakane's book, some found their belongings, which had been stored by churches or trusted neighbors, while others discovered their homes in disarray, their things stolen or broken. There was prejudice on the part of some Caucasians, while others welcomed the return of the Japanese with open arms.

The Watsonville Buddhist Temple, which was closed during the war years, reopened in 1945 as a hostel for the evacuees returning to the area. The Rev. Yoshio Iwanaga, who had been placed at the Poston II camp and continued to hold religious ceremonies there, also retuned to his church in 1945. He was not only the minister but also hostel administrator.

It took several years, but the lives of the Japanese slowly returned to normal. For the most part, the farmers went back to farming, and once again the valley bloomed. Strawberry production had dropped to almost nothing during the war years, but by 1953 was stronger than ever, with almost 800 acres devoted to that crop, according to Johnson and Marshall.

The Nisei married and began to have their own children. Many Nisei men and women found expanded job opportunities after the war. Previously, the Japanese had been hired mainly as laborers and domestics. But afterward, a variety of positions opened up for the better-educated, who became doctors, dentists, lawyers, teachers and businesspeople. Popular choices of business included nurseries, florists, dry cleaners, food stores and hotels.

The Watsonville Citizens League once again became active. Formed as a social club in 1934, it became politicized by the events of the war. In 1947, a group of Nisei men met to reactivate the league and to pledge its commitment to community service. During 1948-49, the WCL provided aid to returning evacuees, helping them file claims for losses and assisting those who needed to re-register to vote.

In 1949, according to Sandy Lydon, the WCL officially became a chapter of the national Japanese American Citizens League, and changed its name to reflect that. The Japan Society, which had been the Issei service group, acknowledged the change in leadership and passed its torch to the Nisei by deeding the younger group its property on Union Street.

In [1956], 1 California's Alien Land Law was repealed by popular vote. [It had been declared unconstitutional in 1952 by the California Supreme Court in Fujii v. State of California.2] A campaign mounted in the late '40s and early '50s by the JACL (in which the Watsonville chapter took an active role) culminated in the passage of the Walter-McCarran Immigration and Naturalization Act in 1952, over the veto of President Harry Truman. This law allowed the Issei to become naturalized citizens. By then, most of the original immigrants were in their 60s and 70s, but even so, dutifully attended citizenship classes, took the test and were sworn in as U.S. citizens, according to The Continuing Traditions: Japanese Americans, The Story of a People, published by the Sacramento History Museum.

As time went on, the Japanese American sacrifices during the war were acknowledged, first by President Gerald Ford in 1976 with a proclamation titled "The American Promise." He stated in it that, "We know now what we should have known then - not only was the evacuation wrong, but Japanese Americans were and are loyal Americans."

In 1980, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians was established by act of Congress. The commission conducted hearings, heard testimony from more than 750 witnesses and examined more than 10,000 documents. In 1983, the commission ruled that the evacuation and internment were unjustified, and was the result of "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership."

The commission estimated the total loss in 1983 dollars to be between $810 and $2 billion, although other sources say the losses may be as high as $6 billion. This accounts for damages and losses to businesses, disruption of careers, and long-term loss of income, earnings and opportunity.

The commission also decided that the government owed Japanese Americans an apology as well as redress for their losses. A fund was set up by Congress for this purpose.

President Ronald Reagan finally signed the Redress Bill on Aug. 10, 1988, and each surviving evacuee - about 60,000 across the United States - received $20,000.

Today in the Pajaro Valley, the Issei are gone, but their spirit lives on through three generations of descendants.

Much of the Japanese social life still revolves around the Watsonville Buddhist Temple and the Westview Presbyterian Church. Both have done much to keep Japanese traditions alive in the Pajaro Valley.

The Buddhist Temple has been the umbrella for a wide variety of activities. The temple has sponsored Cub Scout, Boy Scout and Explorer troops since 1924, according to The Seventy-fifth Anniversary, 1906-1981: Watsonville Buddhist Temple.

Under the auspices of the temple, there are also groups such as the Fujinkai, a women's service organization, as well as several Buddhist associations and a Dharma school. Classes are held to teach ikebana, the art of flower arrangement, and the Japanese tea ceremony. There are also kendo (a martial art), camera and gardening clubs.

Many of the Christian Japanese attend Westview Presbyterian Church. The church began as a mission in 1898 and continues to carry on that tradition with a variety of community projects. Among their benificiaries are the Second Harvest Food Bank, the Pajaro Valley Shelter and disaster victims in all parts of the country. Currently, the church is raising funds to help hurricane victims in Hawaii and the South.

Active church organizations include the men's fellowship group, the women's society and a service group called JOY (Jesus, Others and You).

Westview, the Buddhist Temple and the JACL all provide funds for the Kokoro Nagakko, the Japanese school based at the temple. The school provides students with knowledge about the Japanese culture, and is open to students of all races.

The Watsonville Japanese American Citizens League continues to be active as well. In 1984, the Watsonville JACL, along with chapters from Salinas, Monterey, Gilroy and San Benito County, co-sponsored the placement of a plaque at the Salinas Rodeo Grounds. The plaque reads:

Photo of the Monument
Monument to Monterey Bay Area residents
detained in Salinas in 1942

"This monument is dedicated to the 3,586 Monterey Bay area residents of Japanese ancestry, most of whom were American citizens, temporarily confined in the Salinas Rodeo Grounds during World War II, from April to July 1942. They were detained without charges, trial or establishment of guilt before being incarcerated in permanent camps, mostly at Poston, Arizona. May such injustice and humiliation never recur."

And in 1992, the Nisei achieved another milestone in their recognition. Fifty years earlier, they were supposed to receive diplomas from Watsonville High School, but could not because they were in the Salinas camp. On June 13, thirteen of them were handed their diplomas in a special ceremony.

The local JACL was instrumental in gathering funds in 1965 for the new Watsonville hospital, and also raised all the money needed to buy a building for the league. They have also done much to help the Issei in their old age, establishing the Kizuka senior center and providing activities for them.

The Nisei are now seniors themselves, and the Sansei are picking up where they left off. And the children of the Sansei, the Yonsei, will eventually leave their mark on the Pajaro Valley as well.

It has been a long, hard journey, but at last the Japanese Americans can truly call the Pajaro Valley their home.

The Bibliography


This chapter is from a booklet titled, Nihon Bunka = Japanese Culture; one hundred years in the Pajaro Valley. It was published by the Pajaro Valley Arts Council in conjunction with the Council's 1992 exhibition of the same name. The text is published on the Library's Web site with the permission of the Council. Photographs are courtesy of Bill Tao.

Copyright 1992. Pajaro Valley Arts Council.


1. Editors Note: the date of 1948, originally given in this publication is incorrect. The correct date is 1956. Source: Okutsu, James. "Asian Land Laws." Asian American Encyclopedia. Marshall Cavendish, 1995. Vol. 1, p.18.

2. Ibid.

View similarly tagged articles:

agriculture, immigrants, internment camps, Japanese Americans, Pajaro Valley

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