The Japanese Of The Monterey Peninsula: Their History & Legacy, 1895 1995
by David T. YamadaMP/JACL Oral History Committee

The story of this book for me begins in 1997, when I was moving to Monterey, California to attend the Monterey Institute of International Studies for my MATESOL after two years in Japan, accompanied b my future husband, Tokyo Boy.

I picked up the book mostly out of a shallow curiosity about the history of Issei in Monterey and the aspects of their immigration and settling of the peninsula I was only slightly aware of at the time.

We moved to the San Francisco Bay area, and then back to Japan after that, and the over-sized book moved with us. I rarely cracked it open.

But now, settled in Minnesota with two bicultural daughters off to college, I am beginning to write a novel that was sparked many years ago when I lived in Portland, OR, a novel about being Japanese-American during WWII.

So for research purposes, I started to actually read this book, written by a Nisei academic, which is a deep dive into major families who settled in Monterey. The narrative goes back and forth as he traces each family, and at times I lost track of what year what was happening. The overall tone of the stories is overwhelmingly laudatory and positive (even when chronicling the racism and discrimination they faced) and seems to glance over many of the deprivations Issei and Nisei experienced during internment.

But its a treasure trove of personal stories and accomplishments, and historical facts (like the abalone fishing and the Japanese temple) I wish I had paid attention to when I was blessed with my two year residency in Monterey.

The book ends with ruminations on what the American Dream means as personified by some of the most chronicled couples. But what stood out to me was the impossible position Nisei were placed into by the fact of them being entirely American citizens just as WWII and Pearl Harbor occurred.

Published in 1995, much of the information about present-day businesses and families are sadly inescapably out of date, and I found myself woefully curious about the state of JACL, for instance, today as time and integration erodes the core families.

The accomplishments listed in this book so casually, like petitioning for early release to attend nursing school in Minnesota, or returning after the war to open a grocery store, I felt at times didn’t quite do justice to the daily grind, the emotional turmoil, and shame experienced by many.

Still, this is an important historical record of a population whose contribution to the Monterey peninsula is invaluable, and whose experience in the camps serves as dire warning to all of us about the importance of valuing immigrants and our citizenship.