The hidden history of Japanese Americans in Alameda
A new exhibit, “Overflowing with Hope: The Hidden History of Japanese Americans in Alameda,” opens May 17 at the Alameda Free Library—81 years after Japanese immigrants here were forcibly removed from their homes and incarcerated in internment camps as “enemy aliens.” Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, Alameda was classified as a Zone A Restricted Area because of the Naval Air Station, and all “Axis Aliens” were removed within just three weeks. They were the first Californians to be taken to “relocation centers.”
Japanese immigrants had arrived here in Alameda at the turn of the century, and built a thriving Japantown along lower Park Street, bustling with bath houses, a sewing school, bicycle shops, a photo studio, and centers of worship, both Methodist and Buddhist. These immigrants worked as gardeners and houseboys, dry cleaners, and cooks. Their children, born between 1910 and the 1930s, were Americans, overflowing with hope for the future. Japanese Americans of that era wore their patriotism proudly, from roller skates to baseball diamonds. But in 1941, when war broke out between the United States and Japan, the trajectory of the community changed overnight. By May 1942, everyone of Japanese descent was “evacuated” from Alameda and Japantown vanished.
“Overflowing with Hope: The Hidden History of Japanese Americans in Alameda,” documents the wartime removal of that marginalized community through images, testimonies, artifacts, and long-hidden stories. The exhibit at the Alameda Free Library opens May 17 at 4 p.m., with a program and reception in the Stafford Community Meeting Room. Doors open at 3 p.m. for viewing. The exhibit continues through July 15. Free tickets are available online and at the door. For more information about the exhibit, call the Alameda Free Library at 510-747-7777 or email [email protected].
The exhibit is just one part of a three-year initiative, the Alameda Japanese American History Project, funded by the National Parks Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant program to research, document, preserve, and conduct oral histories with Japanese Americans of Alameda who lived through the era of evacuation, incarceration, and post-war return.
“By examining the churches, the sports teams, and the pioneering businesses of one island community, we hope to shine a light on the long-term impact of the incarceration of Japanese Americans across religious, social, and generational divides,” explained Jane Chisaki, Director of the Alameda Free Library. “You can’t understand Alameda’s history without knowing the story of this marginalized community.”
Jo Takata, long-time historian of the Alameda Japanese American community, added: “Today, the Alamedans who experienced the incarceration are almost gone. Five of the people we interviewed passed away during our research. Their home movies, documents, and photos were at great risk of being lost forever. This project will ensure they are preserved for future generations.”
Photos, videos, audio, and texts from this project will be archived in the Densho Digital Repository and the Internet Archive. Research from this project will result in new articles in the Densho Encyclopedia. Learners of all ages are encouraged to experience these primary source documents and first-person testimonies never before available to the public or online.
The Alameda Japanese American History Project is a partnership between the Alameda Free Library, Buena Vista United Methodist Church, the Buddhist Temple of Alameda, Densho, the Internet Archive, and Rhythmix Cultural Works.