HomeCommunityCarmel recognizes impact of World War II on Japanese American community

Carmel recognizes impact of World War II on Japanese American community

Published March 6, 2024

BY GRAYDEN MILLER

Maya, Ky, Alan, Gordy and Alice Miyamoto lived in Carmel Valley in the ‘20s with their parents who were from Kumamoto, Japan. Their father, Kumahiko Miyamoto, moved to Carmel in 1900 and married their mother, Hatsu, in 1913. They were involved in the truck farming industry, working on a family farm which is now Mission Fields, and owned a business in The Crossroads Carmel. 

Gordy Miyamoto (second row from top, second from right) was heavily involved in sports at Carmel High. (courtesy of KATIE O’CONNELL)

According to the City of Carmel-By-The-Sea website, Carmel has plaques, benches and a bronze bell to honor members of the community and veterans lost during World War II, but local historians and Cory Miyamoto, Alan’s son, explain that while Carmel might have monuments and other architectural peace offerings for veterans, people no longer understand the meaning of memorials, and if Carmel is to honor Japanese Americans who lost their lives and homes during the war, people must understand the significance of what people went through.

Accounts from history buffs and Cory Miyamoto explain the influence World War II’s past had on Carmel in the present and past, as well as the importance in recognizing events in the past to grow as a community. 

In an oral history interview from the Japanese American History Collective on April 27, 2011, Maya Miyamoto explained that her family was westernized and primarily spoke English at home. Three of Maya’s brothers were in the Army. On Dec. 7, 1941, Maya heard on the radio about the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the FBI came to their house and confiscated anything deemed as materials for spying. 

Highway 1 became a border prohibiting the passage of issei, or Japanese immigrants who moved to America. Kumahiko and Hatsu never became American citizens. They weren’t allowed on their own land. Therefore, the farm work fell on the children.

Gordy Miyamoto grew up in Carmel and transferred to Carmel High after previously attending high school in Monterey. (courtesy of KATHY O’CONNELL)

Gordy was enrolled in Carmel High School and was unable to earn his diploma at the time. Although Gordy and some of his friends at Carmel High tried to hide him, the oral history interview explains that, in 1942, Maya and his parents were sent to an incarceration facility in Poston, Arizona. While Cory says the Miyamotos were a respected family in Carmel and that some community members offered to look after their land while they were gone, when the Miyamotos returned in 1946, their land was destroyed. 

“People are doomed to repeat history if they don’t learn about it,” says Miyamoto.

Gerry Paratore, a 22-year US Army veteran and current commander of American Legion Post #512 in Carmel, explains that pride for veterans is important, but recognizing the treatment of Japanese American citizens during World War II is crucial. 

“I don’t think anybody does a very good job of recognizing the hardships the Japanese American community went through,” says Paratore. “[The fact that we had incarceration camps] is embarrassing.”

Paratore says a few people were able to salvage their properties when they came back from incarceration, but for the most part, they came back to nothing. 

A July 1942 article from The Village Crier, a Salinas newspaper, features a front-page cartoon that reads “Arizona, Here We Come!” complete with cactuses and a cow skull. The first article on the page, “‘Hello, Arizona!’ (So Long, California)” explains that 500 people were moved each day.

While Carmel held pride for its duty-serving community and showed compassion for the Miyamotos, according to articles from The Carmel Pinecone and The Monterey County Herald depicting the Miyamotos as being saved by Carmel’s community and the town’s welcoming nature, 

Kathleen O’Connell, a librarian at the Harrison Memorial Library who specializes in local history, says the patriotic framing of the entirety of World War II within Carmel fails to address those whom it wronged, such as Carmel’s Japanese American citizens who were moved to Arizona for large-scale incarceration. 

“There was a strange sense that [non-Japanese Americans] were in the right,” says the history aficionado.

O’Connell contends that there should be more meaning behind memorials for those who served or survivors of incarceration during the war, and that education on how it affected people and how everything is connected is vital to raising awareness around the issue. The incarceration of Japanese Americans should be looked at more broadly and shown in its context, she explains, ideally from primary sources, or as close to them as possible. 

Gordy Miyamoto, on stage, received his high school diploma in 1991, almost 50 years after he left high school to take care of the family farm while his parents were detained. (courtesy of KATIE O’CONNELL)

“[Memorials] have become background noise, and very few people interact with them or understand what they mean,” explains the librarian. 

While memorials for incarceration camp survivors may not be in Carmel, Monterey and the rest of California have made a few steps. An article from AP News explains that on February 19, 2020, Sacramento issued a formal apology for discriminating against Japanese Americans and placing them in incarceration camps. 

On a local scale, Walter Ryce of Monterey County Weekly writes in 2018 that the Japanese American Citizen League Of Monterey Peninsula received an exhibit called “Courage and Compassion: Our Shared Story of the Japanese WWII Experience,” created by the Go For Broke National Education Center. It’s a mix of photographs, graphics and labels detailing experiences of Japanese Americans across 10 cities in the American West. 

While the Monterey Peninsula may have made progress on recognizing the treatment of Japanese Americans during WWII, Cory Miyamoto says there is always room for improvement when it comes to equity issues in Carmel. He says a lot of information on Japanese American incarceration didn’t make it to the history books for a while and recognizing the past to learn from it is important.

“It was a very dark part in history,” says Cory Miyamoto. “People said that the Japanese were a threat to democracy and they were locked away. Education is key to not  repeating history.”

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