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January 2018

eTorch

'Courage and Compassion' opens in Kingsburg

Kingsburg
"Courage and Compassion" opened at the Kingsburg Historical Park with a reception on Friday, Jan. 5. The evening reception was packed with about 150 people.

Of the 10 cities Go For Broke National Education Center's (GFBNEC) traveling exhibition "Courage and Compassion: Our Shared Story of the Japanese American WWII Experience" will travel to through 2019, Kingsburg, Calif., is by far the smallest. With fewer than 15,000 residents, Kingsburg is more of a town than a city.

During World War II, Kingsburg was predominantly a Swedish town with about 1,500 residents. The small farming community also featured three Japanese grocery stores, a Buddhist church, and a Japanese language school. After Pearl Harbor, Kingsburg residents of Japanese ancestry immediately declared their loyalty to the United States. However, this declaration meant little to the federal government as eventually all Japanese American residents of Kingsburg were forcibly removed to the incarceration camps.

In the face of wartime hysteria and racial prejudice, individual Kingsburg residents demonstrated courage and compassion to their Japanese American neighbors. One such story was that of the Ezaki family who owned 20 acres of farmland before World War II. When the Ezaki family was forced into the incarceration camps, their neighbor, Arnold Cedarvall, offered to buy the Ezaki family farm for $1 with the promise that he would sell back the property to the Ezakis upon their return. Arnold Cedarvall made good on his promise.

Kingsburg

Members of the Ezaki family were present at the opening. With tears in their eyes, they listened intently to their family's story and other Kingsburg stories being told.

Another story of courage and compassion involved the family of Sukio Seto. Seto was a leader in the Japanese American community in Kingsburg prior to World War II. Because of his status, he was identified to be separated from his family and sent to a different camp for disloyal Japanese Americans. Despite the distrust and fear that many individuals voiced about Japanese Americans, Kingsburg Police Chief John Croft firmly stated to the FBI that all Japanese Americans in Kingsburg were loyal to the United States. This action, though unpopular to many, allowed Sukio to remain with his family.

Furthermore, just before the incarceration notices went up, the Seto family had purchased a stove from a local store. Knowing that they would not be able to take the stove with them, they returned it to the store. However, the store owner refused to give them a refund. Upon hearing this, the Setos' neighbor, Mildred Batten, returned to the store every week to demand a refund. When she finally received it, Mildred immediately sent it to the Setos.

Kingsburg

"These are stories of everyday Americans who stood up for their neighbors in a time of crisis. We often focus on large acts of courage shown by individuals with great power while these everyday acts of courage are overlooked," stated Mitchell T. Maki, President and CEO of Go For Broke National Education Center. "This exhibition, 'Courage and Compassion,' is important because it highlights these everyday stories of Americans staying true to our nation's core values. We all have the capacity to affect our community in these same ways."

An exhibit case featured the personal possessions of Robert Yano, a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The highlight is a Senninbari, a "one-thousand stitch" strip of cloth made for Yano by the women at the Gila River Incarceration Camp. Yano never removed the Senninbari from his body for the duration of World War II. Robert Yano attended the opening. He proudly posed with his entire family in front of the exhibit case featuring his personal belongings from World War II.

"Seeing Robert Yano taking photos with his family in front of 'Courage and Compassion' confirmed for me how powerful this exhibit is," said Megan Keller, GFBNEC's Director of Education and Exhibits. "This exhibition brings Mr. Yano's story to his community and, at the same time, shares it across the nation. It embodies the best of what a traveling exhibit can offer."

The local curator of the exhibition, David Meyer, has lived in Kingsburg for more than 40 years. The individuals featured in this exhibit are part of his community. Everyone who lives in Kingsburg has a connection to this story.

"This is an exhibition about American history and about Kingsburg's history. We had people who stood up and did the right thing. The number of people here at the opening shows how proud we are," said Meyer.

Dale Ikeda, former superior court judge for Fresno County and president of the local VFW, served as the master of ceremonies. The program culminated with a keynote speech from GFBNEC President and CEO Mitchell T. Maki, who received a standing ovation. A sake ceremony ended the program and celebrated the exhibition's opening.

"Courage and Compassion" is funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program.

"Courage and Compassion" will be open Wednesdays through Sundays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Feb. 4. Admission is free. The Kingsburg Historical Park is located at 2321 Sierra St., Kingsburg Calif.

"Courage and Compassion" will open next on Feb. 17 at Oberlin College in Ohio.


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