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Guest Speaker: Japanese American

Updated: 28 minutes ago


Hannah Cole

3/15/2024

On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor, a military base in Oahu Hawaii, was bombed by the Japanese military during the midst of World War II. The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military attack to attempt to keep the United States from interfering with gaining resources in Southeast Asia. The event is commemorated with a national holiday and is taught in many history classrooms today. 

Japanese-American history is important to California as the community has many ties to Japanese and Japanese-American culture. In San Diego, many groups of Japanese migrated to North County becoming key members of the agricultural industry and they also improved the booming fishing industry of the coastal areas in California. The fishermen brought over techniques that improved their proficiency in catching fish using poles without reels and working in groups that intertwined their fishing hooks together. While more Japanese were immigrating, Japanese-owned businesses were popping up across the county, thus emphasizing the importance of celebrating Japanese-American culture and history today.  

Ramona High School history teachers celebrated Japanese-American history as they have reached the point where World War II is being taught to many students in their curriculum, particularly by United States history teachers. As this is an important unit in history, teachers sought to make a deeper connection with students and they did this by inviting guest speakers to make a deeper connection with students which they talked about local Japanese American history. On March 15, eighty-two years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Ramona High School hosted speakers, one who was held in a Japanese Internment Camp, as well as another member of the Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego. Jack Kubota the guest speaker, a 95-year-old Japanese-American man recounted tales of his life in America before he moved to an Internment Camp, his time during, as well as the effect it had on his life afterward. 

Jack Kubota began his story by talking about his life before moving into the camp, where he lived in Pasadena and then El Centro, California as a second-generation Japanese-American. Kubota then recounted the story of his father's immigration from Japan, his father came to work on farms in Mexico and then in the US working as a truck driver. Meanwhile, his mother immigrated to the US later and then became a mother to 6 children. First-generation Japanese immigrants were called “issei” which applied to Kubota’s parents. Meanwhile, Kubota would have been considered  “nisei” which referred to the second generation of Japanese-Americans who were American citizens as they had been born in the U.S. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, around four months later papers detailing Executive Order 9066 which had the goal of preventing Japanese espionage were posted around towns affecting the lives of many Japanese Americans. The order for the movement to Japanese internment camps applied to all people of Japanese Descent around the West Coast. 

Kubota told the story of the panic that the order had created in his community with the rule that each person could only bring one bag. He further detailed the garage sales that resulted from the panic and the loss of many personal belongings by Japanese-Americans with many items being stolen from rummage sales and the loss of items that were supposed to be kept safe. Kubota told the students about the little his parents had as they left the internment camps and headed for San Diego after they had lost everything in their previous home, “they only had my sister's ashes and a sewing machine.” 

From Imperial County to Poston Arizona, Kubota moved after the evacuation. To the internment camps, Kubota and his family were packed with their belongings (including a smuggled sewing machine) on buses. When they arrived at the internment camp they slept on hay stuffed bags and lived in crowded conditions with no privacy. Just about two days after Kubota’s family arrived at the camp his disabled sister died, leaving his family devastated. While he told his story it evoked many heartfelt emotions from students who sat listening in awe of his strength during the hardship-filled times he navigated through. 

On a later note Jack Kubota made many jokes about his education during his time spent at the internment camp, he described it as a “...total disaster for the young people.” In the Poston camp, there were a total of 10 schools where he detailed his mischievous ways of getting out of school, (climbing out of windows). He also described his opportunities working as an apprentice plumber during his second year at Poston where he laughed about being “quick to get out of that soggy business.” Many students and staff found Jack to be a delight. 

After Kubota’s time in Poston, he moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado following his brother, where he bettered his efforts in school. He named the teachers who helped him get back on his feet and on the path to becoming an engineer which is what he still does today and he is very grateful for being able to do it.  

Throughout the experience, students of Ramona High School were full of admiration for the man who sat in front of them describing the adversity he overcame like a superhero. This chance for students to be able to listen to a victim of Japanese internment camps was a rare opportunity for students and will be something that many will cherish for the rest of their lives.

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