When President Franklin Roosevelt authorized an executive order in February 1942, calling for the internment of roughly 110,000 people of Japanese descent in states on the Pacific Coast, the repercussions were felt far and wide — including Davis. And those repercussions would continue long after World War II ended.
Davis was a small town then — the 1940 census reported 1,672 residents, not counting some university students living in dorms. And Yolo County as a whole had just 27,243 residents. Government records indicate that there were 1,109 people of Japanese descent whose last known address was in Davis, Woodland or Winters.
The Davis City Council basically slammed the door on the departing internees, unanimously passing a resolution in 1943 that not only supported the federal internment order, but also demanded that internees of Japanese descent be prohibited from returning to Davis once the war ended.
The reaction at the College of Agriculture (not yet known as UC Davis) was more temperate. A 1942 editorial in the California Aggie urged support of a Japanese-American student-athlete who was heckled at a boxing competition at Oregon State University. The editorial said, “Don’t think simply because that boy is Japanese, born in America, that he, too, does not regret the atrocities done at Pearl Harbor. He already has one of his brothers in the Army, and he, too, will be destined for the Army soon. … Let’s not just be tolerant, let’s be decent.”
Kenji Tashiro was living in a dorm at UCD at the time of the internment order. Born in California, he was sent to an internment camp in Poston, Ariz. He did not return to UCD after the war, but Tashiro — along with more than 40 other Aggies who were interned — was granted an honorary degree in 2010.
“The camps were not quite traumatic, but it was hard,” Tashiro said at the time. “I am glad the UC thought about us.”
The list of Davis internees included members of the Nishi family, who had been active in agriculture. Records indicate that Shizuo Nishi (born in 1891), Kikuyo Nishi (1896), Ellis Nishi (1919), Dick Nishi (1921), Aiko Nishi (1923), John Nishi (1927), Edward Nishi (1928), Goro Nishi (1930) and Bessie Nishi (1931) were sent first to a relocation center in Turlock, and then to an internment camp at Gila River, Ariz.
Alice Nishi was born Alice Shigezumi in San Francisco; she was a freshman at UC Berkeley when she was sent to an internment camp in Topaz, Utah. It was after she returned to San Francisco following the war that she met her future husband, Dick Nishi.
“We met in church; I was a member of a Japanese Presbyterian Church,” Alice recalled. “We got married in 1947, and moved to Davis.”
And when she arrived here, Alice Nishi decided to join Davis Community Church.
“I could have gone to a Japanese Presbyterian church in Sacramento. But it was important to me to go to a church in the same community I was living in,” she said. “I sort of dared myself to go there.”
She also recalls feeling welcomed by the minister — “he urged me to get involved.” Alice Nishi went on to serve on the Davis school board for several years in the 1970s. Her husband, who had a job with state government, died in 1995.
Kay Ryugo was born in Sacramento, and was a student at Sacramento Junior College when the war started.
“I got drafted right after Pearl Harbor,” he recalled and was sent to Arkansas as part of a group of Japanese-American soldiers from the West Coast.
“The first thing that I was exposed to was the segregation — blacks and whites in the Southern states. That was absolutely new to me,” including separate bathrooms for blacks and whites at train stations, Ryugo said.
He saw stateside duty until he was discharged, and along the way he married wife Masako (who had been interned at Tule Lake, Calif.) in St. Louis in 1944. Daughter Martha was born there in 1946.
“Then I applied to UC Davis, and they accepted me,” Ryugo said. “I got an advanced degree in plant physiology.”
Eventually, a faculty position opened up, and Ryugo became a professor in the pomology department and worked there until his retirement in 1988.
He recalls that “the university accepted us. There were some guys who were, well, what I would consider rednecks. They were on the faculty. We just ignored them, but some of them were pretty hard to ignore.
“Dr. Warren Tufts, the head of our department, had an apricot orchard in Winters. Some of his employees were Japanese, so he knew what we were like, and he welcomed us.”
Another faculty member of Japanese heritage was Jerry Kaneko. He grew up in French Camp, south of Stockton, and was interned at Gila River in Arizona. He was allowed to leave the internment camp to work as a houseboy at a hotel in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Kaneko enlisted in the Army and served in Japan during the American occupation after the war. Then he enrolled at Michigan State on the GI Bill, and eventually came to Davis, where he studied at the School of Veterinary Medicine at UCD. Kaneko served on the faculty there for 38 years, and was elected to the Davis City Council. He died in January at age 88.
Grace and Grant Noda
Grace and Grant Noda came to Davis after the war. Grace Imamoto was born in Berkeley in 1920; Grant was born in 1922 in Turlock. Grace was a senior at UC Berkeley when Pearl Harbor was bombed; her parents, both teachers, were picked up by the FBI and imprisoned.
Grace looked after her sisters, living in a stable at the Santa Anita racetrack in Southern California for 10 months before being sent to an internment camp in Jerome, Ark. Grant was sent to an assembly center in Merced, and later a relocation camp in Colorado.
They met after the war, when Grant was a research scientist at UC Berkeley and Grace was teaching at an elementary school in nearby Richmond. They married, and moved to Davis in 1958. Grant had a job managing a lab for the botany department at UCD until his retirement in 1985. He then pursued a second career in real estate.
The Nodas are music lovers, and are often seen at Mondavi Center concerts. They have made several financial gifts to the UCD music department, including a donation of $1 million in 2008 to support construction of a new music recital hall, which will finally break ground in May.
“Music has been my life,” Grace Noda said at the time of the donation, “so I wanted to leave something when I am gone.”
Marian and Shuki Hayashi
Marian and Shuki Hayashi met at an internment camp. Marian had graduated from UC Berkeley in 1943, and got a job teaching preschool/kindergarten at the internment camp in Poston, Ariz.
“The barracks were tar-paper shacks, no insulation,” Marian recalled. “The temperature went up to 120 F.” The internees tried to make things better for the children by constructing an adobe school building using local clay — “much cooler, very nice,” Marian recalled.
It was in Poston that she met Shuki Hayashi, and they fell in love.
“There would have been complications if we had tried to marry” in Poston, Marian recalled. And Shuki was joining the much-decorated 442nd Infantry Regiment, made up of American soldiers of Japanese descent. Shuki saw duty in Italy; his younger brother, who also joined the 442nd, was killed days before the war ended.
Shuki came home in December 1945 to rejoin his family, which had moved from Poston to the Midwest.
“We got married in Chicago,” Marian said. California law, at that time, did not allow a man of Japanese descent and a white woman to become husband and wife. (The California Supreme Court would void that ban in 1948.)
“Shuki had been a senior at UC Berkeley when he had to leave because of the evacuation,” Marian said. “So he decided to go back to Berkeley and finish. We had four children while he was a grad student in biophysics. Then he got a job at UC Davis on a temporary basis in the physics department.
“We brought our children — the oldest was 9, the youngest was 3. And we were welcomed; we had wonderful neighbors. We lived in Davis from 1958 on. There were about 9,000 people at most living in the town. It was a great city for a young family.
“After five years, Shuki transferred to a (permanent faculty post) in the Sacramento State physics department. But we liked Davis so much that we didn’t move.”
In 2005, when a new elementary school opened in the Mace Ranch neighborhood of Davis, the Board of Education voted to name the school after Fred Korematsu, who waged a long legal battle against the internment, and ultimately received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, in 1998.
(Alice Nishi wrote a letter to the editor, published in The Enterprise, urging that the school be named after Korematsu.)
The Davis City Council, incidentally,voted in 2006 to formally rescind the 1943 resolution urging that Japanese-Americans not be allowed to return after World War II. The 2006 resolution said the council “finds the revocation of the 1943 council action a step toward reconciliation and healing of past discrimination that has no place in a democratic society today.”
— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or 530-747-8055. Follow him on Twitter at @JeffHudsonDE