A tiny gem is located in the southeast corner of Memorial Park in Chula Vista, the Chula Vista Heritage Museum.
The building itself has had an interesting evolution. Located within Memorial Park, it was constructed in the very early 1950s as for the Chamber of Commerce, became Bill’s Burgers during the ’50s and ’60s, an ice cream parlor, a taco shop,and an agency that assisted the elderly.
In 1992 a new use for the building began when Peter Watry and Frank Roseman founded the museum. They collected a number of significant artifacts and archival items. Issues with mildew briefly shut down the museum in 2005.
Librarian Donna Golden prepared exhibits with the themes of Rohr Aircraft, historic homes, South Bay education, agricultural history and 100 years of Chula Vista.
The current exhibit is the first one assembled by the Friends of the Library, directed by Imozelle McVeigh. Titled “This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land: Japanese-Americans in Chula Vista,” it documents the arrival of Japanese workers here in 1905, as well as the “celery wars” of the 1920s. Included are a replicated vegetable stand and agricultural equipment from Chula Vista. Last but not least, this exhibit touchingly chronicles the community’s internment during World War II.
In 1942, the president of the United States issued Executive Order 9066 that entirely changed the lives and destinies of about 120,000 people.
Do you know how many of our Chula Vista residents were incarcerated during WWII just for being Japanese-American citizens of the USA? Sources vary, but according to the Japanese-American Historical Society of San Diego, about 450 people. This was a hefty chunk of the local Japanese-American population, considering San Diego County’s total was about 2,000. Most of our residents of Japanese heritage were sent to the desert in Poston, Ariz.
Currently the museum is displaying a replica of what the barracks were like. It was built by a local Japanese-American man, Frank Wada. He should know; he lived there. And you should go see it in order to understand how rickety and uncomfortable their accommodations actually were. The prisoners made life as beautiful as they could under those adverse conditions, attested to by a charming display of hand carved wooden art works.
All of the people who went to the camps as children whom I have interviewed agreed that much of their experience was not unhappy, because Japanese adults made every effort to protect their children while in the camps. They attended school, participated in social activities and made friends.
Internment produced a tragically different result for their parents, whose occupations and possessions were destroyed by this interruption in their lives. Many of the parents returned broken, in despair and, as older people, they were severely challenged in their efforts to return to prosperity.
The accompanying photo was taken in Poston by Paul Shintaku, a professional photographer, circa 1944. It depicts the Mayumi family, who were longtime Chula Vista residents. Kiyoji Mayumi emigrated to the USA in 1914. Born in Japan, in other words an “Issei,” he was by law restricted from owning land here, so he rented or leased farmland. As a result, they moved often. At the time of evacuation he farmed property located at Fourth and M streets.
Kiyoji married Tamio, who immigrated in 1922. Tamio was amazing. As the wife of a successful and hard working farmer, she also worked in the fields. She was a very busy mother, raising seven Nisei children – all American citizens, all born in California. In the photograph she is wearing one of the dresses she sewed herself. Her daughter Mitsuko, who provided the picture, proudly still owns her mom’s polka dot dress.
Japanese-American citizens were constantly subject to discrimination. An example of this is that citizens of Japanese ancestry were not accorded the title of “citizen” by the U.S. government: federal official references instead were to “non aliens.” It wasn’t until 1988 that the federal government formally apologized for these offenses to Japanese-American citizens.
The museum is part of Chula Vista’s library system and severe cuts in funding have caused equally severe hardship for the museum. If you can help please do as the museum needs money and wants volunteers!
So be sure to take a trip to Chula Vista’s outstanding historical museum to view this exhibit. It will continue until May 2013. The Chula Vista Heritage Museum, 360 Third Ave., Chula Vista, is open Tuesday and Thursday from 12 to 4, p.m., Saturday 12 to 3 p.m., during special events and by appointment. Call (619) 427-8092 for more information.