The Japanese American Citizens League of the Monterey Peninsula (JACL) will host “Courage and Compassion: Our Shared Story of the Japanese American World War II Experience” at the historic Casa Gutierrez at 590 Calle Principal in Monterey from September 22 to October 27, 2018. The national exhibit, sponsored by Go For Broke National Education Center in Los Angeles, reveals little-known stories of bravery and conscience among local Monterey residents during and after the turbulent days of World War II.
Funded in part by a grant from the National Park Service, “Courage and Compassion” covers events from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the fateful decision to incarcerate Japanese Americans in wartime camps to the postwar fight for redress. Visitors will learn about the Nisei (second-generation Japanese American) WWII experience and its legacy, engage with questions about what courage looks like during a time of crisis and consider the relevance to today’s society.
Before WWII, Monterey was a thriving community with large numbers of Sicilian and Japanese American fishermen and farmers who worked side by side as neighbors and friends. Young Japanese residents learned Sicilian and Sicilians learned Japanese, often while playing baseball together at the diamond located across the street from the local JACL hall. When Japanese American families were forced to leave in 1942 during the mass incarceration of approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans, some locals reached out to their friends, helping to protect their homes, businesses or belongings for the duration of the war.
After the incarceration, many California communities vehemently rejected the Japanese American families and fought the return of their former Issei and Nisei neighbors to their towns. In that atmosphere of hatred and bigotry, more than 440 Monterey residents signed a public petition urging kindness and civility towards returning Japanese Americans. Among the signers of that petition were some remarkable names—Nobel laureate John Steinbeck, famed photographer Edward Weston, biologist Ed Ricketts. This extraordinary petition was rediscovered recently by local historian Tim Thomas; the history of this unusual act of conscience has been largely forgotten in Monterey.
The exhibit will be shown at Casa Gutierrez, an historic 1842 adobe located in Monterey State Historical Park, 590 Calle Principal, Monterey, Calif. and open Thursday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, please visit www.jaclmonterey.org.