Japantown in the heart of downtown San Jose has been a vital part of Santa Clara Valley’s history since the 1890s. The first wave of Japanese immigrants (Issie), were attracted to the area for job opportunities in the burgeoning agriculture industry. The insular Japantown neighborhood provided the Japanese with a safe-harbor place to shop and socialize. Within two months of the onset of WWII, Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 forced all Japanese to pack their bags and relocate to internment camps far from the Pacific Coast. Japantown resident, Jimi Yamaichi was 19 years old when he and his family were ordered to report to the San Jose State University Gymnasium.
Within days the Yamaichi family boarded a train for Southern California, where they and the rest of San Jose’s Japantown community were processed and sent to various internment camps such as Manzanar, Tule Lake, and Heart Mountain. Jimi and his family were eventually imprisoned at Tule Lake for the duration of the war. When Jimi returned to San Jose in 1946, a brutal struggle to secure a union carpenter’s-card ensued, but he eventually went to work in the building trades as the first Asian carpenter accepted by the local union hiring hall. 15 years after World War II, Jimi was still confronting racism. In 1960, when Jimi tried to purchase a home in San Jose, his offer was flatly refused solely because he was of Japanese ancestry. Come along correspondent, Tom Wilmer for a visit with Jimi Yamaichi at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose.
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