Japanese American Historical Society moves to Balboa Park

Posted: February 15th, 2013 | Arts & Entertainment, Balboa Park, Communities, Featured, News | 1 Comment

Partnering with other park institutions, open house scheduled for Feb. 18

By Cynthia Robertson | SDUN Reporter

Balboa Park is blessed with yet another jewel in its crown of historical gems, with the recent arrival of the Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego (JAHSSD). The move from the organization’s former home in Kearny Mesa to within a shared space at the San Diego History Center was made possible in part by past president, Linda Canada.

Photographs like this, shown at “Allegiance: A San Diego Perspective,” are housed in the Historical Society archives. (Courtesy JAHSSD)

A historian of San Diego history with a particular interest in the early ethnic groups who settled in the city, Canada first met members of the JAHSSD in 1995, when they organized a special exhibition at the History Center, located at 1649 El Prado.

“I have had a long association with the San Diego History Center and knew they had some unused space,” Canada said.

It was a case of knowing the right people at the right time. Over the course of a year, Canada participated in discussions about possible ways that JAHSSD might share space at the History Center. Late last year, both organizations’ boards approved the space-sharing arrangement.

“Over the next few months we painted, cleaned carpets and built a storage cage for our artifacts,” Canada said.

These artifacts open a window on the little-known history of Japanese-Americans. The resources in the JAHSSD museum include 40 reel-to-reel tapes, 20 cassette tapes and three file drawers filled with transcripts. The transcripts are the result of a project from recorded interviews in the 1970s.

Other resources include documents, photographs, newsletters and activity records from many non-profit organizations in the San Diego Japanese-American community.

The photography collection alone is sure to attract visitors to the JAHSSD’s new location, with many pictures spanning from 1890 through 2008 that depict Japanese-Americans at work and showcasing the rich history in farming, fishing, commercial businesses and the military.

The collection also includes imagines that many have never seen before of the internment of  Japanese following the Pearl Harbor bombing in World War II, some on display at a recent History Center exhibit. Representatives said more than 16,000 people visited the exhibition “Allegiance: A San Diego Perspective” that ran in conjunction with the seven-week run of The Old Globe Theatre’s production of “Allegiance – An American Musical.”

The production and exhibit focused on the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, when families were forced into one of five United States internment camps, a topic that hit close to home for the JAHSSD.

Celebrating their 20th anniversary, the all-volunteer, 700-member nonprofit was initially formed by Japanese-Americans who lived in San Diego and who had been forced into similar camps.

In addition to the greater visibility for the organization at its new space, another significant benefit of the move to Balboa Park its proximity to other cultural organizations with whom it can partner, like The Old Globe.

“For example, we are already working with the Japanese Friendship Garden on an exhibition in March through May, and with the Veterans Museum and Memorial Center on an event acknowledging the role of Japanese-Americans in World War II and the Korean conflict,” Canada said.

Canada said volunteers are welcome to get involved, as the organization also has an active speakers group that visit schools, churches and libraries.

Mitsuko Kawamoto, whose family experienced first-hand the prejudice during World War II, spoke recently at a San Diego branch library. She explained that in 1942, a wave of suspicion rolled out from the U.S. government toward people of Japanese descent living in the U.S. At the time, President Franklin Roosevelt released Executive Order #9066, demanding encampment of the Japanese-Americans living in the U.S.

“[All] because we looked like the enemy,” Kawamoto said.

Kawamoto said she was 7 years old when people showed up to order her family to leave all their things behind. She said she remembers that her mother had to put most of their belongings in a big barrel.

Saying she is “delighted with the excitement and enthusiasm” of History Center staff in the move, Canada and the JAHSSD have additional plans to help spread the word of the new location. The organization will be hosting an open house on Monday, Feb. 18 from 5 – 7 p.m.

Additionally, they will be branching out to Chula Vista, Calif. by opening an exhibit titled “This Land is Your Land, this Land is My Land: Japanese-Americans in Chula Vista” on June 7. The exhibit, which will run through May 31, 2013, will be on display at the Chula Vista Heritage Museum.

For the open house event on Feb. 18, please RSVP by leaving a message with the number of people in your party at 619-338-8181 or by email to For more information about the entire museum, including the Chula Vista exhibit, visit

One Comments

  1. Judy Swink says:

    What great news! This is a perfect partnership for the historical society and the new JAHSSD. Even better, there already is an additional exhibit to be on display in Chula Vista. I look forward to visiting.

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