Jean Yokotobi American Patriot


By Richard Eber

As the 75th anniversary approaches for the last prisoner being released from the concentration camp at Tulelake, Jean Yokotobi is not fretting.  Her Dad and Mom were dispatched to one of 10 facilities following Pearl Harbor in 1942 by order of President Franklin Roosevelt. They spent almost four years for being imprisoned because of their heritage.

At the time 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry, of which 90,000 were U.S.  citizens, found themselves incarcerated for national security reasons.Jean was born at Camp Tulelake in 1945.  Three quarters of century later, she should be bitter about the unjust treatment her family received at the hands of Uncle Sam. Surprisingly, this is not the case for Yokotobi.

By Woke standards those families who were victimized by being forced to live under these barbaric conditions should be tearing down statues of FDR, while demanding schools and streets named after him be changed, If this is not enough perhaps the President who authored the “New Deal” and led the country from the Great Depression be erased from the history books?

Growing up in the Central Valley town of Gridley Yokotobi’s parents never discussed their imprisonment to their daughter nor blamed Roosevelt for his actions,

Instead she said “Mom and Dad were loyal patriotic Americans who spoke proudly about the highly decorated Japanese military battalions that fought bravely in Europe that helped liberate the extermination camp at Dachau from the Nazis. They never complained about the Alien Land Law of 1913 or other forms of discrimination Asians faced”

Instead Yokotobi recounted learning toleration attending Buddhist Sunday School as a child. “my parents taught us honor and respect for others” Jean was not even aware of her parents stay at Camp Tulelake until she attended college at San Francisco State in the mid 1960’s.

While at SFS. she first visited Isleton where the tiny Sacramento River Delta town is located. Yokotobi eventually settled there and now serves as the head of their Chamber of Commerce. She is also active working on building a museum celebrating the Japanese and Chinese heritage that has resulted in Isleton being designated to be a National Historic Site.

So much can be learned today from this graceful lady, who has not allowed the discrimination her family endured from negatively affecting her.  The contrast of her attitude towards Tule Lake to those who engage in Cancel-Culture is astounding.

On one hand we have history haters who desire to erase anyone who they disagree with from future generations having knowledge about.  No one seems immune from their ignorant clutches; Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln are among their victims.

Even Sir Francis Drake who explored Northern California in the 14th century is having a boulevard named after him changed because of alleged slave trading done by him as a Privateer. I guess so called Woke historians do not count Drake being the first Captain to sail around the world or helping to defeat the Spanish Armada invasion of England in 1588 to mean anything following their Cancel -Culture rulebook standards.

Nowhere is such thinking more evident than when recently 27 year old Alexi McCammond was forced to resign her editorship of the Teenage Vogue Magazine  because of racist Tweets, (For which she apologized  several times), made as a high school student. By cancel culture, standards, it is uncertain how long this offense will result in her being permanently exiled from PC society

Such stupidly is in stark contrast to the life of Jean Yokotobi. Sitting in the historic building she owns in Isleton which is crowded with pictures and artifacts from the town’s colorful past, she is eager to pass on this rich Asian past to others.

Next door to her is the restored structure which was once the headquarters to the Tong.  Chinese immigrants, having few civil rights, congregated in this gathering place to settle disputes, socialize, and to preserve their Eastern heritage. This summer a new museum, under the leadership of Lynne Hasz, is expected to open

Many of those who settled is Isleton were decedents of workers imported from China during the Gold Rush and later to help work on building Southern-Pacific portion of the Transcontinental Railroad

When Isleton was founded in 1874 by Josiah Poole, Isleton it was a center for farming and tourism.  Paddle Boats carried partiers from San Francisco to this rowdy place featured hotels, casinos, prostitution and other forms of adult entertainments.  Even with frequent floods and fires, the place prospered.

At the turn of the 20th Century, over 2500 residents, a good number of then of Asian descent, lived in Isleton. A large Japanese population engaged in handling the local Asparagus production. migrated there. Main Street was divided by Chinese and Japanese sections. There were 3 canaries in operation dealing with abundant crops of locally grown fruits.

Isleton’s best known native is actor Pat Morita (of Karate Kid fame) who was born there in 1932.

Following natural disasters, and the reduction of demand for canned asparagus, the population dwindled down to around 800 people who reside there today. Abandoned buildings and windows covered by plywood tell the story of more prosperous times.  Despite having so few folks left, a large number of historic buildings still remain standing,  A smattering of a few restaurants, antique stores and a couple of cannabis dispensaries dot the landscape.

In addition to the new Isleton Museum we have Iva Walton’s Meh Wai Beer Room (formally a Chinese gambling hall) this colorful place features a multitude of photos and artifacts from Isleton’s proud past, (including an opium den).  Meh Wai provides a history lesson and a great place to enjoy local craft beers.

We are fortunate Jean Yokotobi and her friends, are dedicated to preserving important links with the past.  Once the new museum is opened and the planned Delta Education Cultural Society Asian American Heritage Park is constructed, Isleton should be a place that attracts a new generation of visitors.

Just don’t tell the Cancel Culture contingent about this.  Isleton has survived fires, floods, and social change; but attacks from Woke’s might be too much for them to endure

Despite such obstacles including needed funding to restore Isleton’s rich history, I am going to bet on their future success.  With Jean Yokotobi as a role model, Cancel Culture advocates just don’t have a chance!

Richard Eber studied journalism at the University of Oregon. He writes about politics, culture, education restaurants, and was former city and sports editor of UCSB Daily. Richard is president of Amerasa Rapid Transit, a specialized freight forwarder.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.

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