My sincere thanks go to the Winters Express and staff writer Emma Johnson for the story “Immigrants treated as ‘alien enemies’” in last week’s paper.
In April 2017, the Winters City Council passed “A Proclamation Regarding Community Values and Affirmations.” It commits to protecting inclusion and diversity and to being a community that works for all persons regardless of ethnicity, national background or language spoken. It affirms that Winters is a multigenerational, multi-cultural community that embraces our history and heritage, and that as a community, we stand against violence of all types including hate. “Winters is Winters because we are a place where people are welcome and accepted,” it concludes.
It is very unfortunate that the history of Winters includes past racial hostilities towards Asian Americans and Japanese Americans. In 1943, famous American photographer Dorothea Lange documented the sign posted just south of the railroad bridge stating “We Don’t Want Any More JAPS in Winters.”
Does any documentation exist, or does anyone in this community remember Victory-over-Japan Day (Aug. 14, 1945), to confirm the likely possibility that the “spectacular fire in Jap Town” was arson?
It is not surprising that few Japanese Americans returned here after their businesses and Buddhist temple were burned to the ground, and the city bought the land with the charred remains to construct Rotary Park and the Winters Community Center.
Given our proclaimed community values, I request that our city council fund a plaque that commemorates this sad history and place it in a prominent location near the railroad bridge or in Rotary Park. As a community, we should not forget past injustices done here. Instead, we can publicly express on this plaque that we welcome immigrants into our community.
Finally, one building that was constructed by the Japanese American community in 1930 to be their school still stands on Dutton Street. It is connected to Double M Trucking. The building faces south, and has two narrow tall trees immediately visible from the new traffic circle framing what was once its entrance.
A photo in Dorothy O’Neil’s “Images of America: Winters” book depicts a wedding happening in front of this building. Since then, the glass pane windows of the structure have been boarded up and a few small additions alter its original shape. Can we also put a plaque here to commemorate the only remaining architecture of this important community in our history?