ALAMEDA -- High school yearbooks contain cherished memories. They also provide snapshots in time of the community that the school served. Alameda High School's "Acorn" yearbooks of the late 1930s and early 1940s (Encinal High did not open until 1952) serve as cases in point.
A look at those yearbooks compiled before the Pearl Harbor attack of Dec. 7, 1941, reveals photographs of many students of Japanese descent. Shortly thereafter, the lack of a Japanese-American presence at Alameda High is starkly noticeable, the students and their families having been "relocated" from the West Coast. Some eventually returned to Alameda. Many did not.
On Saturday, the stories of some of those Japanese-Americans will come to life at the main branch of the Alameda Free Library. There, the public will get a taste of Alameda life from decades ago in the form of a program, "Honoring Alameda's Japanese-American History: Screening of Stories from Alameda's Japanese Community."
"We interviewed 12 people, but technically, we have 14 films," documentarian/producer Jeannette Copperwaite said. "But we're going to show a general documentary."
The forced evacuation and relocation of Japanese-Americans -- as per Executive Order 9066, issued by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on Feb. 19, 1942 -- is a bleak period in U.S. history. The immigrants from Japan ("Issei") and their U.S.-born children ("Nisei") were forced to leave behind their homes, jobs and businesses.
But the forced relocation and internment was but one chapter in the Japanese-American community's long struggle for acceptance by the mainstream.
"Technically, the focus is not on the internment camps, but that is a part of it," Copperwaite said.
"It's about (Japanese-American) people who have been associated with Alameda," said David Hall, the library's supervising librarian of technology and technical services. "It covers different generations ... it goes back a long way."
Current Alameda residents might not know, for instance, that the island once had a sizable and thriving Japanese-American community -- a "thriving Japantown," as Hall puts it, with its own shops, churches and baseball teams. Some facets of that community, such as the Alameda Buddhist Temple and the Buena Vista United Methodist Church still exist.
"Where you're sitting right now (the library's main branch) was part of Japantown," Hall said.
As in other West Coast cities, Alameda's Japantown resulted in large part from segregation. By the laws of the day, Issei were prohibited from owning land, though their Nisei children could. Any purchases of land, therefore, were placed under the names of the children.
Nonetheless, the residents made the best of what most would consider a bad situation. Except little is heard about it today.
"There was this thriving district, but it was really challenging to find anything," Copperwaite said. "My feeling is that the people of Alameda didn't think that the Japanese community was worth covering."
Also, much might have been discarded or destroyed. Some stories tell of Issei and Nisei up and down the West Coast, who -- in an effort to prove their loyalty to the United States -- removed any artifact connected to Japan from their residences or businesses.
"People told me about that here; one person told me about burying dolls and kimonos," Copperwaite said. "Also, people stored a lot of personal things at the Buena Vista United Methodist social hall."
Japanese-Americans still maintain a presence on the island. But Alameda's Japantown never came back to life.
"People would try to move back, but the tenants would not move out," Copperwaite said. "There was a housing shortage."
Japanese-American history in Alameda goes back to the late 19th century. "Honoring Alameda's Japanese-American History," which will take place Saturday in the main library's Regina K. Stafford Room from 2-4 p.m., promises to have much to tell, providing us greater detail than what was evident in those old high school yearbooks.
What: "Honoring Alameda's Japanese-American History"
When: 2-4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Alameda Free Library, Main Branch, Regina K. Stafford Room, 1550 Oak St., Alameda