Activists seek to secure Japanese immigrants’ ‘sacred’ land

Deborah K. Vick


HUNTINGTON Seaside, Calif. (RNS) — The words and phrases “Jesus Lives” are emblazoned across a dilapidated unoccupied construction on the occupied intersection of Warner Avenue and Nichols Lane in this Orange County metropolis south of Los Angeles.

The building’s windows are boarded up. Various shades of white and unmatched paint include graffiti and highlight cracks in the property’s exterior.

This is the historic Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church that sits on a 4.5-acre landscape that, according to the National Believe in for Historic Preservation, is between the only surviving Japanese American qualities acquired ahead of California enacted the Alien Land Regulation in 1913 that barred Asian immigrants from owning land.


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The very first recognised Japanese immigrants arrived in Orange County in 1900, and just 4 years afterwards, spiritual leaders — Episcopalians, Buddhists, Presbyterians, and Methodists amid them — started the Wintersburg Japanese Mission, the Countrywide Believe in mentioned. Charles Furuta and the Rev. Barnabus Hisayoshi Terasawa bought the land in 1908, and the original structures went up in 1910. The mission was officially regarded as a church by the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. in 1930. A larger church for the developing congregation was constructed in 1934.

Local advocates and historians have for a long time sought to preserve the historic assets — now owned by Republic Products and services, a squander management enterprise — that quite a few refer to as a sacred place. In the earlier there have been tries to build the internet site as a self-storage facility.

And in current weeks, the public has reignited their efforts to guard this piece of land soon after a Feb. 25 fireplace ruined two of the 6 structures on the home, such as a 112-12 months-previous parsonage and the 1910 Wintersburg Japanese Mission, which was demolished a several several hours immediately after the hearth, according to area historian Mary Adams Urashima. The Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church, built in 1934, stays intact.

Police claimed they “have no motive to believe” the fire was deliberately established.

On March 19 Asian American corporations held a rally exterior Historic Wintersburg to demand from customers an impartial investigation into the hearth, chanting, “Don’t trash our background, we have earned the truth of the matter!” Some held symptoms declaring, “Save the church Save our record!”

“It established absolutely everyone into panic mode, simply because there essentially was a reduction,” claimed Jamie Hiber, government director of the Heritage Museum of Orange County, of the fireplace. “It permitted a platform for this to when once again come to the forefront.”

Urashima, who has penned thoroughly about the history of Wintersburg, said she long feared the residence would capture fireplace and reported the buildings’ reduction was “demolition by neglect.” Weeds and brush posed a fireplace possibility, and vandalism had degraded the ailment of the structures. Urashima and other people hope Heritage Museum of Orange County could sooner or later receive the land for a park and museum the public can love.

Neither Republic Solutions nor the town of Huntington Beach returned a ask for for comment, but interim Town Manager Sean Joyce instructed the Los Angeles Instances just lately that he experienced “held exploratory conversations with Republic relating to the standing of the house, such as a possible obtain by the city.”

The home encapsulates a few generations of Japanese Americans’ religion and public everyday living. Urashima said Japanese immigrants took English language classes and talked over economical arranging, even as they ongoing Japanese traditions this sort of as celebrating the emperor’s birthday. It’s also wherever Furuta turned the very first Japanese human being baptized as Christian in Orange County, she claimed.

To Urashima, this spot is “consecrated floor and a non secular place for so numerous.”

“I believe that tends to make the ground sacred,” she added.

Urashima claimed the assets could provide Individuals the option to understand about Japanese American daily life beyond the Entire world War II-period internment camps and see that Japanese American historical past is not “one dimensional.”

“When you take away these points from the landscape that tell other sights, other chapters of American record, folks get rid of that relationship, and they don’t usually take into account them section of American heritage,” Urashima mentioned. “It fades away.”

The Wintersburg group was incarcerated in the course of World War II, and Furuta was taken to the Tuna Canyon Detention Centre in Los Angeles. People returned following the war. The church, which experienced been shuttered, reopened and ongoing to increase right up until it moved to nearby Santa Ana, where it stays a predominantly Japanese American congregation.

To Nancy Kyoko Oda, president of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition, “it would be a tragedy to get rid of a thing like this.”

Her coalition is effective to elevate recognition about the heritage of the station, which held Japanese Americans the U.S. government viewed as “enemy aliens” through the war. The station web-site has been turned into a golfing training course.

“There’s a indicating, ‘Out of sight, out of thoughts,’” Oda said. “People often really don’t want to recognize this good decline of human liberty … They take away your church. They consider away your property, your company, almost everything that you have.”

The Historic Wintersburg home is deemed a person of “America’s Most Endangered Historic Places” and in 2015 was specified a “National Treasure” by the Countrywide Belief for Historic Preservation.

Hiber claimed the Heritage Museum of Orange County has a eyesight for the area as a museum and a place for neighborhood pupils for lectures.

“Even right after the fire, it’s a non secular put. It is presently a place of pilgrimage for not just Japanese Us residents, but the Japanese men and women in basic,” Hiber mentioned.

“The relatives arrived back again immediately after (internment) to occupy that area and produced it into one thing new and relevant to their practical experience after the war and coming back from the internment camp,” she reported. “Just strolling the perimeter … you truly feel it you come to feel the historical past.”


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