LOST: The disappearance of Lompoc’s Japanese

Vanished, Lompoc’s Japanese: Of One Hundred Families Only Two

Returned

By John V. McReynolds (Lompoc: Press Box Productions. 2010, 193 pp., $13.95, paperback)

John McReynolds, a former sports writer for the Lompoc Record, was propelled into the investigation of 100 or so Japanese families who settled and built a community in Lompoc before World War II when a friend, George Yoshitake, asked why there were no stories about the Japanese in his other book, “Lompoc: Padres to Pinot.” This question so intrigued and piqued McReynolds’ interests that he began to investigate and interview former Japanese American residents of Lompoc.

Ultimately he uses memories (he interviewed some 80 Japanese Americans), archival and secondary sources, and his reporter’s “eye” for conjectures to weave an important and untold story of a small town with even a smaller Japanese American population.

The Japanese community in Lompoc, like many other communities on the West Coast, was seemingly on the cusp of becoming a prosperous and thriving community as Dec. 6, 1941 unfolded. The events of the following day, however, would be a day of infamy for America and a date that forever changed the lives of the Japanese in America and Lompoc: only two Japanese American families ever returned to Lompoc after the War.

McReynolds begins the telling of this story with the all-important historical context of immigration of Seitaro Iwamoto landing in San Francisco. After a number of years Iwamoto returned back to Japan to find a wife. He sailed back to San Francisco around 1910 with a new wife and finds his way to Lompoc. According to McReynolds, by 1910 there were 1,500 inhabitants including 133 Japanese in Lompoc.

For the next 20 years the Japanese community in Lompoc established roots, developing varying enterprises large and small and a community that was seemingly accepted by the larger white community. And on the eve of Dec. 6, 1941 the Japanese community in Lompoc mirrored many others in cities and towns that were on the verge of becoming thriving communities.

“Vanished” is a wonderful read, highly accessible, and adds another important chapter to the history of Japanese in America. It is also a cautionary tale that Japanese Americans should be well aware of and McReynolds gets it right when he writes: “bad things happen when good people sit back.” He, however, does identify some of the people who took the risk and supported the Japanese during these difficult times.

Having said that, “Vanished” is also a researcher’s nightmare. There are no footnotes or endnotes indicating where the information came from other than a general listing of sources without page numbers, volume, carton or folder information or even the year.

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