A Community Erased: Japanese Americans in El Monte and the San Gabriel Valley

Andre.Photo.Nishida Family in El Monte.jpg

Nishida family, undated

Lesson plan by Chris Lewis


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.

Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.


What was it like to be Japanese American in El Monte in the 1930s and 1940s?

Which of the systems of oppression most affected Japanese Americans in this situation?


Complete the frayer chart for the word “segregation.”



“Being Japanese American in El Monte”

Read the section assigned using the guided questions provided.

In small groups, create a visual timeline of the events of Rikizo Nishida and his family. Note important events, geographical locations, and jobs. You can use any application including Google Drawing or Sutori.

Provide students with some or all of the following policies/laws to provide additional historical context.

● Immigration Act of 1924


“Segregated Schools”

Read the section assigned using the guiding questions provided.

In triads, read the oral histories provided:

● One student will be the interviewer

● One student will be the interviewee

● One student will listen and mark the text using one or both strategies

○ Option 1: evidence related to the EQ

○ Option 2: symbols to represent interesting ideas, emotional reactions, and areas of curiosity

When you are done, create a visual representation to answer the EQ based on your section.


“Memorializing Japanese American History”

Read the section assigned using the guiding questions provided. 

In small groups, read the primary source, “Santa Anita Pacemaker,” to identify information about life in the internment camp at the Santa Anita Race Track.

● Santa Anita Pacemaker - May 12, 1942 (https://www.loc.gov/item/sn83025574/1942-05-12/ed-1/)

● Santa Anita Pacemaker - June 27, 1942 (https://www.loc.gov/item/sn83025574/1942-06-27/ed-1/)

When you are done, create a visual representation to answer the EQ based on your section.

Finally, listen to the oral history clip with Chief Ernie Salas and read the excerpt from Paul Hagen. Discuss how various communities supported each other when Japanese and Japanese-Americans were in internment camps like the Santa Anita Race Track.


For some additional background information connecting to other chapters in East of East, read “The Other Southland: Missions, Monuments, and Memory in Tovaangar” by Catherine S. Ramírez. https://boomcalifornia.org/2021/07/26/the-other-southland-missions-monuments-and-memory-in-tovaangar/

In the final section of the chapter, several historical monuments and memorials are referenced. Find an image of one OR you can search for another memorial in the United States commemorating Japanese Internment during World War II.

Complete the tasks in this Monument Lab, which asks students to analyze the memorial and consider what one might look.

Densho Digital Archive

Densho Visual History Collection

Title: Bacon Sakatani Interview

Narrator: Bacon Sakatani

Interviewer: Tom Ikeda

Location: Los Angeles, California

Date: August 31, 2010

Densho ID: denshovh-sbacon-01-0005

<Begin Segment 5>


TI: Well, when you think about your, let's go to regular school. So what was, let's talk about, yeah, what was your regular school like?

BS: Well, my, from the first through the fifth grade in El Monte we had a segregated school just for Japanese and Mexicans. I would say, I have a class photo where there was around half a dozen of us in a total class of, say, around forty students, so there might, there might have been, like, thirty-six Mexicans to, well, not thirty-six --

TI: Thirty-four to six, kind of.

BS: Yeah, right.

TI: So it was a segregated school, it sounded like... so a large proportion, almost eighty percent was, was Mexican, and then maybe twenty percent were Japanese.

BS: Right.

TI: Roughly, just roughly. So segregated school, that, that's a little unusual. So tell me about that, was that common in the San Gabriel Valley for schools to be segregated?

BS: No. There may have been couple of other segregated school and as I recall there were no protests. People just accepted those kind of schools, and it could've been good for, especially, I guess, the Mexicans. I have a photo that shows them barefooted and some of them were not even bringing lunches to school, so perhaps for them it was a good way to get used to the American way of life.

TI: So do you recall, for the segregated school, were there, like, special or different things that were done, an example being maybe the use of Spanish in the school more than a regular school would have? Or you mentioned some kids who didn't have food, were, were lunches provided? Do you recall anything like that?

BS: No, I don't recall any lunches provided. Nothing special. I don't think... the language was all English. There was nothing special, special program just for Mexicans or anything like that, but I think it was just a normal American curriculum.

TI: And so when earlier you said that it might have been a good transition for, for the Mexicans and maybe the Japanese to be in this school, so I'm not quite sure... why would that be a good transition to, to kind of a normal, a regular school?

BS: Well, I think it gets them used to the English language, English custom, to prepare them for higher grades, see. And I don't know if actually they did go to higher grades. My brothers have grammar school photos above the, above the fifth grade, and there's hardly any Mexicans in those photos, so they must've dropped out after the fifth grade.

TI: At the school they had Japanese also, and when I interview other Niseis about school, oftentimes, even at grammar school, the, the Japanese, the Nisei students were some of the better students. They excelled. So why would it be good for the Japanese to be at this school, because I mean, in terms of transition, would the Japanese need kind of that transition, too or what, what do you think about that?

BS: No, I don't think the Japanese needed that transition, although probably when they were, before grammar school they probably spoke a lot of Japanese and not much English, but still, the Japanese as a whole did very well in school, so you have to give credit to the prewar Japanese people on how much they excelled.

TI: Okay, good. So, so tell me a little bit about the other school. So I'm guessing the other school was white, and do you have any, what can you tell me about that? Was that close by? How large was it? What do you know about that school?

BS: Well, I went from the fifth grade through the seventh grade I went to a normal school when my family moved to Puente, and that school had about twenty percent Japanese and a few Hispanics and the rest were whites. I would say it was just a normal situation. I think all the Niseis were just as American as the whites and I think so were the Hispanics. It was just a normal situation. I don't think, at my school there were hardly any discrimination. We all got along very well.

TI: Now, you mentioned, so you went from El Monte to Puente, now the kids, the Japanese that were at Puente, did they attend a segregated school or were they always with the same classmates all the way through?

BS: Yeah. Right, they were the same classmates. There were no segregated schools to, in the area that I went.

TI: Okay, so that's, so for you, you had a different schooling from first to fifth. How well prepared, or how, what, did you feel like you were at a either advantage or disadvantage with what you went through versus what, say, the other Japanese who had been -- it's almost like an experiment, almost, in terms of you have one case where you went to one situation and these Japanese went to another and then you came together in these, what, sixth grade. I'm just curious if you felt like there was a difference in schooling between what you got and the other Japanese at Puente.

BS: Well, I think at that point, I don't think it made that much difference, but I think I sort of blame my lack of vocabulary to my going to that segregated school with all the Hispanics. My vocabulary is very poor.

TI: And that's in comparison to other Niseis, you would say? I mean, what, just in general?

BS: Right. In general people my age, I would say my vocabulary, compared to others, is on the poor side.

TI: Okay, interesting. And how, and how would say in terms of, so by being in a segregated school from one, first to fifth grade, you didn't have as much exposure or interactions with, with white students. How did that, do you think, change you or made you different than maybe other Niseis? Do you think there was a difference by not having that connection in the first through fifth grade?

BS: Maybe so. I do not mix with whites that much. Most of my friends are Japanese, although I do have a few white friends, but most of my friends are Japanese. I think this probably is the result of getting out of camp in 1945 and the feelings that, that came to me from leaving the camp.

TI: Okay, so I'm gonna ask you about that later. I'm gonna try to stay chronological.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

Densho Digital Archive

Densho Visual History Collection

Title: Ike Hatchimonji Interview

Narrator: Ike Hatchimonji

Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa

Location: Los Angeles, California

Date: November 30, 2011

Densho ID: denshovh-hike-01-0004

<Begin Segment 4>


MN: I want to ask you about your school situation, because it's very unusual. Can you share with us which school that you started to go to?

IH: You mean in El Monte?

MN: In El Monte.

IH: Well, unfortunately, it started off rather badly. We were put in a segregated school. I think the story's fairly well-known. School that would allow Mexican kids and Japanese kids. A rundown, dilapidated school called Lexington. And because of that, the irony was that right next door to where we lived, in fact, if I stepped out of our gate in the back of our yard, I would have been right on the school grounds of an all-white school, and I couldn't go there. But my father, shortly after we enrolled at Lexington, he went to the nearby school district, neighboring school district called Mountain View School District. And he talked to the principal of the Mountain View grammar school. It was an integrated school, and the principal allowed to switch districts, and we were able to go there. It was a nice arrangement, and I think without my father having spoken to the principal, we probably would have remained in that rundown school.

MN: Now how far was the Mountain View school, and how did you get there?

IH: Yeah, well, because it was outside of our district, we had to walk about half a mile to the bus stop where, which was right on the edge of the district. And then we rode a bus the rest of the way to school.

MN: So was the other bus not allowed into the other school district, into Lexington?

IH: Yeah, the limit's right up to the district line.

MN: And at the Mountain View school, what was the ethnic makeup?

IH: Generally white, I'd say eighty-five percent white. Lot of Latino kids, Japanese kids.

MN: And how did you interact with the other students?

IH: Very well.

MN: Were there any African American students?

IH: I don't recall 'em if they were.

MN: Were there any African Americans in El Monte?

IH: Well, that's another thing. El Monte had a reputation of being very discriminatory. My understanding was that black families could not live within the city limits, and if they did, if they came to work, they had to be out by sundown or they would have been arrested. And the Mexican population, again, they were discriminated. They had to all live in an area, a place called Hicks Camp, which was all Mexican. Not only in the housing, but in the swimming pools, swimming, and the theaters, there was segregated seating.

MN: So when you were growing up in El Monte, who were your playmates?

IH: Mostly the neighborhood Caucasian kids.

MN: What did you do after school? What sort of games did you play?

IH: Oh, the usual. Marbles, and we had a bicycles. Liked to ride bicycles around. Played little games, maybe baseball. Whatever young kids do.

MN: What did you do on Saturdays?

IH: Well, I don't think it was much different. Went to matinees. But we did go into town, big thing, going to Little Tokyo.

MN: Can I go back to when you went to the matinees? You had to sit in a segregation section?

IH: No.

MN: No.

IH: But in El Monte we did. We used to go to another theater which was outside of El Monte which was not segregated.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

Interview with Paul Hagen

In 1942, December, our neighbors came to our house and asked my dad to please take care of their Berry And Rhubarb farm...the government was going to imprison this family…and my dad agreed…and tended their farm while holding down a full time job with the Edison company in Alhambra …

So when the war was over and the family was released from prison they came back to their farm in tack….

They held onto it for a couple of years and then sold part of the property to El Monte School District where they created Norwood elementary school which started as a kindergarten to third grade school...I went there and then went to cherry lee for fourth grade to sixth

A Community Erased: Japanese Americans in El Monte and the San Gabriel Valley