Over the years, the production of books dealing with the Japanese-American experience continues to flourish with attention now being paid to aspects which have not received a great deal of attention. As an immigrant group, Japanese Americans underwent a particular event that colors almost every publication, and that is the incarceration during World War II.
“The House on Lemon Street; Japanese Pioneers and the American Dream” focuses on the story of a particular Japanese-American family, the Haradas, who managed to buy a house in Riverside, Calif. in 1915. They would be the first non-white family to occupy a house in this middle-class part of town.
As those familiar with California history will recall, Japanese immigrants could not own real estate because of alien land laws, so Jukichi Harada put the house in the name of his daughter. He was willing to fight to keep the house and went to court to resist all attempts to force him out. How he was able to win in court is a major part of this book, described in great detail and accounting for the circumstances in which this victory was accomplished. They raised a family there and were grudgingly accepted into the neighborhood over time.
Rawitsch spends a big part of the beginning of the book on Riverside’s history which includes lengthy descriptions of the life of Frank Miller, a successful and wealthy resident whose liberal outlook included a love and admiration for things Japanese. He was recognized by the Emperor in 1929 as a long time friend of the Japanese people, and was influential in helping the Haradas keep their house.
The Haradas kept the house and a family friend, Jess Stabler, moved in while they were confined in concentration camps. The family was broken up and scattered in several of these camps: the assembly centers at Tanforan and Marysville, then at Poston and Topaz. The elder Haradas did not survive the camps, but family members regained the house after the war, and one daughter lived in it until her death in 2000 at the age of 90. The house was declared National Historic Landmark and is being preserved as such.
This is a bare bones description of this book but for students of Japanese-American history, it is a treasure trove of specific information on a particular family, but stands as illustrating the trials and determination of one immigrant family to establish itself in America, putting down roots and creating a home for nurturing the children as they grew up in a new culture. Rawitsch has done a powerful job in depicting their saga. The house symbolizes the realization of what has been called the American Dream by a group that was considered unassimilable, inferior and unworthy of citizenship. Because one member of the family chose to make it her life’s work to preserve the house and its contents, she has given our community a gift that gives us a look into our history and our achievements in becoming Americans.
It is also a work of love on the part of the author whose personal voice is present throughout this history. His careful gathering of the information adds many levels of riches in delving into the past and what that past means in understanding our history and lives.