I can only guess at Alice's story. We know that people began coming to California from Japan in large numbers in the 1880s. Many worked in the fields, replacing the Chinese workers barred by the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. Some eventually owned their own farms. Long-time Pleasant Hill residents remember Japanese families living near where today's Sun Valley Mall sits, reportedly growing tomatoes. Could Alice have been a member of one of these families?
We do know that Alice attended Pleasant Hill School—she shows up in photos as one of very few non-white students. In one photo, Alice poses in front of the backstop that stood in what is now the Old Schoolhouse parking lot. The back of the schoolhouse is visible on the right, as is an old water tower on the left. The other photo shows Alice and other students with Mr. Miller, the bus driver. Students chose both of these photos to go in their handmade 1940 yearbook, which they called The Beacon.
We can also guess what may have happened shortly after Alice posed for these pictures. One long-time Pleasant Hill resident (who is not Japanese) recalls her family's anger over the U.S. government's abhorrent act of relocating Japanese Americans during World War II. Was Alice's family among those who endured the internment camps?
Some families returned to their homes after the war; others relocated. What about Alice? I wish I knew. I've called most Kawauchis in the phone book, including a kind Alice Kawauchi in Hawaii who still calls me every once in a while to see if I found the right one.
So once again, I ask all you readers for help. Does anyone know Alice or her family? Are there any Japanese American readers out there who can share their stories of life in early Pleasant Hill? The full telling of Pleasant Hill's diverse history is overdue – let's make this right.