AAPI Heritage Month – Yasuo and James Goto

As part of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the City recognizes Yasuo and James Goto.

Yasuo Goto was a farmer and labor manager in the Wintersburg Village and Smeltzer area, now part of Huntington Beach. He provided room and board for Japanese farm workers, transporting them to different farms by horse-drawn wagons, in the 1910s. Goto himself farmed about 180 acres of sugar beets for the Holly Sugar Company, which was located near Main and Gothard streets in Huntington Beach. He later farmed chilies, celery, cabbage, and melons. Along with other prominent Huntington Beach farmers—Worthy, Newland, Tamura, Gisler, Ishii—Goto helped form the Farmers Produce Exchange in 1918.

Yasuo Goto’s son, James Goto, was born here in 1911. He attended UCLA and then USC’s medical school, graduating in 1937. One of the first Japanese American doctors granted privileges at Los Angeles General Hospital—where he ranked number one among the 150 medical applicants—he became the hospital’s chief surgeon prior to World War II.

In 1942, Dr. Goto was sent to Manzanar Relocation Center in California, as one of the 120,000 Japanese Americans imprisoned during World War II.  In December 1942, Dr. Goto performed an autopsy on two camp prisoners who had been shot by soldiers at Manzanar. Standing by his principles and medical expertise—and defying orders from camp military authorities to falsify records – he documented that they had been shot in the back. Dr. Goto was relieved from his position and he and his physician wife, Masako, were sent to the Topaz Relocation Center in Utah in 1943.

He and Masako remained at Topaz until the camp closed in 1945. Returning to California, Dr. Goto established a medical practice in the Little Tokyo district of Los Angeles where he allowed those returning home from the camps to pay however, they could, sometimes with boxes of celery or a bag of peaches.

In 1982, Dr.  Goto was a witness before the Congressional Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. He spoke of the trials of living at Manzanar’s barracks – three couples per shabby uninsulated hut, separated only by hanging sheets. He also spoke of medical conditions within the camps and the controversial shooting at Manzanar. Goto’s testimony, along with hundreds of witnesses, led to a formal apology by the federal government and authorization of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, signed by President Ronald Reagan.

From farming in the 1910s to Congressional testimony repairing a wrong, the Goto family continues to contribute to California. Dave Goto, the grandson of Dr. James Goto, serves with the National Park Service at Manzanar.

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