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Morro Bay Natural History Museum showcases impact of Japanese internment on Central Coast

A cot at the Morro Bay exhibit looks to recreate conditions in the Japanese internment camps.
Benjamin Purper
A cot at the Morro Bay exhibit looks to recreate conditions in the Japanese internment camps.

The Morro Bay State Park Museum of Natural History is hosting an exhibit showcasing the impact of World War Two on the Central Coast. California State Parks staff say they hope it will educate people on the Central Coast about the history of the Japanese-American experience here.

The exhibit looks into the soldiers who trained at Camp San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay, the fear of potential attacks on the Central Coast and the expulsion of the Japanese locals that were forced to leave their homes in places like Los Osos.

Displays of World War II presence in San Luis Obispo.
Benjamin Purper
Displays at the Morro Bay Museum of Natural History tell stories of the Central Coast during World War Two.

“An important part of that history is the story of the Japanese residents,” said State Parks Historian Amy Hart. She said this exhibit broadens historical perspective and spotlights the lesser-known stories of this time period.

“We wanted to really share the stark realities of these internment camps and give people a sense of what these families had to go through,” Hart said.

In 1942, Franklin D Roosevelt issued an executive order to forcibly relocate residents of Japanese descent. About 120,000 people were relocated to internment camps, and most came from the West Coast. Hart said the museum worked with current Japanese-Americans with ancestors who had gone through the terrible and oppressive reality of the internment camps.

“We worked with the Eto family, who helped us create this exhibit and we used excerpts from a book about a Japanese resident who had experienced this who told her story of living in the internment camps,” Hart said. The Eto family lived in Los Osos during the time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and had to face Roosevelt’s executive order.

Naomi Shibata wrote about her grandparents' experience in the novel, "Bend With the Wind: The Life Family and Writings of Grace Eto Shibata." Shibata writes about the Eto family’s incarceration and exile during this time, and what she describes as the lack of accountability for what happened then.

“Nobody was ever charged, by the way," Shibata said in a video from State Parks. "Throughout this experience, people were not charged with a crime,” Shibata said.

The exhibit provides audio recordings of the Eto family to hear their first-hand experience. It’s called “World War Two and the Central Coast,” and spotlights the history through panels, audio recordings, and displays to engage visitors. The exhibition runs throughout the summer until September 6.

Gabriela Fernandez came to KCBX in May of 2022 as a general assignment reporter, and became news director in December of 2023. She graduated from Sacramento State with a BA in Political Science. During her senior year, she interned at CapRadio in their podcast department, and later worked for them as an associate producer on the TahoeLand podcast. When she's not writing or editing news stories, she loves to travel, play tennis and take her 140-lbs dog, Atlas, on long walks by the coast.
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