Q&A: Naomi Harada on Her Family’s Civil Rights Legacy
Naomi Harada has long advocated for the rights and well-being of others—a quality that runs deep in her family’s history. A registered nurse and nurse practitioner, she is a granddaughter of Jukichi and Ken Harada, Japanese immigrants who defied racist property laws and successfully retained their Riverside, California, home in the 1918 landmark court case The People of the State of California v. Jukichi Harada. Until around 1998, Harada’s aunt Sumi served as guardian of the Harada House, which the National Trust named one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2020. Now retired (but administering COVID-19 vaccines and tests as a volunteer), Harada spoke with us about the historic property.
What are your earliest memories of your grandparents’ house?
My earliest memories are of the family gathering there for Memorial Day—aunts, uncles, and cousins from different parts of Southern California. The house was a place to engage with relatives and play with cousins. As I recall, it was at one of these gatherings where I first heard that the house [had been] a “test case” [for the constitutionality of the California Alien Land Law of 1913].
Everyone would bring flowers and potluck dishes. Our shared meals were multicultural: chicken mole and pinto beans, potato salad, a cake baked by my German aunt, as well as Japanese foods like sushi and teriyaki chicken. And then we would take the flowers to the cemetery to pay our respects to my grandparents and Tadao, their 6-year-old child who died of diphtheria.
Did you have a favorite room or feature in the house?
One room was the kitchen, because [Aunt Sumi] had so much old stuff just hanging around. She had this old oak icebox, which I thought was a real novelty. And then right from the kitchen there was a bathroom, and the first thing you would see was this claw-foot bathtub. That to me was also unique. The entire contents of the house have been placed in storage and archived by the Museum of Riverside.
Why did your grandfather believe the house was worth fighting so hard for?
I think it was just important to him to have a healthy home for his family. [Before purchasing the house] he and my grandmother were raising their children in a rooming house with people coming and going. [According to my father, Harold,] my grandfather would talk about how Tadao died in his arms, and what a good son he was. He was the reason for my grandparents seeking another place to live.
How did it feel when the house was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990?
It’s amazing! As a kid and adolescent, I thought about it as just Aunt Sumi’s house, a place filled with interesting old things. And now it’s become a place that has this important story to the Japanese American experience. I think about the terror my grandparents felt while witnessing the ransacking of their home by the FBI following Pearl Harbor. I think about my father writing on the bedroom wall “Evacuated May 23, 1942,” an inscription that still stands. I think about Aunt Sumi returning to Riverside alone because my grandparents had died at Topaz Relocation Center [in Utah].
Knowledge of those kinds of events has really changed my perspective of the house. Now I feel I have a joint stewardship of the house, which I share with everyone. I see it as a public place representing the stories of many.
Why do you think these stories continue to hold significance today?
I think they resonate on many levels. One is housing; the need for housing was and continues to be a result of inequities. My grandparents wanted a safe environment to raise their family but were challenged for the right to do that. And I think similar challenges still impede the abilities of many to seek the same for their families.
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