The Yabumoto family of Chamberino

In recognition of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Archives and Special Collections (ASC) would like to highlight the life experiences of the Yabumoto family of Chamberino, New Mexico.

black and white photograph of Koharu and Riuhei Yabumoto

Koharu and Riuhei Yabumoto, Rio Grande Historical Collections (RG98-044-002)

Riuhei Yabumoto came from a family of fishermen in the Wakayama prefecture of Japan. He was born in 1867 in the village of Tawara. In 1896 he immigrated to the United States like many young Japanese men in search of prosperity and stability. By 1905, Riuhei was living in Los Angeles County in California. That same year, he sent for his wife. Koharu Higashi arrived at the Port of Seattle on April 22, 1905. On the S.S. Shawmut’s passenger list, Koharu is recorded as K. Yabumoto, age 22, married, meeting her husband, and travelling to Los Angeles. [1] It’s possible that Koharu was what was known as a picture bride. When single Japanese men living abroad were not able to return home to find a bride, they would write home for help in finding someone suitable. Unable to meet in person, photographs were exchanged between the hopeful couple, hence the term. The bride’s name would then be added to the groom’s family registry, making the marriage official in Japan. Riuhei and Koharu were not complete strangers though as their families were friends in the Wakayama prefecture.[2] When Koharu arrived, the United States did not recognize their Japanese marriage, so the couple held a ceremony on May 15, 1905 in a Japanese Buddhist church in King County, Washington.[3] Koharu was born in Kodacho in 1884. Her family was in the lumber business, which afforded a different lifestyle than that of her husband’s family. Both would have a great deal of learning and adapting to do in their new life in the United States. The couple returned to southern California where Riuhei operated a boarding house and pool hall. Nearly a year after their marriage, Koharu gave birth to the couple’s first son, Riuji. Sadly, he passed at the age of 6 from complications after contracting measles.[4] The couple had two other children, Ayako and Jodo, at the time and went on to have four more: Yuki, Kastumi, Toshi, and Nanako.

black and white photograph of the Yabumoto family

Yabumoto family, clockwise from left: Riuhei, Koharu, Ayako, Jodo, Yuki, Katsumi, Toshi, and Nanako, Rio Grande Historical Collections (RG98-044-001)

Amid growing anti-Asian sentiments and an increased population of single Japanese men in southern California, Riuhei felt it was no longer safe to live there. He knew of a Japanese American family living in Anthony, New Mexico and in 1915 decided to sell his businesses and relocate to the southwest.  With the proceeds from the sale, Riuhei was able to purchase an old adobe house with 25-acres of farmland. Their move preceded the 1921 Alien Land Act in New Mexico which prohibited immigrants ineligible for citizenship from owning land, an exclusionary act aimed primarily at those of Asian descent. The Yabumotos were not farmers and had to learn how to work the land. Koharu had lived in more populous areas and grown up with servants, thus rural agrarian life was vastly different to what she was accustomed to. With the help of neighbors and a supportive community, they were able to succeed.

In 1926, Riuhei fell ill and was misdiagnosed with throat cancer. He underwent radium treatment, but instead of improving, his illness became worse. He was then correctly diagnosed with tuberculosis. Riuhei was hospitalized in El Paso for the better part of a year before his death in 1929. After the loss of her husband, Koharu took over running the farm. She had struggled to learn English, but she and the children were able to pick up Spanish in order to communicate with their neighbors and farm workers.

The children attended elementary school in Chamberino and were able to learn English from playing with their classmates. When Ayako, the eldest daughter, graduated from high school, she attended business school in El Paso and held a secretarial job with Standard Oil Company. Her income helped to support the family and the farm after Riuhei’s passing, especially when the effects of the depression hit the area in the early 1930s. When Jodo, the eldest living son, graduated high school, he took over running the farm and his brother Katsumi joined him after serving in the US Army, eventually growing the farm to four hundred acres. Yuki joined a dance troupe in New York, Toshi married Carl Nakayama of JK Nakayama and Sons farm in Doña Ana, New Mexico, and Nanako attended business school. Their parents had stressed the importance of education while growing up but attending beyond public school was not always possible. Their parents had also impressed upon them the idea of Americanization, allowing them to attend Sunday school with neighbors, participating in Farm Bureau events, and celebrating the Fourth of July. With so few other Japanese American families in the area and the nature of living in such a rural area, efforts to start a Japanese language school and regular gatherings with fellow Japanese Americans did not pan out.

black and white photograph of Koharu and Katsumi Yabumoto

Koharu and Katsumi Yabumoto, Rio Grande Historical Collections, (RG98-044-005)

During World War II, despite being a long-standing respected family in the community, the Yabumotos had their home searched for incriminating evidence to suggest their betrayal to America. Because they lived outside of the internment zone, they were spared that injustice. Ayako and her husband, Tokutaro Slocum, however, were living in California. Slocum was a veteran of both world wars and an outspoken supporter of the United States. Regardless, he and his family were sent to an internment camp. Toshi and her husband had their farm’s assets frozen for about a week even though seventy-five percent of the farm’s production went to the Armed Forces.[5]

Through unimaginable cultural differences, language barriers, racial prejudices, and devastating loss, the Yabumoto family was able to persevere.

 

Additional resources:

Confinement in the Land of Enchantment: Japanese Americans in New Mexico during World War II

History in Context Japanese Americans in the Mesilla Valley

Densho Encyclopedia

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[1] “Washington, Seattle, Passenger Lists, 1890-1957,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-G5NS-9GWP?cc=1916081&wc=M6Y1-RM4%3A202170801 : 22 May 2014), 004 – 11 Apr 1905 – 24 May 1906 > image 784 of 819; citing NARA microfilm publication M1383, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

[2] Toshi Yabumoto Nakayama interview with Jane O’Cain, Rio Grande Historical Collections, New Mexico State University Library, Las Cruces, New Mexico, March 14, 1997.

[3] King County Marriage Records, 1855-Present – R Yabumoto – K Higashi, King County Marriage Records, 1855-Present, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives, https://digitalarchives.wa.gov/DigitalObject/Download/1ab2a1e4-390e-46b1-9fb5-75ff40e8cf42, May 16, 2021.

[4] Toshi Yabumoto Nakayama interview, March 14, 1997.

[5]Swoveland, Peggy. “History Notes: The Nakayama Farm with Peggy Swoveland.” Branigan Cultural Center: History Notes. May 13, 2021, https://fb.watch/5yUaiy4Tf7/, May 13, 2021.


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