At the age of 6 months, Tomiko Yabumoto became an enemy of the state and moved with her parents to the Tule Lake War Relocation Center, one of the World War II Japanese-American internment camps. All three members of the family were born in California.
When released in 1946 to their Lincoln (Placer County) farm, the family had grown by two. In camp, the children saw their first snow, her mother knitted and made corsages from shells gathered on Tule’s ancient dry sea bed, her father worked in the mess hall and played the shakuhachi, a homemade bamboo flute, and a teenage uncle made a forbidden box camera. The film source? Unknown, but Yabumoto has personal photos documenting family and camp life.
After leaving camp, she assimilated into American culture when the family resettled in Lincoln and later Stockton, where an uncle had bought a hotel. During the dire postwar employment situation she learned about racism. When children called her a “Jap” for the first time, her mother’s instructions were, “tell them you are a Japanese AMERICAN.”
“I listened to ‘The Lone Ranger’ and ‘The Shadow’ radio programs – I was a tomboy, like a lot of girls – and drew with anything at hand. I learned how to play, just like the other kids.” At age 10, Yabumoto asked questions about religion, spoke Japanese and English and understood why her parents were watchful: not so much like the other kids.
After studying painting and fiber arts at San Jose State, Yabumoto taught middle school before joining the Peace Corps. The idea didn’t thrill her parents, but she talked them into it and was assigned to the Punjab in northern India. Staying on after the Peace Corps, she met many Tibetans and others who are curiously present in her life to the present day. In fact, several now live in Sonoma. In Japanese, “so no ma ma” means “things as they are.”