Spotlight On Joseph Yamada and Elizabeth Kikuchi Yamada

Tamiko Welch, Adult Librarian, Vermont Square Branch Library,
A colorized coloring page of Joseph and Elizabeth Yamada
Joseph Yamada (1930–2020) and Elizabeth Kikuchi Yamada (1930–2020)

Joseph Yamada (1930–2020) and Elizabeth Kikuchi Yamada (1930–2020) were both born and raised in San Diego and were incarcerated at the camp in Poston, Arizona, as the result of Executive Order 9066. The couple met in Poston, and once leaving the incarceration camp, they attended the University of California at Berkeley. Joseph Yamada became a landscape architect, and Elizabeth Kikuchi Yamada became the first teacher of Asian descent at San Diego High School. Joseph Yamada passed away from a long battle with dementia; Elizabeth Yamada passed away from COVID-19 a month later. They had just turned 90. The Yamadas are survived by their three children and their families.

Japanese leaving for internment camp
Japanese Americans leaving for internment camp, [1942]. Herald Examiner Collection

The couple are pictured in front of the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in Little Tokyo. The Japanese American National Museum was founded in 1985 to enhance the appreciation and document the history of people of Japanese descent in the United States. Pictured behind the couple is a poster version of the book Dear Miss Breed. Clara Breed was the City Librarian for San Diego Public Library for 25 years and worked for the library system for 40 years. Before the Japanese Americans families left San Diego for the camps, Breed encouraged the children to contact her, and she would send books, clothing, pencils, and other supplies to these children. Breed received over 250 letters from her librarian patrons and protested against Executive Order 9066 on behalf of Japanese Americans with letters to Congress, and articles published in Library Journal and Horn Book Magazine.

Japanese American National Museum opening
Group photo at the opening of the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo in 1992. Photo credit: Gary Leonard

At the end of Breed’s life, she donated the letters the incarcerated wrote to her to Elizabeth Yamada, who then donated the letters to the JANM. The touching letters told of life in the camps, as well as the suffering and resilience the community developed while living there. The letters became a museum exhibit and a book, titled Dear Miss Breed.

Suggested Activities:

  • Learn more about the challenging history Japanese Americans and immigrants faced during incarceration on a virtual visit to the Japanese American National Museum in Downtown Los Angeles. Learn more at
    Read So Far From the Sea or Dear Miss Breed as a family and discuss why it’s important to learn about the challenges Japanese Americans face. Think about your family and how you can learn more about your heritage.
  • Visit the Little Tokyo Branch and see its Japanese language collection.
coloring page of Joseph Yamada (1930–2020) and Elizabeth Kikuchi Yamada (1930–2020)

Coloring page