A group of Fresno State Social Work students are seeking the community’s help to identify photos of Central Valley Japanese-Americans of the 1920s-40s for their photo identification project at 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 6 at the Fresno Buddhist Temple Family Dharma Center (2690 E. Alluvial, Fresno 93720).


About 400 historical photos from that era will be on display during the free, public event.  The students in the Social Work Macro Practice course  are asking the public, particularly those of Japanese-American descent, to come together to view the exhibition and identify individuals in the photos.

The unidentified photos, which are of children, families, individuals and cultural groups, were originally donated to the Chinatown Revitalization Inc. by a community member. The black and white photos depict a time preceding the infamous bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, which led to World War II.


Leading the project is Dr. Kris Clarke, associate professor in the Department of Social Work Education.

“The photographs really document an important time in Fresno,” Clarke said. “The majority of photos show them as new Americans, very proud new Americans, and I think that’s a very interesting snapshot of the community life before the internment camps.”

As the war raged on, thousands of Japanese-Americans throughout the U.S. were forcibly removed from their homes and into internment camps, an act that the U.S. government later recognized as an injustice in the 1980s. In the Central Valley alone, 5,300 Japanese-Americans were imprisoned.


Before being placed in the camps, many of these families got rid of personal family photos in fear of being persecuted as un-American. Others were never able to retrieve their belongings, including family heirlooms and photos.

ja2After the photos are identified, they will be collected and preserved by Chinatown Revitalization Inc. for inclusion in their archives.

Clarke said the project not only provides a historical resource for the Japanese-American community, but also allows the 22 students involved to learn how history plays an important role in social work practice.

“This is really what social work should be about in this community,” Clarke said. “It’s really important to learn about the previous immigrant communities that came here and the different travails and difficulties they faced – and how they succeeded and overcame challenges. This has been an interesting project for them to learn to work together and learn from the strengths of past generations.”

For more information, contact Kris Clarke at 559.278.2985 or kclarke@csufresno.edu.