For The Madera Tribune
Sunny Nishimoto in his army uniform, 1945.
One of Madera’s most respected and compassionate community leaders will soon be the subject of a Madera Method project conducted at Madera South High School. Led by teacher Valerie Shelton, students in the school’s historical literacy class are researching the life of the late Sunny Isao Nishimoto and will publish their findings in a book.
Recognized in Madera for his easy smile and gentle laughter, Nishimoto is also remembered for his selfless generosity and genuine concern for his community, especially its youth. Nishimoto elementary school was named to honor him.
Shelton’s students are following several sources that shed light on Nishimoto’s life, not the least of which are four videos of interviews that were done with him in 2005 and are preserved in the Japanese American Military History Collection. The recorded conversations cover nearly every aspect of Nishimoto’s life.
In his own mild manner, Sunny talks about his family, religion and early farming experiences. He recalls how his parents founded the Bridge Store and several other businesses on North D Street. With tears in his eyes, he shares his feelings for the Barcrofts who took the Nishimotos under their protective wings when they faced the trauma of oppression during World War Two.
In his own inimitable way, Sunny talks about dealing with discrimination and the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He provides the students with a private look at the forced removal of his family, living conditions at the Fresno detention facility and life in the Jerome concentration camp in Jerome, Arkansas.
Through these videos, the students will listen to Sunny discuss being drafted, basic training, deployment, and his assignment in Japan. The young historians will hear Sunny discuss working with the community and “giving back” to Madera. They will also learn what being an American meant to Sunny and what he thought about the legacy and future of America.
Also included in the students’ research will be consultations with Sunny’s children, Wally, Ruth, and Mary. The students will also look to local citizens for insight into Sunny’s interaction with the community.
Assisting Shelton’s students with the mechanics of their research will be Jordan Mattox, Madera South High School’s librarian.