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Poway, Spring 1969

The news of the horrible shooting at Chabad of Poway has affected me in a personal way. It brings the memories of my own experience living in Poway, California. It was about 50 years ago that I moved to Poway and would live there, off and on for a couple of years. The news coverage reveals a Poway in 2019 that seems different than the one where I lived in 1969. The shooting itself reveals a Poway where little has changed.

Much of this story is in a personal web page I created on Tripod, which I call my adoption story. http://tfyamaguchi.tripod.com/adoption.html It was Easter Sunday in 1969 when my brother Joe invited me to attend mass at the San Diego Mission. He was a regular attender of La Jolla Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). I had pleaded with him a number of times to take me to Quaker Meeting, and he had refused my requests. Now, sitting in the crowded, historic, Catholic mission, my brother turned to me and whispered, “This is boring. Do you want to leave?” My answer was yes, and we ended up at La Jolla meeting for worship. It was my first Quaker meeting, and I felt like I had arrived home.

It was there that I met Tad and Alice Yamaguchi. When they found out I was living in rather miserable conditions in a boarding house in the North Park section of San Diego, they offered me a room in their home in Poway. I enthusiastically joined the Yamaguchi communal household. By that fall, my own last name would change from Campbell to Yamaguchi.

Poway in 1969 was a small and growing suburb. There were large open spaces that have since been filled in with more housing. It was just about 100% WASP. Many of the residents were in the Navy, being an easy commute from Miramar Naval Air Station. Poway public schools had a reputation of being progressive, but I would not know. I was determined to finish my high school year at Mission Bay and got a ride there every day from a teacher who also lived in Poway. The most ethnic diversity in the area was to the north in Escondido, which has a large Latino population. That is where a mosque was burned a few weeks ago, and the suspected synagogue shooter is considered a suspect in that arson fire. The only Jewish person I remember meeting while living in Poway was a coworker in a restaurant in Rancho Bernardo, which is located between Poway and Escondido.

When I moved in Alice told me about the racism she experienced in Poway. A black family was visiting their home on the quiet cul-de-sac. She went for a walk down the street with the two children of the family. As they walked hand-in-hand, she heard the neighbors talking loudly to each other. They were clearly intent on having their voices heard by Alice and the children, letting them know they were not welcome in the neighborhood. Hearing the children she was with being called “niggers” was too much for Alice to bear. She rushed the children back to the house with tears streaming down her face. When I moved in, there was a sign on the door with the message that all people were welcome, regardless of race and religion. At least there was one place on that cul-de-sac where that was the case.

Another time when our politics conflicted with the conservative views of our neighbors was on a day of nationwide protests against the Vietnam War. A small group of us stood on Poway Road with signs stating our opposition to the war. Those who drove by us responded with insults, calling us communists and traitors. I was actually afraid for my life that day. Fortunately, there was no violence.

There were other events that captured my attention in 1969. One was the first humans to walk on the moon, which I described in my blog post The Eagle Lands on Pomerado Road. https://tomyamaguchi.blog/2009/07/20/the-eagle-lands-on-pomerado-road/ Woodstock happened that summer, as well as the Manson Family murders. One news event that failed to reach me in that quiet town of Poway was the Stonewall riots. I had heard the news Judy Garland’s death on the radio while riding in a car pool headed to San Marcos Community College. As we cruised along the 78 freeway, George Jessel was offering his condolences and sharing his memories of the singer. Years later, I learned how Garland’s death had a role in the rise of the modern gay rights movement. I was in the closet then. Poway in 1969 was not a place where someone would want to come out as gay.

Decades after living in northern San Diego County, I am fascinated by how much has changed there, especially in politics. After an extremely close reelection, conservative Republican Darrell Issa decided to retire from his congressional seat in 2016 and was replaced by a Democrat. Orange County, directly to the north of San Diego and known for being the bedrock of Republicanism, switched to entirely Democratic House representatives in that election. 

When I lived there, both state and national representatives were proud members of the John Birch Society. Given the proximity of Camp Pendleton and the already mentioned Naval Air Station, it would not be surprising to find such a conservative bent in the electorate. Now, that electorate is changing with the coast becoming more urban and more liberal. Unfortunately, racism, antisemitism, and anti-immigration sentiment is still alive in North County, as that part of San Diego is known. The nineteen-year-old white man suspected in two hate crimes has made that evident. We will know more about his beliefs and his world view as the story unfolds. The sad news is there are too many more people just like him.

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April 29, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment