Palo Altan Fred Yamamoto, who fought and died in WWII, did not get a Palo Alto middle school named after him last week, but the movement to recognize his contributions to the community goes on.
Over the weekend, a GoFundMe campaign was launched to raise money for one or more scholarships recognizing graduating high school seniors who "demonstrate civic leadership, inclusion and service reminiscent of Fred's spirit," according to the webpage. Palo Alto resident Sara Armstrong, a member of the school district's Recommending School Names Committee, and others have spearheaded the effort with the cooperation of Yamamoto's family.
As of Monday morning, the fund has raised $7,100, surpassing the goal of $4,420 –- a target symbolic of the regiment with which Fred Yamamoto served in Europe, the all Japanese-American 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team.
"This has been a difficult and painful issue but also presents us with an opportunity to seek to build empathy and understanding," the GoFundMe page states. "Fred's message of faith in American democracy and justice, resilience in the face of discrimination and adversity, and devotion and service to community can be an inspiration to us all."
Some of the donors listed on the page appear to be the same people who spoke at the March 27 Palo Alto Board of Education meeting against naming a school after Fred Yamamoto, citing their association of his surname with that of a despised Imperial Japanese Navy admiral to whom they attribute war crimes against China. At the meeting, a few said that they would support alternate ways to honor the decorated Palo Alto war hero but that they did not want to send their child to a Yamamoto Middle School.
One such resident, Lan Gao, posted a comment with his donation on the GoFundMe page, "I'm by no means against honoring Fred as an individual who is a patriot and a role model for our younger generations."
The effort to rename Jordan and Terman middle schools, sparked in 2015 by the discovery that David Starr Jordan and Lewis Terman endorsed eugenics, garnered unanimous support from the school board in 2017, which then convened a committee to nominate new namesakes. The committee presented its eight recommendations in March and chose as its top pick Fred Yamamoto, a youth leader who was incarcerated in a Wyoming internment camp but nonetheless urged others to continue to believe in the goodness of man. He was among the first to voluntarily join the 442nd.
However, his nomination faced a sudden outpouring of opposition two weeks ago, largely from Palo Alto's first-generation-American Chinese community.
By the time the school board met on March 27, the sharp disagreement had snowballed between that group and a group of Asian-Americans who had hoped to see the first Palo Alto school named after someone of Asian heritage. More than 60 people spoke before the school board, almost all advocating for or against renaming a school after Fred Yamamoto.
Citing the division in the community, the school board voted to rename Jordan after pioneering African-American technologist Frank S. Greene Jr. and Terman after Holocaust survivor and longtime City Councilwoman Ellen Fletcher.
Some board members said their decision not to choose Fred Yamamoto stemmed solely from a desire to bridge divisions.
"No matter what gets decided here tonight, we need to talk to each other more," Vice President Jennifer DiBrienza said. "I think that because we are progressive Palo Alto, we either think we don't (have issues) or we don't talk about them but this has illuminated the issues that are in our community.
"Whether we pick Yamamoto or Adobe Creek or whatever else tonight, those issues are still going to be there," she said.
DiBrienza is among those who donated to the GoFundMe campaign over the weekend.
The scholarships will be awarded at the close of the current school year, the webpage states. The scholarship effort is not planned as a multiyear fund unless the amount collected allows for additional scholarships in future years.
In addition to the scholarships, the Yamamoto group is exploring the possibility of naming a place in Palo Alto — such as a park or building -- after Fred Yamamoto, according to an email sent by Armstrong. A Google group is forming to discuss the idea.