Looking ‘through the lens’ of Frank Muramoto at History Colorado

Looking ‘through the lens’ of Frank Muramoto at History Colorado

Flores thinks Muramoto deserves extra credit for the diversity of people he featured in his work.

“This is a time period where almost nobody owned cameras except photography professionals. So whenever people needed a photograph, they worked with a professional. Many of those professionals would not work with minority groups,” Flores said.

“They would not work with Asian Americans. They would not work with Latinos. They would not work with the Italians. And so it really sets Frank Muramoto apart, the fact that he was willing to take photos of anybody.”

A Pueblo Braves baseball game. The Braves were a minor league baseball team in Pueblo from 1928 to 1932.
Photo: Frank Muramoto, courtesy of the Pueblo County Historical Society

According to Flores, the Japanese-American population in 1920 Pueblo was roughly 500 — about 1 in 60 people were of Japanese heritage. At the time, Pueblo was the second-largest city in Colorado, but the Asian American community would dwindle in numbers after a series of devastating events.

In 1921, the “great Pueblo flood” destroyed much of the downtown area, including businesses owned by immigrants. The total death toll remains unknown, but conservative estimates indicate that more than 100 people died. The United States entered the Great Depression by the end of the decade, which saw many people leave Pueblo for better economic opportunities in Denver, and just two years after the end of the Depression, Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor. In response, Japanese Americans were incarcerated in camps like Camp Amache.

Flores said he didn’t know about the Japanese Language School, pictured here in Rocky Ford, Colorado in 1940, until he explored Muramoto’s archives.
Photo: Frank Muramoto, courtesy of the Pueblo County Historical Society 

Muramoto avoided the fate of so many other Asian Americans between the 1920s and 1940s. De Luxe Photography Studios survived the Depression and Muramoto was not interned during World War II. In fact, he worked as a translator on the Pacific Front and gathered intelligence for the U.S. Army.

But as David Muramoto said, “there’s nothing like atomic bombs and world wars to break family ties.” 

After World War II, Japanese Americans prioritized assimilation over the preservation of Japanese culture, David Muramoto said. His grandfather’s photographs, however, allow him and his family to connect with their roots.

“My Japanese [vocabulary] is very, very small,” David Muramoto said, “and yet I really have a strong feeling for my culture and all these pictures that my grandfather took, he’s almost bridging it over time for me.”

As immigration remains a key issue in American politics, David Muramoto hopes that U.S. policy doesn’t preclude the next Frank Muramoto from fulfilling their dreams.

“There’s so much value in immigration. And I wish that we, as Americans, had the ability to learn from the past a little better than we have,” David Muramoto said standing in front of his grandfather’s exhibit.

“This is kind of a tribute to all of the immigrants who came to the United States in search of a dream. And they found it. And other people can do that, too.”

A self portrait of Frank Muramoto with signature.
Photo: Frank Muramoto, courtesy of the Pueblo County Historical Society

Kyle Cooke is the digital media manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach Kyle at kylecooke@rmpbs.org.

Julio Sandoval is the senior photojournalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach Julio at juliosandoval@rmpbs.org.

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