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Monument to commemorate Japanese American internment at Merced fairgrounds

Monument to commemorate Japanese American internment at Merced fairgrounds

The memorial site will feature several storyboard plaques with photos and history of the Merced Assembly Center.


POSTED February 19, 2010 11:00 p.m.
During the spring and summer of 1942, over 4,600 Japanese Americans lived at the Merced County Fairgrounds. They were not enemy soldiers, or even classified as prisoners of war. They were farmers, mechanics, shop owners, and average families from across the state of California. They were never charged with committing a crime, but they were not allowed to leave. For the remainder of World War II, most of these people were kept against their will at relocation centers in remote areas of the United States.
The Merced Assembly Center Commemorative Committee will dedicate a  monument to the Merced Assembly Center at the Merced County Fairgrounds today. The community of Merced will spend a day remembering an unhappy part of their past with the hope that it will prevent history from ever repeating itself.
“Remembering and educating ensures that it won’t happen again,” said Bob Taniguchi, a member of the Merced Assembly Center Commemorative Committee (MACCC.)
The monument, a statue of a small girl sitting on a pile of luggage, will be unveiled in a public ceremony at the Merced County Fairgrounds at 3 p.m. today. The statue is representative of what many Japanese Americans encountered when they arrived at the Assembly Center. They were told to leave their homes and take only what they could carry. The memorial site will also feature several storyboard plaques with photos and history of the Merced Assembly Center. There will also be a wall covered with names of the internees.
“It’s a huge and tremendous project and to see it come together is just fantastic,” said Ed Nakade, a member of the Merced Assembly Center Commemorative Committee.
The monument is a two-year work in progress for the committee. They came together in spring of 2008 at the behest of Congressman Dennis Cardoza. The Congressman was able to get legislation passed that federally recognized the Merced Assembly Center’s location as a memorial site. Cardoza and the Merced Assembly Center Commemorative Committee were also able to secure a $25,000 National Parks Service grant for the memorial.
The Merced Assembly Center Commemorative Committee is part of the Livingston-Merced Japanese American Citizens League (JACL). They were also  aided by the Cortez JACL and the Japanese Americans of Merced County. The groups together raised about $250,000 in donations and grant money for the memorial and dedication ceremony.
The committee has also established an ongoing educational element to the memorial. They want school children to visit the monument and learn about America’s internment of people of Japanese ancestry. Five former Merced Assembly Center internees have agreed to visit classrooms and speak to students.
“We’re not trying to make this a Japanese American thing. We’re trying to make it a community event. It’s more for education,” Taniguchi said.
Several keynote speakers will address the audience at the dedication ceremony. Congressman Cardoza and Congressman Mike Honda will both speak at the event. Congressman Honda spent several months in the Merced Assembly Center as a child.
John Tateishi, who was instrumental in the redress process for former internees, will also speak at the ceremony. He helped bring about the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which formally apologized to the internees and all Japanese Americans who were alive during WW II.
Former internees were invited to the Merced Fairgrounds for the dedication ceremony. Many, like Honda, were very young children when they were sent to Merced Assembly Center. Some are in their late 90s. All of them have a unique story to share about their time spent at the Merced Assembly Center.
To contact Andrea Goodwin, e-mail agoodwin@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2003.
 

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