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Dedication ceremony to be held for internment monument
Japanese Americans held at Turlock Assembly Center retain vivid memories
In the summer of 1942, 3,692 Japanese Americans were housed at the Turlock Assembly Center, which today is the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds. - photo by Photo courtesy of The National Archives
For the past 68 years, the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds have been an unrecognized landmark in the history of Japanese American Internment.
The grounds were the site of the Turlock Assembly Center, where 3,692 people lived for the summer of 1942. This May, a monument will be dedicated to those internees at the fairgrounds.
The internees at the Turlock Assembly Center were all California residents of Japanese decent. Some were first generation immigrants, and others were American citizens. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, president Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued an executive order that allowed the War Relocation Authority to evacuate all people of Japanese decent from the Pacific Coast, including all of California.
Evacuees were first sent to assembly centers, like Turlock, where they stayed temporarily until they were relocated to a permanent center. Most of the Japanese at Turlock Assembly Center came from Central Valley areas outside of Stanislaus County, including Vacaville and Byron. They were all sent to Gila River, Ariz. in August of 1942, just three months after they arrived in Turlock.
Many of the internees who were small children at the time have vivid memories of the Turlock Assembly Center.
Gloria Saika Imagire was 6 years old when her family was sent to the Turlock Assembly Center from Vacaville.
“All I remember was how the floors were made of tar or something black — it was hot in the summer, and crickets were all over the floor. The legs of the cots would sink into the floor, and all of my brothers and I would be on the cot afraid to step down because we would squish the crickets,” Imagire said.
Ken Yasui was 10 years old when his parents took him to the Turlock Assembly Center. Now 77 years old, he is a member of the San Joaquin County Fair Board. Part of his responsibility as a fair board member is to visit other fairs, but he has not been back to the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds since his childhood.
Yasui still remembers the smell of the horse stall that was his “apartment” at the Turlock Assembly Center. He said that the stall was just painted over, and an asphalt floor was installed to cover the ground. He stayed in the apartment with his parents and his two younger sisters.
Yasui said that although he disagrees with what the American government did to his family, he thinks it was also for their safety. He said that he was safer far away from other people in Gila River than he would have been at his family’s farm in Tracy.
“If someone lost a son in the Pacific, they could have come and shot my parents and I,” Yasui said.
The monument dedication ceremony will take place at 11 a.m. on May 1 at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds. Kayla Canelo, a graduate student at California State University, Stanislaus, raised money for the event with the help of her classmate, David Seymour. Through private donations, and with the help of the Cortez Chapter of the Japanese Americans Citizens League, they raised $4,000 for the monument.
The dedication ceremony will feature the unveiling of the monument, and speeches by former internees and local dignitaries. Canelo said that she hopes it will be a somber event, and a chance for people to feel some closure over a past that they cannot change.
To contact Andrea Goodwin, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2003.