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Turlock Japanese American assembly center to be memorialized
The May 1, 1942 edition of the Turlock Daily Journal included information about the number of Japanese that were relocated to the Turlock Assembly Center. Many more people showed up than were expected, and by May 4, civic groups were sorting over one ton of luggage brought by the forced evacuees. - photo by Photo courtesy of The National Archives
A part of Turlock history which some would rather forget will be memorialized at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds in the next few weeks.
On May 4, 1942, one thousand Japanese-Americans waited outside of the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds, luggage in hand. The headline on that morning’s Turlock Daily Journal read “Alien Center Chief Lauds Turlockers for help after 2,391 Japanese arrive here.” The newly arrived group had been evacuated from their California homes and were waiting to be processed into the Turlock Assembly Center.
In 1942 President Franklin Roosevelt signed an Executive Order that authorized the forced relocation of people of Japanese decent living on the west coast. These people, over 60 percent of whom were American citizens, were relocated to remote areas of the country for the duration of World War II.
The first step in relocation was evacuation to an assembly center, most of which were located at racetracks, stables and fairgrounds. Central Valley farmers of Japanese decent were sent to the Turlock Assembly Center, located at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds.
The center was occupied from April 30 to Aug. 12, 1942. At the height of its population, 3,692 people lived in barracks constructed on the fair grounds. The Turlock Daily Journal chronicled daily life at the camp at the beginning of its occupation.
“Laundry fluttered over half the Turlock assembly center today, as busy Japanese women settled down to apartment-keeping,” reported the Turlock Daily Journal on May 4, 1942.
The Turlock Assembly Center received many more evacuees than it was prepared for. The Journal recounted that almost twice the number of expected Japanese Americans came to the center during its first day of operation. By the fifth day there were over 2,000 Japanese Americans at the center, some from as far away as Los Angeles County. Turlock residents and civic groups volunteered to process more than 1,250,000 pounds of luggage belonging to the forced evacuees.
“We are extremely grateful for this genuine help, which permitted the movement of 2,391 Japanese into the camp without a hitch and without long delays,” said Ernest Pinella, chief civilian administrative office of the Turlock Assembly Center, in 1942.
Residents of the assembly center were relocated to a more permanent center in Gila River, Ariz. within a few months. The center was later turned into an Army rehabilitation center, and soldiers lived in the apartments constructed on the grounds.
There are no traces of the assembly center left on the fairgrounds today. No traces of the thousands of people who ate, slept, and lived on the grounds for several months. Soon, however, there will be a monument to those people, and a reminder of Turlock’s involvement in the forced relocation of Japanese Americans.  
A small monument will be installed at the north gate of the fairgrounds as soon as weather permits. The monument is a rock inlaid with a small plaque, and it will be the only visible reminder of the Turlock Assembly Center.
“I just think that if we forget this it can happen again,” said Kayla Canelo, who pitched the idea of a monument to the Stanislaus County Fair Board of Directors.
Canelo and fellow graduate student David Seymore came up with the idea for a monument after taking a class about Japanese American internment at California State University, Stanislaus. Canelo said that she knew about the Turlock Assembly Center from her grandfather, but many of her classmates had never heard of it.
“I was surprised to learn that there was no monument for it,” Canelo said.
Together the classmates approached the Cortez chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League. The group donated funds for a monument, and wrote a story about it in their publication. Readers sent in donations and shared their stories about the Turlock Assembly Center.
“It was strange to hear from people who had actually been there, or whose parents had been there,” Canelo said.
Together Canelo, Seymore, and the JACL raised $4,000 for the monument. Canelo requested permission from the Stanislaus County Fair Board to install a monument.
“They were really receptive to the idea,” Canelo said.
Fair CEO Anthony Leo said that the board approved the monument in April 2008. He said that the monument might have been eligible for funding under a public law regarding the preservation of Japanese American Internment sites, but private donations covered the cost.
The monument, which Canelo describes as “modest,” will be laid into a concrete foundation in a flower bed by the north gate entrance in a few weeks. Wet weather did not permit for the monument to be installed earlier, and the fair is closed for the holidays until January.
Public dedication of the monument, along with the official unveiling, will not take place until early spring. Canelo said that plans have not been set, but there will be a small public reception for the monument.
To contact Andrea Goodwin, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2003.