Seventy Years After – March 20, 2012 Marked the 70 Year Anniversary of Local Japanese American Detainment
By Sean Telles
Arcadia, Ca – March 20, 2013 marks the 70th anniversary of the Wartime Civil Control Administration’s acquisition of Santa Anita Racetrack. From March 27, 1942 to October 27, 1942, a peak population of 18,719 Japanese Americans were held prisoner at this assembly center and were subsequently forced into detention camps in other locations within the United States, ending with the conclusion of the Second World War in 1945. Within the San Gabriel Valley there are many resources available to learn about this history.
Rosemead Public Library’s Pacific Asian Resource Center offers the official newsletter from the assembly center on microfilm. Called the “Santa Anita Pacemaker,” editors Eddie Shimano and Kaz Oshiki offered a bi-weekly publication “distributed without charge to every unit.” These stories, although vetted by the government offer a first-hand account on the full spectrum of the center.
Some authoritative articles, such as “Ban on Japanese Literature,” state “Visitors, including Caucasians, will not be allowed to carry into the Center Japanese print of any kind.” Other news stories carry a more light-hearted atmosphere, such as “Old Timers League to Start Tuesday,” including the teams “Anita Olders,”“Nine Old Men,” and the “Invincibles.” Another story describes a baby parade with 93 entries and another work interviews an 83-year-old athletic wonder with the motto, “Eat right, sleep tight, and exercise.” Diana Endo was a 7-year-old who led a community sing on a hot Wednesday night to a crowd of 3,000. Patriotism is also strong within the publication. One such story quotes a Japanese man with four generations of U.S. citizens in his family, including a grandfather named Ulysses S. Kaneko and two family members currently serving in the military, including Kasaki Kaneko, a Master Sergeant.
The preamble of the Constitution of the Self Government Assembly of the Santa Anita Assembly Center is worth quoting in full:
We, the residents of the Santa Anita Assembly Center, in order to uphold and defend the Constitution of the Unites States, to foster and spread the true spirit of Americanism, to build the character of our people morally and spiritually on American ideals, and to promote the welfare and aid in the development of the residents in this Assembly Center, do hereby ordain and establish this Constitution for the Santa Anita Assembly Center, located in Arcadia, in the county of Los Angeles, State of California.
Local museums are another great source of information on WWII SGV. The San Gabriel Historical Association offered a lecture this past week on the Japanese experience in San Gabriel. The El Monte Historical Museum and its neighbor La Historia Museum offer beautiful photographs from the 1920 and onwards including Japanese-American children, farmers, and business owners. The Arcadia Historical Museum exhibits a short history and many photographs of the assembly center, including a layout of the camp itself with a legend. Another part of the collection is a handwritten letter describing a first-person account of the processing procedures through the assembly center. Perhaps the most beautiful artifacts in their collection are a number of hand crafted pins in the shape of birds constructed from wood and wire found within the camp “made into beautiful pieces of art which embody the patience and dignity of the Japanese-American spirit in the face of a terrible and tragic event.” That same placard also describes the Zen concept of Gamon: enduring what seems unbearable with dignity and grace.
Finally, there are many people still alive who have gone through this experience and are national living treasures for their information they can provide. One such person is Aiko Yamaji Sokolowski, age 71, “I was a toddler when my mother, father and three brothers were uprooted from their home in San Pedro and sent to Santa Anita with only the suitcases they could carry. We stayed at Santa Anita for nearly a year until we were transferred to the internment camp in Rohwer, Arkansas. My mother would talk about living in a cold and dirty horse stall with straw mattresses. It was a difficult existence. The same resilence we see in today’s Japanese earthquake victims was the same that my family and so many others exhibited then.”
Others have passed on, but their legacy continues to teach. Such as Toyo Miyatake, who while interned at Manzanar clandestinely photographed the Japanese American internment . He later owned a photography studio in San Gabriel. His works during the war are unprecedented and invaluable. He also produced a book with Ansel Adams called, “Two Views of Manzanar.” His photography studio still stands today and continues to give to the San Gabriel Valley community.
In May 2001, LA County Supervisor Mike Antonovich dedicated a marker within the Santa Anita Race grounds as a memorial to commemorate its WWII history, including the assembly center. This year, on March 24, the race track will celebrate Japan Family Day, which will include a tea ceremony, calligraphy, a sumo demonstration, and live music as part of its Tokyo City Cup Race. Somewhere within the excitement of the celebratory festivities, an echo of the past plays a tune through the May 22, 1942 article in the Pacemaker entitled, “New Disks Expected for Dance,” where “Both Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller are expected to take a beating tomorrow from the rug-cutters.”
The San Gabriel Valley has some roots that go deep and into dark, controversial places, but the flowers they have produced as a community are inarguably and uniquely beautiful.