Turlock Assembly Center dedication held May 1 to honor former internees

TURLOCK, Calif. — With former internees in attendance, a memorial marking the site of the Turlock Assembly Center was dedicated on May 1.

Located on the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds, Turlock was one of several assembly centers established on the West Coast in 1942 to detain Japanese Americans who were forced from their homes following enactment of Executive Order 9066. After living for a few months in makeshift housing — in some cases, converted horse stalls — the internees were transferred to larger camps further inland.

Turlock had a peak population of 3,692 and was in operation from April 30 to Aug. 12, 1942. The internees, who came from throughout California, were sent to the Gila River camp in Arizona.

Today there is no trace of the assembly center, and until recently, many local residents had never heard of it.

The memorial project started in 2008 when graduate student Kayla Canelo and classmate David Seymour took a class on the internment with Professor Nancy Taniguchi at CSU Stanislaus.

“Each day a former internee would come in and share his or her story,” Canelo said in an e-mail to the Nichi Bei Weekly. “It was a very informative and inspiring class. Around this time a commemoration was being planned for the Merced Assembly Center, headed by Nancy’s husband, Bob. Nancy encouraged us to start a commemoration for the Turlock Assembly Center, so we did.”

“I petitioned to the Stanislaus County Fair Board to allow us to put a small monument on site,” said Canelo. “They agreed, so we began the fundraising process. We primarily acquired our funding through individual donors. When we finally had enough, we had Memorial Art Company of Modesto begin the project. Over the course of about four months we planned the ceremony.”

The project was supported by the Cortez chapter of the Japaense American Citizens League, whose president is Ed Nakade. About $4,000 was raised, including $3,000 from one donor.

Nakade’s mother was incarcerated at Turlock, but he was not aware of this fact until he started working on the project. He had assumed that his family was held at the Sacramento Assembly Center, also known as Walerga.

The monument was installed in April. The committee sought to invite as many former internees as possible to the ceremony — a difficult task since so many were from outside the county, as far away as Tracy, Vacaville and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Canelo estimated that 150 to 200 people attended the ceremony. Among them was Ken Yasui, a board member of the San Joaquin County Fair, who was 10 years old when he lived at Turlock.

Opening remarks were made by Dr. Samuel Regalado, who teaches history at CSU Stanislaus. The presentation of flags was conducted by the Merced VFW, 442nd Regimental Combat Team veteran Hiro Asai, and Military Intelligence Service veteran Howard Taniguchi.

After the Turlock High Jazz Band played “The Star Spangled Banner,” Howard Kato asked for a moment of silence in memory of deceased internees.

Speakers included Nancy Taniguchi, introduced by Greg Marutani, JACL education director; Canelo, introduced by Nakade; National JACL President Larry Oda; Turlock Mayor John Lazar; and Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa.

Stockton Taiko performed, and after the monument was unveiled, children draped strings of origami cranes on it.

“We hope the monument will serve as an educational tool for people of all ages,” said Canelo. “We hope that it will encourage them to study and remember the Japanese American internment in order to protect our civil liberties for future generations.”

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