Arboga Assembly Center memorial site re-dedicated in Yuba County

RE-DEDICATED — Top left: Attendees of the re-dedication ceremony for the Arboga Assembly Center Memorial on Oct. 22 view an interpretive board featuring portraits of local Japanese Americans taken by a Marysville photography studio in 1942, believed to be for ID purposes. photo by Michael Hatamiya

MARYSVILLE, Calif. — A crowd of more than 200 people, including local officials, two survivors of the former concentration camp, and noted writer and speaker on the Japanese American wartime incarceration John Tateishi, observed the re-dedication Oct. 22 of the completed Arboga Assembly Center Memorial Site in Yuba County.

Calvin Asoo, 82, of El Dorado, Calif., and his sister Christine Umeda, 84, of Sacramento, Calif. were special guests of the event as survivors of the Arboga camp.

The Arboga Assembly Center, also known as the Marysville Assembly Center, was one of 16 such facilities where Japanese Americans were temporarily held in 1942 before being further dispatched to concentration camps under Executive Order 9066. The assembly centers included the Tanforan and Santa Anita race tracks, as well as fairgrounds in places like Merced and Turlock.

“I remember when we were getting ready to leave (Arboga), we were waiting for them to open up the school so we could take the toys. But me and my brother were on the swings and they opened it before I knew they were open, so I didn’t get the firetruck,” said Asoo, who was 2 years old when uprooted from his Sacramento home and sent to Arboga with his parents and six siblings. “I mean, they were abandoning the camp, so they were just giving the stuff away.”

The State Historical Resources Commission designated the 12 assembly center sites in California as historical landmarks in 1980. As the Arboga incarceration site had come under private ownership, the local school board in 2009 approved a 200-by-200-foot memorial lot on a future school site directly across the rural lane. The first dedication ceremony was held at the site on Feb. 27, 2010, after the Marysville chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League purchased the bronze State Historical Landmark plaque. But the memorial site was undeveloped at that time.

The Arboga Assembly Center Memorial and Interpretive Center was completed in February 2021, but a re-dedication ceremony had been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fal Asrani, superintendent of the Marysville Joint Unified School District, said in remarks at the ceremony: “I’m proud to represent a district that sees the value in preserving this site to honor and remember the experience of fellow Japanese American citizens during World War II.”

The centerpiece of the memorial consists of three steel sculptures in the exact dimensions of end pieces of the barracks in which Japanese Americans were housed in 1942. The sculptures have cutouts of the U.S., California and the Sutter Buttes, the prominent geographical feature of the Marysville area, symbolizing that the detainees were Americans, Californians and from this part of the state. The sculptures were executed with donated labor by the Yuba College welding program.

ARTIST BEHIND MEMORIAL — Stuart Gilchrist, who designed the Arboga Assembly Center Memorial and Interpretive Center and who grew up near the site, stands in front of steel sculptures with cutouts of the U.S., California and the Sutter Buttes. photo by Michael Hatamiya

“It means a lot to me to be asked to design something so monumental,” said Stuart Gilchrist, a Marysville City Council member and project designer, who grew up near the site, in a brief speech. “There are lots of hidden, subliminal messages, which I will not reveal to you. That’s what art is about.”

“The pain (at Arboga) was no less than at larger places like Santa Anita and Tanforan or the concentration camps,” said John Tateishi, who led the JACL’s redress effort in the 1980s and later became national executive director, in the keynote address at a luncheon following the ceremony. “The kind of community that came together and made this happen is remarkable.”

Incarcerees, from nearby Sacramento and Placer counties, began arriving at the camp on May 8, 1942, with a total of 2,465 held at the facility over the 53 days of its duration, according to the California State Historical Landmark plaque.

The Arboga contingent was moved to the Tule Lake concentration camp by June 29, 1942. The site was eventually sold off, leaving little trace of mass habitation on what is now orchard land.

The nonprofit Yuba Sutter Arts & Culture was a major mover of the project, obtaining in 2019 a $30,000 grant from the California State Library’s Civil Liberties Program to develop the site. Reclamation District 784, the local levee authority, took on the responsibility to maintain the site. The Yuba County Historic Resources Commission was also a forceful advocate of the project, erecting a sign in 2008.

The memorial site is located on the north side of Broadway about a quarter-mile east of Feather River Boulevard in Yuba County, seven miles south of Marysville and 35 miles north of Sacramento.

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