Merced dinner to recognize Japanese-American internment history

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comFebruary 7, 2013 

— Some Mercedians might not know that the area where the flea market takes place at the county fairgrounds was home to one of 21 assembly centers where Japanese-Americans were sent soon after the Pearl Harbor attack.

There were also 10 internment camps, said Bob Taniguchi, who's involved with the Livingston-Merced Chapter of the Japanese-American Citizens League. About 120,000 people were sent to the centers and camps.

An event next week will observe the anniversary of the day President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942.

The center in Merced housed 4,669 people, Taniguchi said.

"There's nothing left of the center anymore," he said. "There's some foundations, but you really can't see anything."

But the memory of the connection to that historical event remains.

The Japanese-Americans arrived in Merced in May 1942. They stayed at the assembly center for three months before being sent to Amache, Colo., to one of the 10 internment camps, where most of them stayed until the end of the war, Taniguchi said.

They were essentially imprisoned, but they did nothing wrong, he said. "We just don't want Americans to forget, because these were all innocent people."

To keep that memory alive and help educate the community, the chapter will have its annual Remembrance Dinner on Feb. 16. The event begins with a social hour at 5 p.m., dinner at 6 and a special program at 7.

The keynote speaker is California State University, Stanislaus, Professor Samuel Regalado. Organizers expect about 250 to attend.

Steve Teranishi, president of the chapter, said it has had annual dinners as far back as the 1940s. Three years ago, with the help of the community, it was able to establish a memorial at the fairgrounds.

Teranishi said his parents were among those sent to the assembly centers.

"Most of the persons who were incarcerated ... were U.S. citizens," he said. "Their only crime was that they looked like the enemy. They were essentially prisoners of war."

"We've come a long ways. However, sometimes things happen, such as 9/11, that sometimes people lose sight of our civil rights and due process of law," Teranishi said of the reaction against Japanese-Americans.

Founded in the late 1920s, the Japanese-American Citizens League was formed to preserve and protect the rights of immigrants and Japanese-Americans, he said. About 100 families are a part of the organization.

"It's a challenge when children grow up and they go to school all over the United States and most of them don't return because of the local economy," he said. "That's becoming a challenge in maintaining a strong membership for younger generations."

For information about the event, call (209) 383-5161. Tickets are $45.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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