During the month of February, the hallway leading into the Yuba College Library was the scene of an amazing display to remind us of a page from history which many do not, or would prefer not to, remember.
The Marysville Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), in conjunction with Professor Neelam Canto-Lugo and the Crossing Borders Building Bridges program, presented a “Day of Remembrance” on Saturday, February 6th. This program, and the reception following it, was the official opening of the historical exhibit which allowed Yuba College students first-hand knowledge of historical events, people, and places right here in Yuba County.
During the weeks following Pearl harbor, the anti-Japanese sentiment in the United States became a raging torrent. Caught up in the flood that came crashing through local communities were thousands of Japanese Americans from the Sacramento Valley, as well as throughout California and other states, especially in the West. In fact, right here in Marysville, your fate depended on which side of Highway 70 you lived. The closer you lived to Japan, the more “suspect” you were, said Roy Hatamiya.
One local Japanese-American family owned a drug store on the east side of D Street (Highway 70) and 2nd Street, which was “not a problem”. However, they lived on the west side of D Street, so they had to pack up and be sent to Tule Lake, which was the destination for the “most disloyal ones” in the words of Terry Manji. This designation meant that they were unwilling to sign the loyalty oath the government presented to them. Loyalty itself was not an issue for these Americans, the “issue”, according to Morrie Tanimoto, was basically one of the statements on the paper. The statement, which they were signing as their loyalty oath to the United States, said that they would disavow their “allegiance” to the Japanese Emperor. Well, since none of them had any allegiance to the Japanese Emperor, why would they sign a statement to disavow their loyalty to him? Since they did not want to agree to this portion of the loyalty oath, they were designated as enemies of the state and sent to Tule Lake. The loyalty oath also contained a promise to serve in the military. Since all were required to sign the loyalty oath, regardless of age or sex, the elderly, parents on behalf of their children, and women were concerned about agreeing to that portion.
In spite of being sent to internment camps, thousands of Japanese Americans served in the military. Their work was essential for tasks such as translating intercepted Japanese radio transmissions, documents, and prisoner interviews. There were also many Japanese-American nurses such as Terri Yamashita from our area.
Even after returning from the internment camps, most were still ostracized in their community. Though Morrie remained in Tule Lake, his brother Jim Tanimoto, his parents, his sister, and other brother, all returned home on February 26, 1944. Originally reporting to an Assembly Center on July 9, 1942, meant they had spent nearly 19 months as prisoners. When they returned to their home in Gridley, Jim found that they were still “prisoners” just in a different location. They were some of the fortunate ones because their home was still their home when they returned. The neighbors and/or the community had not appropriated it for the use of others, as happened in many locations across the country.
Don Brown’s family, of Round Lake, IL, returned from their internment period to find that their homes and businesses were gone and were now owned by community leaders, including the local mayor. In all, the extended family lost over one million dollars worth of real estate and business value – at 1942 values. During the 1988 Japanese Reparations, they were finally compensated for a small portion of what was stolen. There were limits as to how much they could receive. So, in spite of documented losses, they never fully recovered what was taken from them.
When Jim and his family got back to Gridley, they were shunned by their friends and neighbors. He and his sister were sent to the store to get some food on the day they returned to town. When they got to the check stand, all of the clerks walked away and refused to wait on them. They went home without any food for the family to eat. Later the store owner came to the house and offered to sell them food after hours when no one was around the store. He could not do business with them when his employees, or other community members, would be able to see. Many others refused to deal with them at all, which limited what was available to them as a family. People that they had known all their lives and whose homes they had been entertained in, would cross the street to avoid coming close to them.
Prior to being sent to a permanent camp, most Japanese Americans went through so-called “Assembly Centers.” That is where the Marsyville/Arboga area comes in. The local facility became the temporary home for 2,465 people when a local migrant labor camp was converted into a temporary detention camp. It was located on Broadway near the intersection of Feather River Boulevard.
Through the efforts of a dedicated group from the JACL, and concerned citizens – such as Professor Canto-Lugo – donations have been collected and a project organized to establish a permanent historical marker near the site where these families lived during their processing period. A plaque was designed and ordered. Local businessman Ralph Mullican has donated a gorgeous blue rock for the monument to attach the plaque to. Since the owner of the actual camp site is uncooperative, the marker will be set as a memorial on MJUSD property across Broadway from the actual site.
Local historian, Sue Cejner-Moyer (Friends for Preservation of Yuba County History) is concerned because “many local residents don’t even know that we had an Assembly Center here in the Marysville area (Arboga).” She is working to bring that information to the entire community, something she herself discovered as a result of happenstance during a visit to the Tule Lake Internment Camp on the California/Oregon border. On one of their motorcycle trips, she and her husband happened upon the historical site there. Upon seeing her intent interest, he told her he would be back to get her in a few days. A commitment to bringing the local aspects of the story to us was born on that trip. Through her commitment, she has been given custody of a collection of photos from the internment era which chronicles the families that passed through the Arboga Assembly Center. Another local family with Yuba College connections and a local construction business, the Neault family, are working on a plan to develop a permanent home for the historical exhibits and artifacts that Cejner-Moyer and other local historians have developed.
Writer Maya Angelou stated “History, despite it’s wrenching pain, cannot be un-lived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” Philosopher and writer George Santayana said, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” These are important messages for all of us to consider and remember.
For further information on this and other Japanese American Citizens Legue activities visit the JACL website at: