Attendees look at the marker designating the Salinas assembly center site as a California historical landmark. (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto/Rafu Shimpo)

SALINAS — The 70th anniversary of the internment of Japanese Americans was observed Feb. 26 at the Steinbeck Institute of Art and Culture in Salinas, adjacent to the site of a wartime assembly center.

The event began with a gathering outdoors in front of the monument and Japanese garden dedicated on Feb. 19, 1984. The inscription on the California Registered Historical Landmark No. 934 plaque reads, in part:

Assemblymember Luis Alejo. (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto/Rafu Shimpo)

“Dedicated to the 3,586 Monterey Bay area residents of Japanese ancestry, most of whom were American citizens, temporarily confined in the Salinas Rodeo Grounds during World War II from April to July 1942.

“They were detained without charges, trial, or establishment of guilt before being incarcerated in permanent camps, mostly at Poston, Arizona. May such injustice and humiliation never recur.”

Joe Bowes and Gary Mine, Watsonville-Santa Cruz JACL members who maintain the monument and garden, gave a brief talk.

The remainder of the program was held in the Santa Lucia Room with Gilroy JACL President Michael Hoshida serving as emcee. Bilingual storyteller Megumi gave a presentation on life in the assembly centers.

Aggie Idemoto, board president of the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, moderated a panel discussion with former internees Sus Ikeda, Jack Matsuoka, Bob Oka and Aki (Awaya) Okuno. They recalled the indignities of life at the assembly center, such as the lack of privacy in the latrines and showers.

Matsuoka, a noted cartoonist, is the author of a book for younger readers, “Poston Camp II, Block 211,” and some of his cartoons depicting camp life were on display along with a mini-exhibit, “Life and Times at Salinas Assembly Center,” curated by Glenn Tsutsumi.

Assemblymember Luis Alejo (D-Salinas) presented proclamations to the panelists as well as the five JACL chapters that sponsored the event — Gilroy, Monterey Peninsula, Salinas Valley, San Benito County, and Watsonville-Santa Cruz.

At a Day of Remembrance observance on the Assembly floor on Feb. 17, Alejo, a former mayor of Watsonville, honored Matsuoka, a Watsonville native, but Matsuoka was unable to attend and was represented by his daughter, Emi Young. This time, Alejo was able to recognize Matsuoka in person.

Panelist Aki (Awaya) Okuno. (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto/Rafu Shimpo)
Panelists Bob Oka, Jack Matsuoka and Sus Ikeda. (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto/Rafu Shimpo)

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