The Tanforan Memorial features a statue depicting the Mochida sisters as they were leaving for camp. (Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco)
Mary Ann Furuichi spoke on behalf of the former incarcerees. (Photo by Joyce Nakamura)

SAN BRUNO — On Aug. 27, a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the unveiling of the Tanforan Memorial was held at the site of the former Tanforan Assembly Center in San Bruno, just south of San Francisco.

The Tanforan Assembly Center was converted from a racetrack and used as a temporary detention center, incarcerating approximately 8,000 Bay Area residents of Japanese descent when Executive Order 9066 was issued in 1942. Many of them were later moved to the Topaz War Relocation Center in Utah. The Shops at Tanforan now occupy the site.

The ceremony, held at the San Bruno BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) Station, included a ribbon-cutting and the unveiling of the Tanforan Memorial, built to remember the history of the Japanese American incarceration and to ensure that such injustices will not be repeated in the future. Over 600 people attended the ceremony, including 48 former incarcerees.

Former incarcerees take part in the ribbon-cutting for the Tanforan Memorial. (Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco)

The memorial features a statue based on an iconic photograph by Dorothea Lange of two children, the Mochida sisters, waiting to be transported from their home in Hayward to Tanforan.

Helen Ota of the Grateful Crane Ensemble sings “Don’t Fence Me In,” a popular song among the Nisei in camp. (Photo by Soji Kashiwagi)

San Mateo Buddhist Temple Taiko opened the program. Rev. Joanne Tolosa of Konko Church of San Francisco conducted purification rites. The Los Angeles-based Grateful Crane Ensemble, which participated in a historical re-enactment at Tanforan in 2007, performed “Don’t Fence Me In,” “Accentuate the Positive,” and a poem by the late Janice Mirikitani. The group’s founder, Soji Kashiwagi, who hails from the Bay Area, was one of the speakers.

Incarcerees were represented during the program by Mary Ann Furuichi, who was 4 when she went to Tanforan. The entire group took part in the ribbon-cutting.

Other speakers included Gregg Castro, culture director, Association of Ramaytush Ohlone; San Bruno Mayor Rico Medina; Rep. Jackie Speier; State Sen. Josh Becker; Zahra Billoo, outreach director, Council on American-Islamic Relations; Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Kevin Mullin; David Burruto, chief of staff to San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine; Dr. Elaine Jackson-Retondo, Regional Preservation Partnership, National Park Service; Robert Raburn, BART board member; Byron Toma, BART senior attorney; Jessica Weare of California Humanities; Acting Consul General of Japan Hajime Kishimori; Ayae Yoshimoto, consulate’s advisor for community affairs; Dr. Leroy Morishita, president of Japanese American Community Foundation; Melissa Netane-Jones, president of San Mateo Community Foundation;

Former incarcerees and surviving family members were invited to sign a vintage 48-star American flag. (Photo by Joyce Nakamura)

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Johnny Cepeda Gogo continued his ongoing campaign to have former incarcerees or their surviving family members sign vintage 48-star American flags. He has taken the flags to community events across the country.

Attendees also viewed an exhibit titled “Tanforan Incarceration 1942: Resilience Behind Barbed Wire,” curated by artist Judy Na Omi Shintani, at the BART Station.

Doug Yamamoto, chair, and Steve Okamoto, vice chair, of the Tanforan Assembly Center Memorial Committee with a statue based on a famous photograph of the Mochida sisters. (Courtesy Tanforan Assembly Center Memorial Committee)
Acting Consul General Hajime “Jimmy” Kishimori delivered remarks. (Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco)

Chaired by Doug Yamamoto, who spoke during the program, the Tanforan Assembly Center Memorial Committee is composed of former detainees from Tanforan, as well as Japanese American activists and others from the Bay Area. The committee has been working since 2012 to plan for the memorial by raising approximately $1.2 million for the creation of a historic and cultural icon that will educate the public about constitutional rights.

The other members are Steve Okamoto (vice president), David Inada (treasurer), Gail Weimann (secretary), David Fielder, Ken Ijichi, Robbin Kawabata, Paul Kitagaki Jr., Karyl Matsumoto, Richard Oba, Paul Okada, Diana Okamoto, Richard Sekiguchi, Ben Takeshita, Esther Takeuchi, Tim Wallace and Ken Yamashita.

A total of 48 former Tanforan incarcerees attended the dedication. (Courtesy Tanforan Assembly Center Memorial Committee)

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  1. My family (parents and me) went through Tanforan on the way to Topaz, Utah. Once there, we became friends with the Furuichis (aforementioned
    MaryAnn Furuichi and brother George. It’s wonderful that we are finally getting some recognition. If I had known about the celebration, I would have attended.