MERCED.—A memorial to the Japanese Americans interned at the Merced Assembly Center was dedicated on Feb. 20.
“It was a wonderful dedication we thought we’d have just a few people but ended up with 1,500 people or so,” said Sherman Kishi, a member of the Merced Assembly Center Commemorative Committee.
More than 150 former internees and their families gathered over the weekend to dedicate the plaza with the statue of a little girl sitting atop a pile of suitcases. A local committee raised $250,000 for the project, with a $25,000 grant from the National Parks Service.
The plaza replaces an old plaque that Rep. Dennis Cardoza had said was an inadequate memorial. More than 4,600 Japanese Americans were interned in unroofed barracks at the Merced County Fairgrounds, beginning in 1942, after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. Among the internees was Rep. Mike Honda, who spent three months at the center as a child.
Martha Tanji traveled from Gardena with her sons and granddaughter to view the site where her late husband Taro was interned. She made a rubbing of Taro’s name, one of more than 4,500 names cast in bronze.
“If he were living he would have been happy to attend. My two sons took me up to Merced,” said Tanji. “I wanted our sons to be able to see where their dad had to go in camp at first.”
Merced detainees were sent to the Amache concentration camp, where they stayed up to three years.
Kishi, who was sent to the Merced Assembly Center with his family, said it was an unpleasant place.
“They built the camp very quickly and the barracks were all made of just wood and tarpaper. These were 100 feet long barracks that were 20 feet wide. Separated into five separate rooms. We had a family of seven, all seven of us had to live in that room,” said Kishi.
More than 800 attended a dinner that evening which also marked the Day of Remembrance. John Tateishi, former JACL national director, gave the keynote address.
Kishi said the next step will be to place story boards so that visitors will know the tragic history of the assembly center.
“Our hope is that visitors will look at it and see what happened and if there’s a case where something like this might happen, that they might speak up, so it will not happen again,” said Kishi.