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(Above) Elizabeth Chu Richter awards Ernie Yoshino with a Presidential Citation.

Local architect Ernie Yoshino was presented recently with a Presidential Citation from the National American Institute of Architects (AIA) by President Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA, for his work on the Merced Assembly Center Memorial Monument, which is
located on the Merced Fairgrounds.

Carolyn Natividad, president-elect of the local Sierra Valley Chapter of the AIA, also presented Yoshino with an award for his work. Presenting recognition certificates to him were the aides for U.S. Congressmen Jim Costa, 16th Congressional District; California State Sen. Anthony Canella, 12th Senate District; California State Assembly Member Adam Gray, 21st assembly district; Supervisor John Pedrozo, Merced County Board of Supervisors; Mayor Pro Tem Joshua Pedrozo, Merced City Council and Lee Lor, a member of the Merced Fair Board.

Also in attendance at the event were Yoshino’s family, as well as members of the Sierra Valley AIA, members of the Merced Assembly Center Monument committee and members of the public. Paul Welch Jr., executive vp of the California Council of the AIA, served as the event’s master of ceremonies.

Following the awards ceremony, Yoshino gave a PowerPoint presentation of his recollections of life in the internment camp in Amache, Colo., and his return back to Denair, Calif.

The Presidential Citation from the National AIA reads: “Presidential Citation awarded to Ernie Yoshino AIA, for finding beauty in despair, light in the midst of darkness. Only by knowing where we come from can we forge ahead to a better place; only by bearing witness to past injustice can we prevent future wrongs; only by refusing to listen to those who would counsel us to forget the trespasses against the human spirit can we find in our hearts the courage of love and the power of forgiveness.” The citation was formally signed by Richter on Oct. 14.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 on May 7, 1942, stating that all persons of Japanese ancestry had to report to their respective locations by May 13. In that brief period of time, citizens were allowed to pack only one suitcase per person; all other belongings were to be discarded.

The Merced Fairgrounds served as a temporary housing location for citizens of Japanese descent in the Merced, Livingston, Denair and Turlock areas. There were a total of 20 Assembly centers in the state that housed the nearly 120,000 incarcerees, of which more than two-thirds were American citizens.

These temporary assembly centers were used while the permanent internment camps were built in other states. There were a total of 10 Internment camps throughout seven states. All of the internees from Merced were sent to a camp called Amache, located two miles west of Granada, Colo. Amache had a total of 7,500 Japanese until the middle of October 1945.

The Merced Assembly Center Memorial Monument, titled “Never Again,” is composed of a little girl, holding a Raggedy Ann doll, sitting on suitcases. Around the monument are concrete benches inscribed with the names of the 10 internment camps, as well as storyboards offering a history of the Japanese in the area through the war and their return in the years following. Also included are the names of the more than 4,600 people who were sent to the Assembly Center from Merced County and other Northern California communities in 1942.

There are plans now for a Japanese garden behind the wall of names and a mural; both are set to begin construction next year.