Efforts to Build the Tanforan Internment Memorial Now Under Way

November 20, 2015 • Community, News

(Above) A rendered drawing of the Tanforan Internment Memorial. The Tanforan Assembly Center Memorial Committee hopes to have it completed by 2017.

Foster City Councilmember and JACLer Steve Okamoto is leading an effort to build the Tanforan Internment Memorial, and during a reception on Oct. 31 at the BART station, fundraising for its construction was officially kicked off by the Tanforan Assembly Center Memorial Committee.

Foster City Councilmember and JACLer Steve Okamoto

Foster City Councilmember and JACLer Steve Okamoto

The proposed memorial seeks to commemorate the site of the temporary assembly center at the Tanforan Racetrack in San Bruno, Calif., which held nearly 8,000 people, most of them American citizens, before sending them to the more permanent American concentration camps during World War II.

The memorial, which will be located right outside the gates of the San Bruno Bay Area Rapid Transit Station, aims to permanently mark the site’s historic role.

Emceed by Wendy Hanamura, director of partnerships at the Internet Archive, the program also featured San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane, a keynote speech by Rep. Jackie Speier and a reading by poet Hiroshi Kashiwagi.

Okamoto, who lived in the Tanforan Assembly Center along with his parents and siblings, was only an infant when his family was incarcerated, and as he grew older, gained an understanding of what happened there, with his mother vividly remembering the smell of horse manure, a smell she recalled for the rest of her life. Okamoto addressed the crowd gathered at the reception.

“I am asking all of you to please support the creation of this memorial,” he said. “You may donate toward its building because you endured the time here. Or, you will donate because you would like to honor your mom and dad, or maybe obaachan and ojichan. Some will donate because you had friends who were imprisoned here. But what I want all of you to consider when you are ready to write your check is that this memorial represents not just the 8,000 individuals who were imprisoned here but a reminder to all America that this cannot happen again. We almost did it again after 9/11 when there was talk about rounding up all the Muslims and putting them behind barbed wire. No, this memorial represents the 8,000 persons of Japanese descent whose constitutional rights were trampled, violated and ignored. This memorial must honor their memory . . . . This must never happen again.”

The memorial grew out of an exhibit that has been on display at the station since April 2012. The exhibit features historic photographs captured by the late Dorothea Lange alongside photos by photojournalist Paul Kitagaki Jr. Lange actually captured a photograph of Kitagaki’s grandparents, father and aunt in Oakland while they were waiting for a bus that would take them to the Tanforan Racetrack.
Royston Hanamoto Alley & Abey Landscape Architecture and Planning designed the proposed memorial, which features a statue of two children captured in one of Lange’s photos, as well as reconstruction of a horse stable door that will be inscribed with the nearly 8,000 names of those who once lived at the camp.

A smaller plaque is currently located outside the Shops at Tanforan to recognize the internment camp and its history there, but Okamoto is hoping that the larger memorial will finally give Tanforan the long-overdue recognition it deserves.

The Tanforan Memorial Committee is aiming to raise $1 million to complete the memorial, which they hope to have constructed by the 75th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066 in 2017.

For more information on the Tanforan Memorial and to learn how to donate, visit their website here.

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