Pinedale Assembly Center Memorial

A Permanent Legacy at Pinedale
Pacific Citizen Newspaper
By Caroline Aoyagi-Stom, Executive Editor
Published January 31, 2009

A nondescript industrial area is all that remains today of what was once the Pinedale Assembly Center, but Kiyo Sato, 85, [former Poston camp II internee] can still describe its WWII fa├žade in surprising detail, erasing the 67 years that have since passed. Like a black & white dusty film, Kiyo remembers the large compound surrounded by guard towers that comes into view upon her first drive to the Center in 1942. Passing through the main gate, black tar-papered barracks greet her family, one of which would be their home for the next 3 months.

"That's all there was, just the cots & the one light bulb," recalls Kiyo upon entering her family's barrack. But there were not enough cots for her 7 siblings & parents. Luckily, one "young fellow" rounded up a couple of extra cots to squeeze into the tiny barrack. "What was so impressive to me was the young Nisei were so helpful. We were supportive of each other."

Kiyo's story & the story of her fellow Pinedale Assembly Center internees will soon be memorialized with a permanent monument. On Feb. 16, 2009 the Pinedale Memorial will be unveiled in Fresno, CA. as part of the CCDC/PSWDC/NCWNPDC JACL Tri-District Conference, "Internment & Redress Remembered." The event will also include a Day of Remembrance on Feb. 15.

"I was pleasantly surprised when I heard that little place was going to be memorialized," said Kiyo, from her home in Sacramento. "I feel we need to do these things to remember history, to not pull this thing again."

A Pinedale Legacy
The Pinedale Memorial, located on a site that already has state historical landmark status, is currently being built at 625 W. Alluvial Ave. in the NW side of Fresno. The Remembrance Plaza will showcase cherry blossom trees surrounding a square fountain & 12 storyboard panels will detail the history of the JAs who were once confined in this area.

Jim Hirabayashi, 82, was one of the 4,823 Pinedale Assembly Center internees who were rounded up & sent here from May 7- July 23, 1942. He was just a 15-year-old living in a rural area between Seattle & Tacoma when he & his family were forced to take the train ride to Central California.

"When I was in Pinedale we were confined in barb wire fence so I didn't get much of a chance to see around there, just what I could see through barb wire. We hope our reception will be better this time than last time," joked Jim, who plans to attend the memorial dedication. Jim connects the Pinedale Memorial to the historic Civil Rights Movement, a topic he knows first hand after taking part in the fight to establish the first Ethnic Studies program at San Francisco State in the 1960s.

"For me it's not closing the books because it's just a reminder of what happened. This is part of the general Civil Rights Movement," said the SF State emeritus professor. "For us it's a reminder of what happened because racism is not over by a long shot in this country."

Like many former WWII internees, Jim views the current struggles of the Arab & Muslim American communities as eerily familiar, especially when he hears calls to put them in camps. "Looking back at this history, where certain civil rights were taken away, this is very appropriate right now because sort of the same things are happening to Arab Americans rights now," he said. "This may be history to us but this is not over."

Lane Hirabayashi plans to be by his father Jim's side during the upcoming dedication. As a member of the Hirabayashi family - which includes his famous uncle Gordon who dared to defy executive order 9066 during WWII - he grew up hearing his family's internment stories. As a descendant of a Pinedale internee, he feels an obligation to preserve the site's history. "Once the Nisei generation passes, these physical sites are part of the memories that are left," said the 56-year-old Sansei. "I feel a first hand investment as a JA to say we can't erase these sites. These physical reminders are what will last."

Although many Nisei may still struggle to tell their internment stories, Kiyo has opened up her experiences for all to see in her book "Kiyo's Story," a work based on her father's haikus. She wants her fellow internees to see how important it is to talk about her generation's WWII stories. The Pinedale Memorial "will be a teaching tool for the coming generation & to remember that we can't allow this kind of thing to happen again," said Kiyo. "We need to keep talking about it. One of the problems is that so may people don't want to talk about it."

Kodomo No Tame Ni
Once the 3 months at the Pinedale Assembly Center had passed, all of the internees were scattered to various internment camps, many for the duration of the War. Many from Pinedale ended up at POSTON, Arizona & Tule Lake, CA. But even as their lives were being torn apart & the indignities of forced confinement became unbearable, the Issei did all they could to shield their Nisei children so they could go on to prosper as Americans.

"The Issei went through some terrible times & handled things so well. They practiced non violence & they protected the children, that was their main goal — kodomo no tame ni," said Kiyo. "Even when we got to camp they kept doing things to keep the children happy. The children who came out of camp, they went straight out to their schooling. They didn't lose a step. They did pretty well."

Marielle Tsukamoto, 71, was just a 5-yr-old girl when she & her parents were taken to the nearby Fresno Assembly Center during WWII. She's helping educate others about the Pinedale Memorial to continue her mother Mary's favorite motto: "justice is a matter of continuing education." It was Mary's experience as director of the Jankenpo Gakko that prompted her to speak out about her internment experiences. She was surprised to learn that many of her JA students knew little about their history & some even thought JAs were interned because they were at fault. "Many misunderstood the internment camps. Many thought that we had been guilty," said Marielle, Florin JACL chapter president, recalling her mother's stories. "She realized we cannot leave this generation uninformed."

From that moment on Mary dedicated her life to teaching the lessons learned from the internment experience. Mary passed away in 1998 but Marielle is doing her best to continue her mother's legacy. That's why she feels the Pinedale Memorial is so important. "This is another step in ensuring that the story of the internment & the heroic efforts of the 442nd, 100th, & MIS will not be lost in history," said Marielle. "I know my parents and so many others would be so relieved that the country has taken this direction."

"Remembrance Plaza will be a place to reflect on the past, assess the present & look to a better future," said Dale Ikeda, chair of the Pinedale Memorial Committee. "The former internees can take pride that their sacrifices, perseverance & patriotism paved the way for a better life for their families & future generations."


NEW Pinedale Assembly Center Memorial

Located in northern Fresno, west of the River Park Shopping Center & Blackstone Ave, on Alluvial between Ingram & Palm. (Head towards the Pinedale water tower.)

Here's some of what you will see. There are a total of 10 beautiful storyboards-- guaranteed to be "fade-proof" & grafitti-resistant. There are 4 photos of the Poston Relocation Center included. Dedication ceremony will be this weekend.

Some of the storyboards includes people who were relocated to Poston, Arizona. 
Kiyo Sato (Sacramento) is shown on this storyboard.

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