Salinas 'Prison' Camp
Japanese Americans recall days of Salinas 'prison' camp
By Kimber Solana
February 22, 2010
Mas Hashimoto was only 6 years old when he was sent to the Salinas Rodeo grounds to live in a horse stable for three months. "They called it the Salinas Assembly Center," he said. "But they really should have called it the Salinas Prison Camp, because that's what it was."
Hashimoto was one of 3,500 Japanese Americans who stayed at the Assembly Center, the same site where the arena for the California Rodeo Salinas sits today, waiting to be placed in concentration camps during World War II.
Now 74, the Watsonville historian and retired teacher joined about 85 people at the Salinas Community Center to remember one of the hardest times for many Japanese Americans living on the West Coast.
Photo: Mas Hashimoto
It was Feb. 19, 1942 — about two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor — when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, forcing more than 120,000 Japanese Americans to stay in 10 internment camps placed around in the U.S.
"But the camps weren't built yet," recalled Lawson Sakai, president of Friends & Family of Nisei Veterans. "So everyone was put in temporary housing, an assembly center ... basically a prison. They were guarded by U.S. soldiers and had bare necessities."
Hashimoto remembers that his father had just died before he came to the Salinas Assembly Center with his family. And during a freak accident, he said, his 14-year-old brother became one of two deaths at the Assembly Center while playing baseball.
"A train then came, took 500 at a time, and took us to Poston, Ariz.," he said.
It's in Arizona, Hashimoto said, where he lived for three years and three months. His brother's ashes were left in Salinas, he said.
During Sunday's event, young and old attended the annual Japanese American Citizens League's Day of Remembrance — 68 years after the initial order.
Representatives from the JACL chapters in Gilroy, Monterey, Salinas Valley, San Benito and Watsonville-Santa Cruz attended.
Keynote speaker Greg Marutani presented a video that featured artwork from the Art of Gaman exhibit due to open at the Renwick Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. It showcased the artwork Japanese Americans created to pass time during their stay at the camps.
Event committee chairman Paul Ichiuji presented a plaque that will be added to a garden of memories situated near the Rodeo grounds.
"Sharing our stories is what this is really about," Sakai said. "From the immigration of the Japanese people to the day of Dec. 7 and on, we let people know what happened to the Japanese people."
For Hashimoto, he remembers the years he spent in Salinas and Arizona as a time of "great racism" on the West Coast, citing that about 158,000 people of Japanese decent living in Hawaii were left alone by the U.S. government.
However, although it's important to not forget those days, Hashimoto said he's happy those days are long gone.
"We live in one of the most progressive parts in the country," he said. "A lot of changes have taken place."