Sacramento-area memorial to Japanese Americans to be rededicated

A plaque marking the sacrifices sustained by Japanese Americans during World War II is being rededicated Tuesday in Sacramento County.

The previous plaque marking Walerga Assembly Center was stolen. The new plaque, like the stolen one, marks the spot where Sacramento residents of Japanese descent were housed in barracks for weeks or months before being sent to camps.

Among those at the rededication of the Walerga Assembly Center will be Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, and members of the Sacramento Japanese American Citizens League and the Florin Japanese American Citizens League. The rededication was scheduled to occur at 10 a.m. Tuesday at 4901 Palm Ave.

After the United States entered World War II and West Coast residents of Japanese ancestry were declared security risks, they were forced to leave their college studies, farms and businesses.

It was at the Walerga relocation center where they awaited transfer to the Tulelake internment camp.

Jean Tamaki, who served as personal secretary to Sacramento’s Roman Catholic bishops, remembered Tuesday having to leave her doll and carriage behind when her family was sent to Walerga.

“We didn’t know what was happening,” Tamaki, who did not attend the rededication, said Tuesday. “The instructions from the government were very stern. You could only take what you could carry. You had to bring your own tin cup and plate. My parents sold a lot for nothing or gave it away.”

By 1941, about 5,000 Japanese Americans were living in the Sacramento area. More than half were farmers. Some families had been in the area for more than 50 years.

The Bee’s discomfort with the deportation and internment of Japanese Americans was apparent in its halfhearted editorials and its effort to put the best face on things in its news stories, as evidenced by an account on June 16, 1942:

“The first contingent of Sacramento’s some 5,000 evacuated Japanese this morning arrived at the permanent home in the relocation center at Tule Lake, Modoc County.

“The group, including about 500 persons, were brought into the center in a special train which left the center near Camp Walerga at 5:30 p.m. yesterday.

“A special train each day for about the next nine days will transport the same number of Japanese from Walerga to Tule Lake. The evacuation to the permanent camp will be completed June 24th.

“As the first evacuees prepared to leave yesterday the Japanese Council at Walerga forwarded a resolution to Gene Kenyon, manager of the center, expressing its ‘sincere appreciation for the very kind and sympathetic treatment’ while living there.”

Many of the deported families returned after the war to find their homes and businesses gone or taken over by others. Others, like Tamaki’s family, were better off.

Her father, Gentaro or “George,” was manager of a produce company and her mother, Natsuyo or “Ann,” took care of strawberries on the family farm near what is now 49th Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard.

Her parents were Buddhist in name only, rarely attending services. When World War II began, the family – including Jean, 13, and her sister, Lil, 11 – were ordered to go to Walerga.

It was there the girls had their first taste of Catholic Sunday school, and they took to Catholicism easily.

While they were incarcerated, their property was looked after by May Clark, a woman who paid the taxes so the Tamakis could reclaim it when the war was over.

Bill Lindelof: 916-321-1079, @Lindelofnews

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