It is a nondescript piece of property with an almost-forgotten past.

But for a select group of Japanese Americans, a parcel of land at Broadway Road and Feather River Boulevard in Olivehurst reflects a time of discrimination and fear in United State's history.

Two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which led to the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans in relocation camps for the duration of World War II.

And shortly after the president's decree, Marysville resident Hatsuye Nakamura, now 90, heard an inkling of a relocation camp being built nearby.

"We aren't going to go far — that's what we thought," she said.

The Arboga Assembly Center was one of 12 gathering places where Japanese Americans were held before being shuttled to internment camps. Between its opening on May 8, 1942, and its closure on June 29, 1942, some 2,465 people, mostly from Sacramento and Placer counties, were held there.

Nakamura waited for orders of where she and her husband would be sent, meanwhile giving up their radios and cameras, selling their car and forfeiting their pharmacy at Second and D streets. But instead of being sent to Arboga, the couple were moved more than 270 miles north to the Tule Lake Internment Camp in Modoc County in July 1942.

When they returned to Marysville in September 1943, little was ever said or known about Arboga Assembly Center.

And until a few years ago, most details about the center were shrouded in mystery.

Then Nakamura found an album her husband, Frank Nakamura, had compiled in the 1980s. It was filled with photographs, drawings and even an assembly camp newsletter — "The ArboGram" — that documented lives of its residents during the 21⁄2-month period.

Her husband was honored posthumously for his research and collection, some of which is on display this month at an exhibit titled "Day of Remembrance: The Japanese American Internment Experience," compiled by the Marysville chapter of the Japanese American Citizen League.

The exhibit includes photos of the Arboga Assembly Camp, memorabilia from Japanese Americans who served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the U.S. Army in World War II, and artifacts made at the Tule Lake Internment Camp. It will be on display all month at the Yuba College library.

A plaque commemorating the Arboga Assembly Center's recognition as California State Historical Landmark No. 934 will be unveiled Feb. 27 and eventually be installed near its former location at Broadway Road and Feather River Boulevard in Olivehurst.

Recognizing the assembly center's existence is important for many Japanese American residents of Yuba-Sutter, even though they themselves may not have spent any time there, said Jim Tanimoto, 86.

"In the history books, we want our side of the story to be told," he said.

Tanimoto's family were successful peach farmers in Gridley, with many Caucasian friends, before Roosevelt's decree. But his father was respectful of the president's orders, even though it meant disrupting the family.

"He said, 'Right or wrong, that's not the question. The president wants to make us move. We do what the president wants,'" Tanimoto recalled.

His own children, third-generation Japanese Americans, now tell him they would refuse the president's orders.

Tanimoto was sent first to Klamath Falls, Ore., and then to a California Conservation Corps camp at Tule Lake, where all the liberties he once enjoyed vanished and he had to ask permission for everything.

"To go to the bathroom, you had to have permission or a guard escort," Tanimoto said.

During his years at Tule Lake, and for several years afterward, Japanese Americans were treated with hostility and indifference, he said.

"To them, were weren't people no more," Tanimoto said. "That's the expression I read, anyhow."

And little changed even once he was able to return home to Gridley.

People who once called him by name, non-Japanese-American friends he passed in the street and even grocery store employees acted as if he didn't exist — all because of his race.

"All of a sudden, there was a wall," he said. "You couldn't see it. You couldn't touch it. But it was there."

Tanimoto's story is only one of the thousands of Japanese Americans who were affected in the aftermath of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he said.

"There were 120,000 people ... that means 120,000 different stories," he said.

And the Arboga Assembly Center represents 2,465 of those tales.

Contact Appeal reporter Ashley Gebb at 749-4724 or agebb@ appealdemocrat.com

Recommended for you