Artist rendering of the proposed memorial recognizing the suffering of those who were held captive in a Japanese internment camp at the Tanforan race track in San Bruno.
While acknowledging the anniversary of former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signing an executive order clearing the way for internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II, locals are raising funds to honor those held in San Bruno.
Dinner and entertainment will be served Saturday, Feb. 18, at the Marriott Hotel in San Mateo raising money for the construction of a memorial in the plaza adjacent to The Shops at Tanforan and the city’s Bay Area Rapid Transit station.
Though tickets for the event expecting more than 200 people are sold out, organizer Steve Okamoto said he is hopeful celebration revenue will go far toward paying down the nearly $2 million bill for building a monument honoring those once detained at the former race track.
Okamoto said the event held a day before the 75th anniversary of Roosevelt signing Executive Order 9066, which allowed imprisonment of Americans during wartime and led to a staging being established in San Bruno, holds special relevance currently.
Okamoto drew parallels between Roosevelt’s decision and the recent executive order administered by President Donald Trump banning immigration rights to those from certain countries he considers a national security threat.
“9066 was a discriminatory order because it excluded only one ethnic group,” said Okamoto. “The talk nowadays about just looking at Muslims as a domestic group and excluding them from the U.S., there are definite similarities.”
Okamoto said some of the local officials and entertainers who were invited to the event this weekend will also put Trump’s travel ban in the historic context of Roosevelt’s decision.
Representatives from the office of U.S. Rep Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, and state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, will attend, as well as filmmaker Dianne Fukami, who made a documentary about the assembly center established at Tanforan.
Roughly 7,800 people were held temporarily in an assembly center at the site of the former Tanforan horse racing facility before being sent to larger internment camps throughout the nation. Present at the event will be about 50 people who were once held at the staging area in San Bruno.
Many who could not fit in the hastily built barracks at the race track were kept in the horse stables and a portion of the art installation will be designed to memorialize the stable doors. A sculpture crafted in the image of a famous picture by photographer Dorothea Lange of two young girls held at the camp will be the centerpiece of the memorial.
A small plaque is currently posted outside The Shops at Tanforan memorializing the internment camp, but Okamoto said the larger effort will pay a greater tribute and bring more recognition to the memory of the camp.
RHAA Architecture has offered to build the pieces honoring the site’s history, and Okamoto along with others have been rallying for more than one year to raise the money for the project.
The National Park Service last year gave $363,000 in grant money to the construction of the project, plus an additional $250,000 from San Mateo County. Okamoto said he believes about $950,000 still needs to be raised to cover the cost of construction.
Should the project move ahead as currently planned, Okamoto said he expected the memorial should be completed in about two years. Memorial coordinators had planned to begin construction this year, but the project was delayed due to a proposed renovation at The Shops at Tanforan, said Okamoto.
Looking ahead to the event, Okamoto said he is hopeful to honor the legacy of those held captive locally and keep in the collective consciousness the indignity of a government turning on its people.
“Why are we building this memorial? One reason is to honor the nearly 8,000 people whose civil, human and constitutional rights were taken away,” he said. “But also to show as a reminder to everyone else what happened in 1942 should never happen again.”
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