Santa Cruz County History - Executive Order 9066 and the Residents of Santa Cruz County



Salinas Assembly Center and Poston Relocation Center
by Rechs Ann Pedersen

Watch Tower at Poston
Watch Tower at Poston with Armed Guards
Photograph courtesy of Bill Tao.

Local newspaper articles of the time give us a very limited picture of life at Salinas or Poston--or any of the other internment camps (relocation centers). [See the links at the end of this article for sources of more information about life in the camps]. However, as newspapers were a main source of information, what we see in the papers indicates how little most residents in the County actually knew about the camps and their former neighbors.

Salinas Assembly Center

The Salinas Assembly Center, located on the Salinas Rodeo Grounds, was an intermediate stop in the evacuation of the Japanese and Japanese-Americans from this area. On April 27, 1942, "sixty-three Pajaro Valley and Santa Cruz County Japanese, the vanguard of the Japanese-Americans and alien Japanese...[left] for the Salinas Assembly Center where they will stay until dispatched to permanent reception center locations. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. April 27, 1942. p.1)

From April through July 1942, the Salinas Assembly Center was used to house the evacuees. A few reports appear in the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian during that time:

SALINAS JAPANESE ASSEMBLY CENTER BUSY PLACE AS EVACUEES MOVE IN
Each evacuee received a number when registered by the employment service at the armory. Families were ushered to barracks, sufficiently large for five average families and furnished with cots... (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. April 28, 1942. p.1. Full-Text)

700 JAPS AT SALINAS CENTER NOW WORKING
Nearly one-fifth of the Japanese now at the Salinas assembly center have jobs around the camp, officials reported Thursday. Present population of the center is 3587, not including 30 American civilian employees. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian May 28, 1942. p.6)

GRADUATION EXERCISES FOR FORMER LOCAL JAPANESE AT SALINAS
Former Japanese students of Watsonville, now located at the Salinas assembly center, held graduation exercises at the center Friday afternoon...Thirty high school diplomas and six elementary diplomas were taken over to former local students by school authorities. In addition to awarding of diplomas, several received gold star seals for membership in the scholarship federation. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. June 19, 1942. p.1)

READERS' REFERENDUM--JAPANESE LIKE FOOD AT SALINAS CENTER
...We have been in the Salinas assembly center undergoing new experiences for nearly two months. At first, things were not so well organized but today as we are almost ready to make our next move to our relocation center, everything is running smoothly though our efforts of the past months. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. June 22, 1942. p.3 Full-Text)

Poston Relocation Center

Buses arrive bringing evacuees to Poston
Poston Relocation Center, May 23, 1942.
A new group of internees has just been unloaded
from the buses in the background.
U.S. National Archives. Photographer: Fred Clark.

In June and July 1942, the evacuees were moved from Salinas to the Poston Relocation Center. Poston was located in La Paz County, Arizona, 12 miles south of the town of Parker. It opened May 8, 1942 and by September, 1942, nearly 18,000 persons were interned there. 1 Ironically, on the Fourth of July, 1942, the Register-Pajaronian reported that, "The 1500 Japanese at the Salinas Assembly Center, including 1200 from the Pajaro Valley, left for their new relocation center at Poston, Ariz. They went in a special train." (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. July 4, 1942. p.1)

At first the news about Poston, though in frequent, was positive:

JAPS RISE US FLAG AT RELOCATION CENTERS
San Francisco (UP)--Japanese in evacuation centers at Manzanar, Tule Lake and Poston, Ariz. observed the Fourth of July with "flag raising ceremonies and other patriotic exercises," the War Relocation Authority reported Saturday. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. July 6, 1942. p.2)

OUR EX-HOMETOWN JAPANESE BOYS IN THEIR INTERNMENT CAMPS WORK ON CAMOUFLAGE NETS AND PLAY BASEBALL
"I have been working on camouflage nets for the army," writes Art "Fiddles" Kitahara until recently at Santa Anita assembly center in Arcadia. Kitahara was a lightweight football and basketball star at Santa Cruz High. (S.C. Sentinel-News. October 1, 1942. [E] p. 1. Full-Text )

JAPANESE SCHOOLBOYS WRITE FOR RECORDS
Boys and girls who last year were pupils in Santa Cruz public schools are writing back to the school authorities for certified record of their credits. (S.C. Sentinel-News. October 11, 1942. [M] p. 8. Full-Text )

LOCAL JAPANESE AT POSTON HAVE "COUNTY FAIR"
Residents of Poston, Ariz., the new community where most of the Japanese from the Pajaro Valley are residing and farming now, recently completed a successful" county fair," according to the Poston Press-Bulletin, copies of which have been received by Watsonville residents. Saburo Kido, chairman of the fair, said that,"...By pulling together, I am sure we can build in this Arizonan desert a community which will stand forth as our contribution to the national welfare during this World War II." (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. October 28, 1942. p.3)

Poston Strike

In November 1942, there was a general strike at Poston over the arrest of two internees. The situation developed because some internees physically assaulted two other internees who were suspected of being informants or collaborators with the camp administrators. November 14, Camp administrators rounded up fifty internees for questioning, detaining two of them and scheduling them for trial in an Arizona State Court. The internees demanded the release of the two men. When administrators refused, a protest, followed by a general strike resulted. November 23, one of the men was released and the strike began to end.2

JAPS STRIKE AT POSTON; REFUSE TO WORK
Poston, Ariz. (UP)--The fourth day of a general strike in the huge Japanese relocation center here began Saturday, with 8500 members of the colony refusing to do any of the work assigned to them. The strike was believed to be the first mass defiance of authority since the War Relocation Authority began the task of removing over 160,000 Japanese from the states of Oregon, Washington, and California... Cause of the strike was not announced, but it was believed to stem from the filing of charges of attempted murder against a wrestler following an un publicized series of gang fights. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. November 21, 1942. p.1)

ARMY ENDS JAP STRIKE AT POSTON
Loyal Internees Hold Firm, Quell Unrest Among Axis Element. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. November 23, 1942. p.1 Full-Text)

Dies Committee

The Dies Committee was the popular name for the House of Representatives' Select Committee on UnAmerican Activities, which had been established in 1938. In June 1943, the Dies Committee held hearings on the internment camps. Anti-evacuee groups testified with accusations and unsubstantiated claims. The following testimony referring to Poston was reported in the local press.

900 JAPANESE RELEASED FROM POSTON
LOS ANGELES (UP) - Ralph M. Gelvin, associate project director of the Poston, Ariz., Japanese relocation center, told the Dies committee that 900 Japanese have been released permanently from the Poston camp and that 1100 others are at liberty on seasonal leave. Gelvin, first witness to testify before the congressional committee investigating the Japanese relocation centers, said most of the 900 persons released were allowed to leave within the past six months. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian June 9, 1943 p. 4.)

POSTON JAPS USED GOVERNMENT CARS FOR FISHING TRIPS AND PICNICS, DIES GROUP TOLD
LOS ANGELES (UP) - Japanese evacuees in the Poston, Ariz., relocation center used government automobiles to go on picnics and fishing trips, an official of the center told a Dies subcommittee investigating the camps. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian June 10, 1943 p. 3.)

POSTON JAPS ARMED, DIES GROUP TOLD
LOS ANGELES (UP) - Japanese evacuees at the Poston, Ariz., relocation center have armed themselves with every available weapon and may have been responsible for a Santa Fe train wreck near the camp, a witness testified at a Dies subcommittee hearing. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian June 14, 1943 p. 3.)

JAPS' SIEGE AT POSTON REVEALED
LOS ANGELES (UP) - Japanese at the Poston, Ariz., relocation center held Caucasian camp employees under siege and threat of death for a week during riots there last November, H.H. Townsend, former camp supply officer, told a Dies subcommittee. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian June 11, 1943 p.2)

The War Relocation Authority (WRA) appeared before the Committee, calling the testimony ignorant or false.

DIES COMMITTEE STATEMENTS ON JAPS RAPPED
WASHINGTON (UP) - Dillon S. Myer, Director of the War Relocation Authority said Friday that the statements of the Dies Committee about management and surveillance of Japanese evacuees "revealed either an ignorance of the policies and procedures of this agency or a willful intent to misrepresent the situation." (Register-Pajaronian June 4, 1943 p. 1)

The Dies Committee issued its final report in September 1943. It was

"extremely mild, advocating segregation, a new board to investigate evacuees to be released, and Americanization program in the camps. For the first time the government had taken on the anti-Japanese groups, and it had won. Not only were the Committee's recommendations consistent with WRA policy and planning, but every bit as important, the Committee was denounced by the national press for its prejudice and procedure. The tide had turned. The rest of the country no longer shared the West Coast view."3

End of Exclusion and Closing of Poston

On December 17, 1944, the Western Defense Command issued Public Proclamation No. 21, which revoked mass exclusion orders but retained individual exclusion. The Proclamation order went into effect January 2, 1945. Individual exclusion orders were revoked in Public Proclamation No. 24 on September 4, 1945. 4, 5 Poston Relocation Center closed November 28, 1945.6

JAPANESE EXCLUSION IS ENDED
With the war department and the Western Defense command issuing proclamations terminating the exclusive program Tuesday night under which persons of Japanese ancestry were banned from the three west coast states, the Pajaro valley's present Japanese population of approximately 77 individuals was expected to increase steadily in the next few weeks. ... (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. September 5, 1945 p. 1.Full Text)

Footnotes:

  1. United States National Park Service. Confinement and Ethnicity. Chapter 10. Poston Relocation Center. (Website) Website visited May 28, 2008.
  2. "Poston Strike," Asian American Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. p. 1240.
  3. United States Commission on Wartime Relocation. Personal Justice Denied. Civil Liberties Public Education Fund; University of Washington Pr. 1997. p. 226.
  4. Ibid. p. 235.
  5. "Japanese American Internment Timeline," Asian American Village. IMDiversity.com. Visited on May 28, 2008.
  6. "Poston," Asian American Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. p. 1240.

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