Friday, September 26, 2014

Santa Anita Assembly Center for the Japanese

Did you know that the Santa Anita Park Racetrack had to shut down for a period during World War II? The U.S. Army used the racetrack’s vast acreage for several months in 1942 as a temporary assembly center for Japanese and Japanese-American evacuees. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, enabling the War Department to start the evacuation of about 120,000 people of Japanese descent from the west coast. Two-thirds of the evacuees were American-born citizens. Fueled by the public’s fear, panic, wartime hysteria, and prejudices, the removal of the Japanese came swiftly, resulting in the loss of their civil rights, liberty, and property. Santa Anita Park was just one of several racetracks and fairgrounds used as assembly centers while permanent internment camps were still being built. The Santa Anita Assembly Center supported over 500 wooden barracks, a mess hall with 8,000 seats, latrines, showers, a hospital, laundry, post office, and canteen-all behind barbed wire and sentry towers. Over 18,000 internees processed at the Santa Anita Assembly Center were later moved to permanent internment camps in isolated areas of Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming, where they remained until the end of the war.
In this April, 1942 photograph acquired from the National Archives in Washington D.C., a doctor is checking the hands of internees as they line up near the Pacific Electric Railroad cars that brought them to the Santa Anita Assembly Center. Military personnel oversee this check-in procedure. Every individual was issued a metal tag with an identification number, which may be what the young girl in the checkered coat is displaying.

Photograph courtesy of the Arcadia History Collection, Arcadia Public Library,   (# 667)
Ng, Franklin, Editor. “Assembly Centers” and “Japanese American internment.” Asian American Encyclopedia. 1995.
Exploring the Japanese American Internment. 21 April 2006. <>
Woods, Randy. “’Camp Santa Anita’ Reminder of Fear, Panic, Mood of War.” San Gabriel Valley Tribune. April 17, 1977.

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