JAs Fight for Memorial at Former Pinedale Assembly Center

By Caroline Aoyagi-Stom, Pacific Citizen Executive Editor Published February 3, 2006 The dilapidated warehouse located on the northwest side of Fresno, Calif. may not look like much for the everyday passersby but for Jim Hirabayashi the building holds historic significance not only for his family but for tens of thousands of Japanese Americans. For almost three months following the start of World War II this location was home for Hirabayashi, then 15, along with his parents and three siblings. The area was then known as the Pinedale Assembly Center, a temporary holding area for 4,823 JAs. Eventually they would head to Tule Lake, one of ten internment camps scattered across the Western States. “It was kind of strange to be locked up. It was hot and dusty,” said Hirabayashi who still remembers the train ride to Pinedale, his first-ever. “Right away our family life just broke apart,” he said, noting the lack of privacy and the dissolution of the core-family environment he had been used to. Today, the owners of the warehouse want to tear it down to make room for office buildings. But before demolition can begin, the local JA community wants the area declared a California Historical Landmark and have asked owner Granum Partners and the city of Fresno to help remember the former Pinedale residents by building a permanent memorial. “It’s very important that this memorial be something that teaches the future generation of what happened and why,” said Hirabayashi, 79. His older brother Gordon is well known for refusing to be interned and taking his fight all the way to the Supreme Court. “This memorial is important because of the historical lesson on racism — it isn’t over by a long shot.” The JACL Central California District and the Central California Nikkei Foundation have formed the Pinedale Assembly Center Memorial Project Committee and attended a Jan. 10 Fresno City Council meeting to discuss the proposed California Historical Landmark status for the former assembly center. The Fresno Historic Preservation Commission has already approved the nomination of the site to the local register of historic resources. The city council will revisit the issue Feb. 28 after Granum Partners asked for an extension. “The memorial is a reminder that in times of national stress there is a tendency to value civil liberties less and make compromises,” said Dale Ikeda, a Superior Court Judge, and chair of the memorial committee. He noted the similarities between the JA story and the events following the Sept. 11 attacks. “The issues are still relevant.” The proposed Pinedale Memorial has garnered the support of several city councilmembers including District 2 Councilman Brian Calhoun whose area encompasses Pinedale. “I think it’s a good idea....

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