Japanese immigrants began arriving in the San Gabriel Valley in the early 1900s. By 1923, enough Japanese had settled in the region to warrant the establishment of the San Gabriel Japanese Community Center.
The vast majority of Japanese lived outside of the main areas of town. They settled on large farms, where they grew produce and flowers to sell at local farm stands or the larger farmers markets in Southern California. The daily economic interactions at Los Angeles-area produce markets only further engrained a sense of ethnic solidarity across Southern California's Nikkei that local organizations, such as the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles and the Japanese America Society, worked tirelessly to cultivate. Until World War II, Japanese Americans from the San Gabriel Valley routinely participated in Japanese language speech contests and other community celebrations, many of which were held in L.A.'s Little Tokyo.
In the months preceding the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japanese in the San Gabriel Valley could not have imagined they would soon lose their homes and livelihoods. In fact, with the specter of war looming, many Japanese Americans were active in the local community's preparations for national defense. Less than six months before they would be sent there as internees, local Japanese participated in the Japan Day celebrations at the 1941 Los Angeles County Fair at the Pomona Fairgrounds. Even during Japan Day, reports indicate that the fair's "national defense theme predominated."
On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which set in motion the relocation of Japanese Americans from throughout the West Coast to internment camps in the interior of the country. For San Gabriel Valley Japanese, the time immediately following Pearl Harbor was one of great uncertainty. Ike Hachimonji recalls attending school the day after the attacks and things proceeding more or less as normal, though he credits his parents for shielding him and his siblings from the worst news. When the orders to evacuate the San Gabriel Valley came in late-April, Ike remembers being called, along with his brother, to the principal's office where the principal told them that he regretted that they had to go. With just a couple of weeks notice and little knowledge of where their final destination would be, Japanese in the San Gabriel Valley prepared for their relocation, selling whatever belongings they could.
By early April, the San Gabriel Valley was already home to one of the largest assembly centers on the West Coast: Santa Anita Park in Arcadia. The relocation of Japanese Americans proceeded over the course of six weeks, starting from the coasts before moving inland. By the time that Japanese in the San Gabriel Valley were ordered to evacuate in May, the makeshift barracks at the racetrack, including those in converted horse stables and under the grandstand, were already overcrowded. Instead, residents were sent to the Fairplex, which itself sat just six or seven miles from their former homes. There, a series of hastily constructed barracks surrounded by tall, barbed wire fences had been built from scratch, since few of the fairgrounds' existing facilities were suitable for human accommodation. Like at Santa Anita, the Pomona Detention Center eventually became so overcrowded that horse stables were used to house detainees. Upon arriving at Pomona, the SGV Japanese faced harsh conditions even compared to other detention centers. Outbreaks of food poisoning and athlete's foot were common, and older residents struggled with the summer heat.
In August of 1942, the vast majority of detainees in the Pomona Detention Center were relocated to their more permanent home: the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp located in a barren area of northwest Wyoming. After leaving Pomona, many would never return to the San Gabriel Valley, or even Southern California. When Japanese internment came to an end in early 1945, many resettled away from the West Coast, in cities like Chicago and Salt Lake City. Having lost their leased lands in the relocation, even those who returned to the San Gabriel Valley typically entered industries other than agriculture. In 1988, the U.S. Congress acknowledged the injustice of Japanese American internment when it passed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. The act provided a small but symbolic sum of $20,000 in reparations for Japanese Americans who were interned.
While the San Gabriel Valley are still home to a small community of Japanese Americans, the demographics and the economy of the region have undoubtedly changed since World War II. San Gabriel Valley is now largely Latino and the is home to one of the largest Chinese populations on the West Coast. Few, if any, farms remain; the towns of the SGV are now bedroom communities whose economies are closely tied to Los Angeles.
Today the San Gabriel Japanese Community Center continues to serve close to 500 members annually with wonderful programs like Nikkei Seniors Club, Judo, Aikijujutsu, Ikebana, Christian Fellowship and Taiko.
We would like to take this time to sincerely thank all of our members, volunteers and supporters for their many years of love & sweat to help keep our wonderful community center open.
Information provided via Andre Kobayashi Deckrow, KCET