“ Let’s not forget ”: a look back at the Sacramento internment camp
The dark tale of a WWII short-term Japanese-American internment camp in Sacramento’s Walerga Park
SACRAMENTO, California – In 1942, Highway 80 did not exist in Sacramento. Back then, the terrain under concrete and asphalt was very different. In 1942, a dark period in American history was underway, a dark period when Janice Yamaoka Luszczak said Sacramento would play a part in it. “There have been a lot of prejudices that have built up over the years. A lot of discrimination, ”says Luszczak.
Luszczak is a historian and Sacramento Chapter president of the League of Japanese American Citizens. She says there are few traces of it now, but at the start of World War II, Walerga Park near Palm Avenue and I-80 was once a temporary detention center that housed nearly 5,000 Americans of Japanese descent. “Some people thought it would be like what the Germans did, and they were exterminating people. These were the rumors that were circulating.
Americans of Japanese descent were not exterminated, but following the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt ordered all people of Japanese descent to be incarcerated. “People started to say ‘maybe these people are like the people of Japan. Maybe they are spies, ”says Luszczak
More than 120,000 Japanese, including many American citizens, were forced to leave their homes and belongings and settle in internment camps, many of which had not yet been built. Walerga Park was one of 10 remand centers – or assembly centers as they were called – built on the west coast. “They were detained for a few months, then assigned to Lake Tule,” Luszczak said. “It took them a while to build the camps at Tule Lake and Manzanar, so it was a place of waiting while this was done.
Once used to house migrant farm workers, the wooden barracks in Walerga Park were often in dire condition. “They had no modern conveniences. The toilets were just a bench, ”Luszczak explains.
News traveled slowly through Walerga, but Luszczak said that thanks to the Japanese-American journalists interned, a small newsletter was distributed to inform the detainees. “Basically, to inform people coming in and going out.”
The Walerga was only used as a staging area for a few months, but much of its history was forgotten after the land it stood on was renamed Camp Kohler and used as a temporary military training facility.
Today, hundreds if not thousands of cars pass through Walerga Park every day and the only reminder that the burial took place in this park is a stone monument. A written reminder of the dark history that happened here was wrong and we as a society should never let that happen again.
“I just want people to remember that we have constitutional rights,” Luszczak says. “They had rights, and the government ignored them and went against it.”