A Japanese American man from Baton Rouge, Louisiana visited Fresno for the first time in 78 years Tuesday to see where he and his parents had to report in 1942 after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066.
Walter Imahara was 4 years old at the time. The now-Fresno Fairgrounds was formerly the Fresno Assembly Center. It’s where Japanese Americans from around the state arrived before being transported to internment camps.
In honor of those interned, there is now a memorial bearing the names of those who came through the Fresno Center.
“My mother; Irene is my sister; James Imahara is my father; Jane, my sister; John is my brother; Jun is my brother; Lily is my sister. Oldest sister is May,” Imahara read the names of his parents and six of his siblings. “Then I’m Walter at the top.”
The family came from their home in Sacramento, per Roosevelt’s Executive Order. His mother gave birth to her seventh child in Fresno. Imahara says his father had to go back to the hospital for the birth certificate.
“And the people said, ‘We don’t know what to put in as citizenship.’ My father said, ‘Well, you put “USA.”’ And the hospital people said, ‘Yeah, but we're at war with Japan.’ And he said, 'We got nothing to do with that',” Walter explained. “So, they finally issued a birth certificate.”
Imahara came here with his wife after a Clovis woman he met in Louisiana urged him to visit. The group toured the memorial, and the Fresno County Historical Museum at the Fairgrounds that includes artifacts from the camps and also highlights the contributions of Japanese Americans in the Central Valley.
Staring at his family’s names listed on the memorial, Imahara just shook his head.
“Wow, no comment,” he said. “Too emotional, you know. Wow.”
He took a picture with his phone and walked away, before coming back to look at it one more time.