At the beginning of 1942, approximately 37,000 persons of Japanese ancestry lived in Los Angeles County. This population included a thriving fishing community on Terminal Island with about 25,000 residents. The nation was at war with Japan and ethnic Japanese, two-thirds of whom were American citizens, were looked upon with deep suspicion. On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, ordering all persons of Japanese ancestry to be "evacuated" or excluded from the West Coast. Areas in which they were excluded included all of California, the western halves of Washington and Oregon, and southern Arizona. Those unwilling or unable to relocate outside this area were to be restricted to "relocation" camps until they could either find jobs and homes in communities outside the exclusion zone or until the war was concluded. The reason given was to protect the militarily vulnerable Pacific Coast against sabotage and espionage by agents and sympathizers of Japan. This view was supported by California Governor Culbert Olsen, State Attorney General Earl Warren and Los Angeles Mayor Fletcher Bowron. Although some military authorities asked for similar exclusions and restrictions for German and Italian immigrants (Germany and Italy were also at war with the U.S.), public opinion was not in favor of this.
There was no evidence that California's ethnic Japanese population ever posed any threat to the country in which they lived. In fact, Japanese Americans were eager to prove their loyalty by quickly volunteering to be air raid wardens or enlisting in the armed forces (when allowed to). To be sure, government officials acknowledged that most ethnic Japanese were loyal Americans, yet there was a need to put the restrictions in place to guard against those who were not. The government made attempts to prevent relocated persons from suffering severe economic losses by having to quickly dispose of homes and businesses. Such losses often occurred anyway.
One of the bright spots in this dark event, however, according to Los Angeles A to Z by Leonard and Dale Pitt, was the Dayton Heights neighborhood near L.A. City College and Vermont Avenue. White and black neighbors in this neighborhood protected and maintained the property of their relocated ethnic Japanese neighbors until the property could be reclaimed at the end of the war.
In 1988, Congress passed legislation to award formal payments of $20,000 to each surviving internee—60,000 in all.
In March 1942, the Santa Anita Assembly Center was opened as a temporary detention camp for Japanese Americans ordered removed from the West Coast. The camp was established on the grounds of Santa Anita Race Track in Arcadia. There, detainees were registered and housed until they could be transferred to permanent detention camps elsewhere in the country. At its peak, 18,719 people were held at the center. Hundreds of barracks were erected in the parking lot to house families and single women. Single men were housed in the grandstand building. The camp was closed in October 1942. Most detainees at this facility ended up being transferred out to permanent camps in Arkansas, Colorado, and Wyoming.
Notwithstanding that it was a detention facility, life at the Santa Anita Assembly Center was filled with ongoing tension. Detainees were weary of excessive restrictions, such as restricting the use of the Japanese language in meetings, publications, and even music. Open discussion of anything political was prohibited. Detainees complained of the quality of education provided for their children. White workers in the food facilities were found to be engaged in a liquor smuggling conspiracy. Security officers at the center were generally not trusted and believed to be stealing valuables from barracks when the residents were not present. In June 1942, 800 people conducted a sit-down strike. On August 4, 1942, security officers conducted a surprise inspection of barracks and, in addition to seizing hotplates and dishes, seized books and phonograph records. Again, allegations flew that they were taking jewelry and cash. An angry crowd formed and chased the security officers off. Military police were called in to reestablish authority, but, to their credit, took the allegations of misconduct by security officers seriously and did an investigation. See Santa Anita Riot at Densho Encylopedia.
Also see: A Brief History of Japanese American Relocation During World War II, National Park Service
Also see: Ralph Lazo - A True Friend
Also see L.A. Video: Bronzeville, Little Tokyo.