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626 Assembly Center

My grandmother and her family stood on the same ground as Asian Americans do today while attending 626 Night Market—albeit under extremely different circumstances—but it bothers me to know that her history is being forgotten or ignored.

626 Assembly Center, Kyle Okazaki (Blender)

The sun is setting, so it must be a little past 8 pm.

I’ve been in line to get food from this white tent for almost half an hour by now. My companions encourage me to wait just a bit longer–it’s worth it. I never intended to come, but at least my friends are here with me.

Waiting.

I look around me. Endless rows of stalls and waves of people. An ocean of people that look just like me. I wonder if I’ll run into any relatives.

Waiting.

I focus on the sounds around me. By now I’ve learned to tune out the myriad of voices and sounds around me, for it’d be far too overwhelming to absorb it all. I know it’s supposed to be loud with this many people here, but that doesn’t help with my anxiety. My ears pick up someone speaking in Japanese, but it’s been a while since I’ve practiced, so I only get bits and pieces.

I focus on smells. A new smell. A potent smell. A putrid smell.

Coming from the corner of the racetrack lot is a dreadful smell: like natto but worse. I try to ignore it. I’ve heard people have grown accustomed to this smell, but I’m not that strong. Luckily, a breeze picks up and the smell is gone, for now.

The breeze feels good on my sticky skin. I need a shower.

It’s been a long day here at the racetrack.

________________________

California Historic Landmark No. 934 – Santa Anita Racetrack is home to the original 626 Night Market, an homage to Taiwanese street markets made for an American palette. This massive summer event brings in over 100,000 attendees per weekend and serves as a celebration of Asian American food, culture, and identity. However, unbeknownst to many, Santa Anita Racetrack has a more somber history with a specific group of Asian Americans.

In 1942, President FDR signed Executive Order 9066, which mandated the relocation of “threats to national security,” which resulted in the forceable removal and confinement of over 100,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps. After the announcement of Executive Order 9066 and before the concentration camps were constructed, the displaced Japanese Americans were held in assembly centers like Santa Anita Racetrack, where they lived in overcrowded stables and were treated as enemies of the state before eventually being assigned a concentration camp.

My grandmother and her family stood on the same ground as Asian Americans do today while attending 626 Night Market albeit under extremely different circumstances. And although she did not look upon those times with explicit ire, it bothers me to know that her history is being forgotten or ignored. 

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August 2022
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