Recently, I had the honor of visiting the Eden Township Japanese Community Center (JCC) and meeting with its members, while representing Castro Valley Matters (CVM). During an engaging discussion with members, most of whom are residents of San Lorenzo, Ashland, Cherryland, Castro Valley and San Leandro, many expressed that they would like to see more walking-friendly paths in the region, including sidewalks. Others would like to see more collaborations among community organizations and communications from Alameda County in the unincorporated areas.
The Eden JCC, located in San Lorenzo, has served the area for more than 50 years. It’s a thriving place where classes, including Taiko drumming, Bonsai, Ikebana (traditional flower arrangement) and Karate are taught. The center also sponsors a youth program and is a meeting place for the Eden Township Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), the nation’s oldest and largest Asian American civil rights organization. The leaders and members of the JACL also work to promote cultural, educational and social values and preserve the heritage and legacy of the Japanese American community. Every June, the Eden JACL hosts a summer Eden Bazaar where they celebrate their heritage with Japanese food and games. The Eden Bazaar is a social event that is open to all in the community; in 2017 it will be held on Saturday, June 10, and Sunday, June 11.
The Eden Japanese Community Center was preceded by the Ashland Gakuen, a wooden structure built in 1931 on land donated by a Japanese American family who owned the adjacent nursery. The Ashland Gakuen offered Japanese language classes and other activities such as Buddhist church services and movie nights. When WWII ended, many Japanese Americans arrived in the Eden area to seek employment and the Ashland Gakuen was opened as a temporary hostel and shelter for displaced Japanese. In 1962, community leaders decided to replace the then-damaged Ashland Gakuen with a new community center. After holding fund drives and securing a loan, they began construction and in 1966 the Eden Township Japanese Community Center was established.
February 19th is the Day of Remembrance, and in 2017 was the 75th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066 by former President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The order was used to authorize removal from the West coast of around 110,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry or citizenship. They were incarcerated and sent to remote prison camps, including places like Manzanar, Tule Lake, Topaz and Gila River. So many members I spoke to at the Eden JCC remember the years of internment and discrimination against those of Japanese descent. One member recalls when she and her family arrived at the Gila River internment camp, south of blazing hot Phoenix, AZ. Another member’s family was sent to camp at remote Jerome, AR, then to Rohwer, AR. While at Rohwer, he was drafted into the Army.
In honor of the Eden JACL chapter’s 80th anniversary and the Day of Remembrance’s 75th year, family heirlooms from the prison camps were placed in a museum display through the month of February at the San Lorenzo Public Library, on loan from the members of the Eden Japanese community. Impressive and exquisite pieces of artwork were showcased, including lacquered wood-carvings of birds and beautiful jewelry made from seashells. One of the members who remembered that era hoped that stories from this dark chapter in our American history would teach our future generation to treat people with respect to end racial discrimination.
(The Eden Japanese Community Center can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/EdenCommunityCenter.)