Japanese-American widow may lose farm -- again 50 years after internment, her property near Sacramento could be taken for a school.

March 12, 1992|By McClatchy News Service

SACRAMENTO -- Fifty years after the federal government kicked Yoshie Iwasaki off the West Sacramento land belonging to her husband's family and sent her, her infant son and her husband to an internment camp in Tule Lake, a local governing board wants to kick the 83-year-old widow off her property.

The Washington Unified School District wants to build a new high school to go with the upscale homes developers are planning in the city's Southport area. And the board has decided it wants Mrs. Iwasaki's property as the site.

Like 50 years ago, Mrs. Iwasaki said she was given no advance warning; she learned of the school board's plans in the newspaper.

"I went through this once before and I said then I would never leave this place again," Mrs. Iwasaki said. "This is another internment if they get this place without our consent."

The board is scheduled to vote on the site selection later this month. It has already concurred with the district staff's choice of

the Iwasaki farm as the preferred site.

The school district wants to build a 3,000-student high school, complete with football stadium and swimming pool on the 50 acres.

The choice is a curious one, because active railroad tracks run across the back end of the property.

Washington Unified Superintendent Del Alberti on Monday emphasized that no formal action has been taken and that's why Mrs. Iwasaki wasn't notified.

He said the state Department of Education has reviewed the district architect's plans and believes the railroad tracks would not be a problem.

In January, Mr. Alberti's staff reported that the district could seize it by condemnation or that the city of West Sacramento was willing to cooperate by rezoning the land as non-agricultural.

Mrs. Iwasaki remembers vividly the frustration she and others of her generation of Japanese-Americans felt when they were stripped of their property and livelihoods and condemned to isolated camps under Executive Order 9066.

"Even during the evacuation, my husband would say 'You can't fight the government,' " she said. "But the kids now . . . well, they are different than we were then. They want to fight back. We're not going to give the land to them."

Her son, Richard, lives in Los Angeles, and her daughter, Phyllis, lives with her in her neat, well-kept home that is surrounded on both sides by fertile fields.

Could a political entity like a school board withstand the images of condemning a Japanese-American family's land on the 50th anniversary of Executive Order 9066?

Mr. Alberti concedes that taking Mrs. Iwasaki's land "very possibly" could pose a public relations problem because "no public agency likes to use the eminent domain proceedings."

Mrs. Iwasaki's husband, Nathan, died in 1968 and the farm's fields have been leased out to other growers.

"I just can't leave this place," Yoshie Iwasaki said.

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