Amy Imai was 11 when the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor.
"We were American citizens, but we were far from integrated. We had our own little community [in Mountain View and we kept to ourselves," she recalled. "When Pearl Harbor was attacked we knew instinctively that we were in trouble and nothing would ever be the same."
Two months later, in February 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which allowed the armed forces to designate "military" or "exclusion" zones from which "any and all persons may be prohibited."
Everyone of Japanese descent was prohibited from living on the entire West Coast and up to 100 miles inland.
"We were given one month to settle all of our affairs before we were forced to leave our home. All we were allowed to bring was what we could carry with us. We left everything we knew behind, and we had no idea where we were going," Imai said.
That sense of being uprooted and heading toward an uncertain future is the theme of a three-day event this weekend at the Buddhist Temple of Palo Alto, "Journey Through the Unknown."
The event begins Friday and features artwork, photographs, memorabilia and guest speakers on the internment of Japanese Americans more than 60 years ago.
A full-scale re-creation of a typical camp barrack -- complete with folding cots, a potbellied stove and a single bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling -- is on exhibit. Similar 14-by-20-foot shacks were standard housing for small families, four men or four women. A miniature replica of one of the armed-guard towers that lined the camp's perimeters stands nearby.
Ann Okamura and her family were housed at the Heart Mountain Detention Center in Northern Wyoming, where most Japanese-American families from the Bay Area and surrounding communities were sent.
"As a kid, I grew up knowing the word 'camp' to mean a fun place where American kids went during the summer. We came to understand, though, that they weren't camps -- they were prisons," said Okamura, now a Redwood City resident.
"Most of us would prefer it if they were called what they really were, which is 'concentration camps,'" she said.
Palo Alto resident Lois Takaoka remembers the day-long ride in a cramped and filthy train car to the Santa Anita Racetrack in Southern California. The racetrack served as a makeshift assembly center and sorting area for Japanese Americans while the last of the detainment centers were being hastily constructed.
"I had never seen so many other Japanese people before the train ride and the assembly center. I remember that every time we passed through a town, the guards forced us to shut the curtains on the windows and get out of sight," Takaoka said.
Imai recalled the scene: "When we got off the train there were these big piles of straw everywhere. It was a racetrack, so I figured they were for the horses. Then the guards gave us each a canvas bag and instructed us to fill it with straw. I didn't understand why at first, but I eventually figured out that these were going to be our beds."
The centerpiece of the weekend exhibit is "The 120,000 Tassel Tapestry," which was crafted by 503 eighth-grade students from Lafayette, Ind., as a tribute to all those involved in the internment. The students created the tapestry to coincide with the dedication of the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism in Washington D.C. in November 2000.
The 120,000 tassels represent the estimated number of Japanese Americans interned during the war, according to Vernon Hayashida of the Japanese American Museum of San Jose.
"What's so amazing is that this incredible tribute was made by Caucasian school kids from Indiana. They were just so moved by the story of our wartime experience that they wanted to commemorate the struggle," he said.
The hanging tapestry is made up of 12 quilted panels featuring artwork, photographs, news clippings, wartime memorabilia and poetry. Among the work's major themes are the patriotism and dedication that Japanese Americans showed to their country.
Kats Hikido, a veteran of the segregated 442nd U.S. Army unit, will speak at the event. He served first in Southern France and then in Italy, where he was wounded in action by a landmine blast that killed two of his fellow soldiers.
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team had been activated by President Roosevelt on Feb. 1, 1943. About 4,500 volunteers from Hawaii and the mainland U.S. were expected to enlist; the Army instead got approximately 11,250 Nisei, or first-generation Japanese-American, volunteers. Many Nisei from the mainland went directly from internment camps to basic training.
"Being part of a segregated unit was good and bad," Hikido said. "If we had been integrated with the rest of the military it's hard to imagine many of us surviving combat. There was a lot of resentment towards Japanese at the time -- regardless of your citizenship or your patriotism."
The 442nd went on to be one of the most highly decorated units in the history of the United States Armed Forces.
The Japanese Americans affected by wartime internment have never forgotten those who came to their aid during the crisis. An exhibit in the temple's Dharma School classrooms called "Friends of the Japanese American Community" honors those who helped the Japanese Americans at the onset of, during and after the war.
"At Christmas, there was a party for the kids at Heart Mountain, and each of us got a present. I found out much later that the gifts were donated by the Quakers, who were one of the biggest supporters of Japanese-American internees," Okamura said.
After Takaoka and her family were released, they received help from Frank and Josephine Duveneck, who founded Hidden Villa Ranch in Los Altos Hills.
"The Duveneck family played a huge part in helping families resettle after the war. You have to understand that when we left the camps we had nothing, and in a lot of ways, life after the internment was harder than the camps themselves. We were starting over from scratch," Takaoka said.
The Duveneck family helped the Takaokas find a home and re-establish themselves. Those fortunate enough to have connections in their communities were sometimes spared the loss of houses and businesses by generous patrons who paid property taxes and maintained the internee's homes in their absence.
"We have a duty to remind people, I think," Hikido said of mounting the exhibit. "People shouldn't forget, because really, this is recent history. It's America's history."