But on Sunday afternoon, the center became a reminder of a dark period in American history when Japanese Americans were processed at what was then the Castro Train Station and shipped to one of 10 internment camps across the U.S. during World War II.
Around 500 people crowded the center Sunday, many of them two or more generations apart from the war, to rally against the recent uptick in crimes and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
"My grandparents met here in Mountain View; they assembled at the Mountain View Caltrain station where they boarded that train to the internment camp of Heart Mountain," said Mountain View Mayor Ellen Kamei as she stood in front of Mountain View City Hall after the march. "My father was born there and I am the third generation of my family here in this city."
A group of hundreds of locals including children and elected officials streamed through downtown Mountain View, walking on the sidewalks of Hope and Castro streets. Outdoor diners stopped during their meals to record or watch as protesters chanted, "Hate is a virus" and "No more violence/No more silence."
The protest was organized by three high school students — Daisy Kemp of Mountain View High School, Amanda Khu of Castilleja School and Jason Shan of Lynbrook High School— with Christopher Chiang, a Mountain View Whisman School District board trustee, acting as their adviser. The students chair AAPI Mountain View, a local group that was created in response to racism against Asians.
"We can't really change what happened 200 years ago," Khu, 17, said in an interview, referring to a history of anti-Asian violence that was soon followed by the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. "But we can change what's going forward."
The Sunday march was a mix of protest and performance. The rumbling sound of taiko drums, a traditional Japanese instrument, could be heard as marchers walked toward City Hall. A group of girls from Able2Shine, an academic enrichment program, sang a song calling for justice. Aparna Prabhakar read her poem, "Brown," expressing how the color of her skin has come to define her: "Brown is the color of my story, and I am the author of my story."
Asian American children and local politicians also shared, in a string of short speeches, either their own direct experiences of racism or how the movement of rallying against anti-Asian hate resonated with them.
"Last year, I was biking and stopped at a red light in Palo Alto when a minivan pulled up next to me and the guys inside started yelling, 'Go back to China! Why'd you bring the virus here,'" said Palo Alto City Council member Greg Tanaka, whose grandfather died of tuberculosis while in an internment camp.
Many local youths, some as young as 8 years old, also spoke to their own experiences of discrimination, especially at the height of the pandemic.
"Last summer on a hiking trail, someone full of hatred called my mom and me 'coronavirus' and told us to go back to China," said Michael Pan, 8, of Cupertino. "Since then, I can no longer walk to a park without fearing that might happen again. I can no longer walk three blocks to my school without fearing that someone might hurt me again."
Most marchers were spurred by the recent acts of violence against Asian Americans. A drawing of Pak Ho, a 75-year-old Asian man who died after being robbed and pushed to the ground in Oakland last month, was displayed at City Hall above nine other names, including those who were killed in the Atlanta, Georgia area shooting on March 16.
"I've been hearing about the uptick in hate crimes primarily through social media for the past few months," said Khu, 18, a senior at Castilleja. "But once Atlanta happened, I think that was really a turning point for me."
While the featured speakers described the diversity of the Asian American experience, they were also examples of how far Asian Americans have come since xenophobic policies were enacted in the past.
State Assembly member Evan Low, D-Campbell, Santa Clara County Supervisor Otto Lee, Mountain View Police Chief Chris Hsiung, city council members and school district board trustees, all of Asian descent, spoke at the rally.
Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, Assembly member Marc Berman, D-Menlo Park, Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian and District Attorney Jeff Rosen were also among the attendees who spoke in support of Sunday's rally.
"I want you to know that the 600 members of the District Attorney's Office stand with the victims of hate, stand against the perpetrators of hate, and we'll vigorously prosecute anyone who targets anyone because of their ethnicity," Rosen said.