Real History Of AMC’s The Terror Infamy-Life In The Santa Anita Racetrack

Courtesy of Ed Araquel/AMC

This week’s episode of AMC’s The Terror Infamy: All The Demons Are In Heaven found Japanese Americans being rounded up and forced to live in stalls at a racetrack like animals.  It is a terrible reminder of a dark time in this country.  It also begged the question.  Did Japanese Americans actually live in unconventional housing (read internment camps) communities like the race tracks featured inthe show?  Unfortunately, the answer is yes.  The resilience of the residents and their ingenuity in the face of horrific conditions only points to the fortitude of those affected.  Here is the real history of the camps and race tracks.
Life inside camps may have been brutal but under pressure some things turn into diamonds. Several newspapers were created; both typed and handwritten, and would give accounts of events around the camp and community issues. Most notably of which was the Manzanar Free Press, which was typed, copied, and spread at the Manzanar internment camp. It was allowed access to press release from the WRA or the War Relocation Authority. The paper was quite popular and held important information such as where to receive clothing that week or news on the WRA itself. One issue in particular detailed the WRA’s press release on racial biases within the WRA directors. They also gave information on the negotiations between American soldiers and Japanese civilians, in which the head of the WRA noted a campaign of “race baiting” interrupted any hopes of an exchange. Many of these papers can be read for free online with photo copies of several editions for each paper.
The horse racing track depicted within the Terror Infamy is sadly quite real. Located at the Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia, California, little more than 13 miles away from L.A., at peak population the track held more than 18,000 people. The land was originally bought and developed as a track by bought by Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin who built the first track adjacent to the one later used for the camp. After closing down, it was reopened in 1934 when betting was legalized and was later leased in 1942 to the WCCA or the Wartime Civil Control Administration. It became known as the Santa Anita Assembly Center during this time.  An average of $145,000.00 were spent per captive person or $2,785,650.00 in total. People were held in both the stalls and within newly constructed barracks in the parking lot.
Electrical issues were common. K. Morgan Yamanaka, a survivor of the camps, during an interview noted that because of shoddy electrical work, black outs were part of everyday life. This was often a huge problem for parents who had no way to heat milk for infants.  Despite these daily struggles the residents created their own newspaper with articles giving tips to families about things like washing hair without shampoo and cooking.  It also had cartoons, facility warnings, and editorials. The Santa Anita Pace Maker as it was named posted “ limited seating capacity and a lack of equipment” caused serious problems feeding the entire population. During the month of May, the average amount spent on rations per person was 30 cents, 3 below the national average, and caused great uproar, including a scathing review by the Pace Maker. Having read and heard the peoples wishes, an inspection was carried out which lifted the 30 cents to just above 41. This led to WCCA chief, Rex Nicholson’s resignation after being accused of not taking appropriate care of food supplies. Marred by food shortages, overheating, and insufficient medical supplies, there were 37 deaths while the camp was open.  Despite the power the paper eventually had it started quite humbly. The top of the first edition held three question marks where the name should have been under which “We’re stumped — lend us a hand” accompanied a story detailing the need for a name. A two vote margin held the Pacemaker the victor. Pacemakers of course are the lead horses who lead the pack in a race. The chief editor found it fitting as the papers intent was to lead the people into happier days despite their newfound cells.
A factory that made nets sprang up at the race track but was understaffed due to the working conditions.   At its peak, 1,200 workers worked at the factory. In addition to working at the factory, many found jobs in community gardens or in their professions as doctors and nurses.   The community tried very hard to normalize their horrendous circumstances by creating social clubs and several softball leagues were created. The “Japanita Jive” was Santa Anita’s first band and orchestra which wrote several songs of their own. Half a dozen Boy Scouts Troops conducted daily flag raising in an ironic twist of fate. These fiercely loyal and proud people were often more patriotic than their non Japanese counterparts who were watching them with suspension.  High school, middle school, and elementary school’s were created and staffed by volunteers to complete the interrupted semesters. Textbooks were provided thanks to donations from city and county schools. The Los Angeles Public Library alone donated 5,000 books to create a library which served 500 daily.
Crowds as large as 2,000 people gathered to discuss their concerns. Much of the violence was directed toward a man identified as Harry Kawaguchi, a Korean American or Japanese-Korean-American man who was a police informant. Similar to the harsh treatment Nick Okada received from the elder men episode 2, this man was despised, shunned and eventually beaten.  Dishes, fists, chairs, and typewriters were thrown at him injuring him quite severely. The beating only stopped after military police came in. 200 military men came and declared martial law, quickly disbanding the protesters. A movement towards representation was fruitless as Santa Anita’s director refused to acknowledge any representative. Although food rations went up ever slightly, and forced entry to their homes was limited, quiet hate brewed within the community. Eventually the camp was evacuated and its prisoners moved to several other camps at the end of their 200 day stay. In 1945 the Santa Anita track reopened and is now the oldest standing racetrack in America. It is now designated a California historic landmark.