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Knight Ridder News

SAN JOSE, Calif. - At noon on the last Saturday of April, a large group of Pajaro Valley, Calif., residents will be ordered to file into the Watsonville Veterans Memorial Hall, tagged with a number, told to board a Greyhound bus and then driven to a place where they'll be caged behind a fence and watched by uniformed guards.

Sixty years to the day that it happened in Watsonville, the internment of U.S. residents and citizens of Japanese descent will be re-enacted in a first-of-its-kind, $35,000 production that is expected to draw national attention.

On April 27, East Beach Street in Watsonville will look like a movie set, with vintage costumes, sedans and a police car - even a Greyhound bus built six decades ago. The Mello Center for the Performing Arts will be turned into an internment camp replete with uniformed guards in watchtowers.

It was on April 27, 1942, that more than 1,100 Santa Cruz County residents - among 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast - were ordered to report to the vets' hall to be bused to the Salinas Assembly Center at the California Rodeo Grounds. They were then taken to a desolate, desert camp in Poston, Ariz., where most lived out the war years behind barbed wire. The last train from Salinas left on the Fourth of July.

"We have had re-unions before but never re-enactments," said Mas Hashimoto, a retired history teacher who was interned with his Watsonville family at age 6 and conceived the event, called "Liberty Lost Lessons in Loyalty."

"It's taken Japanese-Americans more than 50 years to be able to do something like this," said Aptos historian Sandy Lydon, who has studied the internment for 35 years. "This is a sign of a mature, very self-assured community. It's not about laying out piles of guilt. It's about warning people how easily something like this can happen.

"And after the backlash against the Arab-American community after Sept. 11, it becomes even more poignant and relevant."

Copyright © 2002 Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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