A few years ago, Margarette Murakami went to an event that memorialized the Holocaust and other examples of ethnic persecution.
A black-and-white photograph hanging on the wall drew her in. It portrayed a young girl during World War II, pale and delicate.
Murakami thought it was Anne Frank.
“That’s me,” came a voice from behind her.
Murakami turned to find a much older version of the girl in the picture. They introduced themselves and talked, and the woman told Murakami she had survived a Nazi concentration camp.
“Gee, you went through so much worse than us,” Murakami told her.
“But what about that train ride?” the woman replied. It was a question that took Murakami by surprise.
“You went through the same thing,” the woman continued. “They put you on a train, and you didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Murakami was 12 years old when she climbed onto that train in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square in May 1942.
Like those rounded up in wartime Germany, the 120,000 Americans of Japanese heritage who were targeted after the bombing of the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii 80 years ago had no idea where they were going, or what might happen to their homes and orchards, or when — or if — they’d ever return.
About 750 of those people were living in Sonoma County on Dec. 7, 1941.
Murakami, whose last name was Masuoka at the time, was in the car with her family that morning, headed out to get a Sunday newspaper in Sebastopol, when they heard a radio bulletin announcing the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“It was a shock, naturally, to hear something like that,” said Murakami, who is now 91 and lives in a home on a gravel road between Santa Rosa and Forestville.
While the attack was a shock, it was not necessarily a surprise.
Japan had entered World War II on the side of the Axis forces, while the United States was firmly aligned with the Allies. Tensions had been rising in the war’s Pacific Theater for months, as had anti-Japanese hostility on the American West Coast.
After Pearl Harbor, where 2,403 U.S. personnel died, trouble began immediately for local families of Japanese heritage.
Some locals reported rocks being thrown at their cars. Santa Rosa residents of Chinese descent began wearing ribbons that read, “I am not Japanese!”
“When I went back to work on Monday, the owner was already there with a termination check,” a local man named Shiro Nakano told The Press Democrat in 1991 on the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.
“He said, ‘I have to let you go because we’re not the same side anymore.’ He didn’t stop to think that I was an American citizen, born and raised in Los Angeles.”
Within days, restrictions had been placed upon Japanese households. Everyone had to be home by 5 p.m. No lights after dark. No travel outside a 5-mile radius.
It was a jarring turn for Sonoma County’s families, many of whom were tightly ingrained in community life here. At least 48 farms in the county were under Japanese ownership, according to a 1942 government survey. Many more first- and second-generation immigrants labored for wages in apple orchards, hops fields and egg farms.
They attended local churches and enrolled their kids in local schools.
Their outsider status hit home, though, when the FBI — supported by city and county law enforcement — began rounding up prominent Japanese business and cultural leaders. Most would soon be reunited with their families, but some were sent to Justice Department internment camps for prolonged confinement.
The authorities also began searching Japanese-occupied houses. They confiscated guns, ammunition, communication devices and other material they believed could be used against a country at war.
Murakami’s family had willingly turned over their prohibited goods. But the FBI found two items it deemed alarming: One loose shotgun shell, and a photo of Peter Masuoka and a friend taken at a critical infrastructure site. It was a tourist snapshot from Hoover Dam.