Tanforan was one of 17 temporary "assembly centers" set up to house the approximately 112,000 people of Japanese descent (the vast majority of whom were American citizens) who were unjustly ordered to leave their homes while the government built more permanent incarceration camps.
Why were people of Japanese descent forced into these camps?
Although anti-Japanese sentiment had existed since the moment Japanese immigrants stepped foot in the United States, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and the subsequent declaration of war against Japan led to President Franklin D. Roosevelt signing Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. This order allowed the military to remove and imprison anyone deemed a threat in the West Coast of the United States. In reality, this meant the total removal of all Japanese and Japanese Americans including infants, orphans, the sick, and the disabled. Germans, German Americans, Italians and Italian Americans were not subject to the same treatment.
Assembly Center or Detention Camp?
Although termed "assembly centers" by the government, the reality of places like Tanforan were much more accurately described by a term such as "detention center." While people were assembled at these places, the term "assembly center" makes no reference towards the unjust nature of these detention centers, as the people being assembled, the majority of whom were American citizens, had committed no crime and were being held against their will without due process.
What was life like at Tanforan?
Approximately 8,000 people of Japanese ancestry were imprisoned at the Tanforan detention center. Some of the people sent to Tanforan were assigned to sleep in hastily and poorly assembled barracks. Others were forced to sleep in horse stalls, as Tanforan used to be a horse racetrack. The horse stalls reeked of urine and manure. There was little to no privacy, as the average stall room measured just 9' by 12', and multiple families and bachelors could be housed in a single stall.
Especially early on, there was a complete lack of sanitation and laundry facilities. There were only six laundry stations for the entire camp, many bathroom toilets did not have partitions, and hot water would usually run out by mid-morning. There was no privacy, no furniture, no insulation or source of heat, and no way of knowing how long one would be staying at Tanforan.