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Oregon’s Japanese Americans: Full Documentary

The following is an OPB original
series. Oregon Experience
is a production of OPB in partnership with the Oregon
Historical Society. Leading support for Oregon
Experience is provided by… Major support provided by… Additional support provided
by… And the contributing members
of OPB and viewers like you. [ ♪♪♪ ] WOMAN:
They were invested in America. This was their country…
the land of opportunity. But then came war. [ explosion booming ] People now just cannot imagine
how much hatred there was directed at the people
of Japanese ancestry. It was mass guilt based on race. It was a time of civil rights
denied. We were in Block 32, Barrack 9,
and Room C. All I remember was soldiers
with guns. And lives to rebuild. They gave us a train ticket home
and $25, and that was it. MAN: I remember this older
gentleman in our car, crying as he saw the Columbia
River, the sign of freedom. I think the Japanese American
story is, in a way, a real success story. WOMAN:
We always forgive. You can’t forget,
but you can always forgive. [ ♪♪♪ ] [ ♪♪♪ ] Every spring on the Portland
waterfront, 100 Akebono cherry trees
blossom on cue. MAN: My view is to honor
the immigrants that came and started
businesses and started their life here. The Japanese American
community is an important part
of the community here in Oregon. Dedicated to the Bill
of Rights, the Japanese American
Historical Plaza tells a story. MAN:
Well, they may notice one little thing written
on a stone, and they’ll take that home. They take that home with them,
and they’ll look around. That was the whole idea,
is you hear the voices and it makes you look around,
you see. They are talking stones
giving voice to the past. “Just over there
was our old community. Echoes! Echoes! Echoes!” Old Town today was Japantown
yesterday. [ ♪♪♪ ] [ horn honking ] We called it Nihonmachi
during the ’30s, right up to WWII. [ ♪♪♪ ] Restaurants and hotels
and fish markets and bathhouses, doctors, dentists, schools. And you’d hear conversation in
Japanese as well as in English. It was a very vibrant,
friendly community, and that’s where I grew up. In about a 10-block area, more than a hundred businesses
thrived. MAN:
Teikoku, that was my home. It was in the Merchant Hotel. And we lived on
the fourth floor, and downstairs was the store. It was started by my
grandfather, and my father, I think,
took it over in 1924 with his brother-in-law. They sold mostly dry goods, and they would also sell
dress-up clothes, like Arrow shirts and Florsheim
shoes and Stetson hats. [ boat horn sounds ] By the late 1890s, hundreds
of Japanese immigrants, mostly bachelors, had begun
arriving in the Northwest. Portland was a hub for finding
services, supplies, and jobs. They went to work in canneries,
built railroads, and farmed. WOMAN: Many Issei,
the first generation, viewed an opportunity to become what they called
“birds of passage.” They anticipated coming to
America to work hard for three to five years and then
return to their homeland, where they would
live good lives. That, of course, didn’t happen, because they ended up staying
much longer, marrying, raising children
who were American citizens, and they determined that they
were in America to stay. My father happened to work
on the railroad. And he kept saving his money,
eventually to buy into a small boarding house hotel
in Japantown. He was quite an entrepreneur, and he started a fruit
and vegetable stand out on Columbia Boulevard. He ended up having a second one. My mother tended to the hotel
pretty well all day long while my father tended
to the markets. As families took root,
Nihonmachi grew and a second Japanese community formed along Portland’s
Southwest Waterfront. HENRY:
Oh, I was born in a hotel. My parents ran the hotel,
and I helped them run it. [ laughs ] ‘Cause I had chores
to do every Saturday — help vacuum the hallways,
polish the brass. GEORGE:
We banded together with people that spoke the same language,
ate the same food, had the same culture, and that’s what really, really
created Japantown. LAWSON: They had that sense
of togetherness for survival, ’cause there were all these laws
against us, that we couldn’t do this
and couldn’t do that. For the first half
of the 20th century, the United States Constitution barred Japanese immigrants,
Issei, from becoming U.S. citizens. Their hopes for the future
rested with the Nisei, their American-born children. The Isseis saw what America
was like, And they saw that boy,
education is a key if you want to make it. The children attended a variety
of neighborhood schools, including one started by nuns
from Marylhurst College. GEORGE:
They found a little storefront and started St. Paul Miki. St. Paul Miki was
a Japanese saint. It was not popular to be
teaching Japanese children at that time, but they came. HENRY: In order for the parents
to communicate better with the children, they figured,
gotta have a Japanese school. So when we were growing up,
not only did we go to regular elementary school, but
we also went to Japanese school. Japanese American families
were also scattering to more rural farming areas
in the valley. Sisters Aya and Taka grew up
in Hillsboro. My mother got us up
and she says, “We gotta cut the asparagus
before you go to school.” [ laughs ] Early pioneers near Salem included Reid Saito’s
grandparents. Actually, it was all Japanese
farmers right there in the Labish area. There was seven Japanese farmers that farmed along the lake
bottom. Celery was their main crop. Around 1940, they moved up to
the Gresham area, where they truck farmed. By the 1920s, there were about
4,100 Nikkei — all people of Japanese ancestry
— living in Oregon. The second largest population
outside Portland lived in the Hood River Valley, where orchards were created from
forests. Caucasian landowners,
like the Babsons in Parkdale, hired Japanese crews to help
clear the land. LINDA: And some of them offered
incentives. They told them,
“If you’ll work for us, if you’ll clear 15 acres of land
for me, I’ll give you five acres.” And that land might be
stumpland or brushland or marshland, but it was land
just the same. So many Issei,
like my grandfather, decided that was
what they would do. And Grandpa worked
seven days a week. [ ♪♪♪ ] MAN:
I was born in Dee, Oregon, and it was a pretty small
community. But, you know, those early days, you still had the lumber mill
going. Dad worked at the lumber mill. He had an orchard, too, but anything we can do,
we had to do it. [ laughs ] My name is Bessie Asai,
and I was born in Hood River. [ ♪♪♪ ] When my father got here,
he bought a piece of land that had nothing
but trees on it, and he had to chop them all down
and get ready to farm. He wanted pears and apples. The trees weren’t producing
anything yet, so he had to get some way
of making a living, so he planted strawberries
in between the young trees. What was unique about the Issei was that the men didn’t just
farm by themselves. Farming became a family project. BESSIE:
My father pruned the trees and my mother and I had to pick
up the brush. We learned how to drive
a tractor before we could drive a car. Masuo Yasui would become
one of the most successful businessmen in the valley. Arriving in the Northwest
in 1903, he first found work
on the railroads, then as a houseboy in Portland,
where he perfected his English. WOMAN: So he got on the train
to go east and was passing through
the Hood River Valley. And he saw Mount Hood,
and it reminded him of Fujiyama, because it is a beautiful,
symmetrical mountain. So he got off the train and stayed for many years
after that. Yasui, backed by his older
brother, opened a small store catering to the Japanese
community. The store grew and prospered. MAN:
It became a hub of activity. There was a mail drop, there was
a place where the Issei men, mostly, in 1908, could come
and get information, and my father ran an employment
agency. HOLLY: And also, he would
accompany people to Portland when they had to get licenses
or any kind of papers, because he was completely fluent
in English as well as Japanese, of course. Yasui married, and with his
wife, Shidzuyo, raised a large family, including future attorney Minoru
Yasui, the first Japanese American
admitted to the Oregon Bar. And all along the way, Masuo
and his brother acquired land. HOMER:
Before World War II, they had — in the aggregate;
it’s not one parcel — between 6- and 800 acres
of land. That’s a lot. HOLLY: He was a real booster
for the United States. He says, “America’s
where you’re living. You know, once you put your
roots down here, this is where you have the opportunities to
have a good life.” LINDA:
There were grave concerns about the success and the work
ethic of Japanese farmers. Their children were growing up
and attending American schools. They were becoming productive, and they were becoming
an economic threat. By 1919, the Hood River
Anti-Asiatic Association had formed with a simple goal. They wanted to keep the Japs
from taking over the land. To prevent further acquisitions, the Oregon State Legislature
passed the 1923 Alien Land Law, prohibiting Issei from owning or
leasing land. LINDA: More than 80% of the
Issei property, however, was actually in the names
of their children, who were American citizens. GEORGE: Politicians,
neighbors, communities, they called us the Yellow Peril. They called us the fifth column. They had many names
for the Japanese. By the late 1930s,
events in the Far East were further fueling anti-Japanese
attitudes at home. President Franklin Roosevelt had
ordered government agencies to monitor certain individuals
of Japanese descent. The FBI had a list of 1,370
Japanese up and down the West Coast on their
so-called “dangerous spy” list. Those on the list would be
picked up first in case of war with Japan. [ engine roaring ] [ explosion booms ] PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT:
December 7th, 1941, a date which will live
in infamy. [ ♪♪♪ ] LAWSON: “The FBI swooped in
early, taking our elders in the process, for subversive
that and this.” YOJI:
Their main goal was to the arrest the leaders
of the community. Therefore, they could stabilize
the rest of the people and they would follow the orders
of the government, whatever they did. HOMER: My father was,
without any question, a very prominent Japanese
in the valley. The store was immediately shut
down after Pearl Harbor. We couldn’t even sell bread. Issei and Nisei assets were
frozen, so they couldn’t draw money from
banks. They had neighbors and friends
who would not speak to them. Many of the Nisei had never been
to Japan. But they looked like the enemy,
and that was the difference. The United States government
issued a list of contraband items that people
of Japanese ancestry could not possess, like
shortwave radios, rifles, shotguns, bullets. BESSIE: I think the sheriff
came to the house and found one stick of dynamite
in the barn, and so they arrested my father. But, you know,
they used dynamite to blow up the trees, you know? So it was part of living. But they took him anyway. My father, my uncle both got
arrested on December the 11th. I was in school, and when I came
home, my mother and aunt, they were kind of —
they were crying. They didn’t know where he was at
or anything. He ended up at Rocky Butte Jail
for about two weeks. They took his belt and they took
his shoestrings and necktie. They didn’t give him a fork. They put the food outside
the cell so he had to reach out
and eat it. He said that they think we were
a bunch of dogs or rats. Issei considered potentially
dangerous, like the Matsushimas
and the Yasuis, were sent to special
internment camps run by the Department
of Justice. No crimes had been committed,
no charges were filed, and no legal representation
was allowed. But while there, individuals
received a hearing. HOLLY: They pulled out a very
childish drawing of the Panama Canal, and they
held it up and said, “Look. He was going to bomb
the Panama Canal. Why did you have this drawing in
your house?” And Matsu says, “I think that’s
one of my children’s drawings.” It was devastating to be
a person of that stature and then to be taken away, accused of being a spy
and a traitor. And he never returned
to Hood River. YOJI: They were considered POWs,
enemy aliens. GEORGE: A Shinto minister, my
language teacher, my dentist, my Doctor Tanaka, the editor
to our newspaper, Mr. Oyama, the owner of the fish market,
floral shop. They were law-abiding citizens,
fine people. Back in Oregon, remnants
of the Japanese community were rallying against growing
racial hatred. In Portland, many gathered to
publically declare their allegiance in a telegram
to President Roosevelt. And in Hood River, more than
a hundred signed a letter to Governor Charles Sprague. MAN (VOICEOVER):
“May we pledge our loyalty to the stars and stripes,
just as do our children, who are patriotic American
citizens.” HOMER: My mother signed it
and my uncle signed it, and my father couldn’t, because he was already in prison
in Missoula. It was a scary time,
but more than that, it was a very bewildering time, because we didn’t know what was
going to happen next. On February 19th, 1942,
President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. The order broadly authorized the
War Department to designate strategic military
areas from which any and all persons
could be excluded. By early March, Army General
John DeWitt, head of the Western Defense
Command, had created the specific zones and declared that any person
with 1/16th Japanese blood would be subject to removal. “A Jap is a Jap,” he would say. “There is no way to determine
their loyalty.” Politicians were responsive
to the community members who were beginning to say they
didn’t want Japanese in their midst because, “What
about all these sabotage stories that we’ve heard?” So the media, the politicians, even Oregon Governor Charles
Sprague, who initially had been cautious
about how we treated Japanese, eventually then supported
internment. On March 24th, DeWitt declared a
nighttime curfew for all German and Italian
aliens and all persons of Japanese
ancestry. 26-year-old Minoru Yasui,
now an attorney, had been working at the Japanese
Consulate in Chicago. But when war broke out,
he’d returned to Portland, and he decided to challenge
the curfew as unconstitutional for American-born citizens. So Min says he walked up
and down Burnside, up and down Burnside for two
hours, so he’s getting tired. [ ♪♪♪ ] And finally, he ran into a cop
and he says, “Officer, you have to arrest me because persons of Japanese
ancestry must not be out of their place of residence
after 8 o’clock at night, and it’s 11 o’clock now.” And the cop says,
“Go along, sonny. You’re gonna get in trouble.
Run off! Get along!” So Min said, “Well, that didn’t
work out so well.” He wanted to get into trouble,
and so he marched over to what then was the police
headquarters and argued with the desk
sergeant there and, you know, convinced him to
arrest him. WOMAN: He knew exactly
what he wanted to do, and he believed that the courts
would vindicate his rights. And it’s interesting because
the judge said that this curfew violation
is unconstitutional as to U.S. citizens. But because Yasui had worked
for the Japanese consulate, he abdicated his citizenship. So he became an enemy alien
and was found guilty. Yasui would spend nine months in
solitary confinement while his case was appealed
to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court reinstated
his citizenship but upheld the curfew violation
as a military necessity. He didn’t get bitter. He didn’t give up. He didn’t stop believing
in the Constitution. So, you know, that’s amazing. [ waves crashing
and birds calling ] By the end of March 1942,
Exclusion Order No. 1 had been posted on Bainbridge
Island, Washington. More than a hundred such orders
would be issued up and down the West Coast. Nearly 120,000 people of
Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of whom were American
citizens, prepared to leave their homes for temporary detention
facilities, euphemistically called assembly
centers. HENRY:
What school children had to do was we had to take a slip of
paper around, have our teachers sign it
that we’re dropping out. One of my teachers stepped out
into the hallway with me and told me how bad she felt that we had to be incarcerated,
go into the assembly center. She was my English teacher. Mrs. Towne was her name. YOJI: FBI came
and padlocked the store. They said, “No more business.” And then they reopened it and they told us to sell
everything. Whatever they would offer,
you would take. Some Japanese Americans found
trusted friends or neighbors to sublease their business,
store possessions, or caretake their orchards. LINDA: There were others,
though, who felt they needed to sell their property quickly
for very cheap prices. GEORGE: Those of us
in Japantown, we could not leave our
possessions with our neighbors. Our neighbors are Japanese. They are going to leave with us. And so we lost everything. [ ♪♪♪ ] It was just really a flurry
of activities. And we had to put our initials
in white paint on the ends of the suitcase. My mother sewed a big duffel bag and she stuffed it with sheets
and towels. That was the only
what we could carry. That’s right. It was only what
we could carry. HENRY: Some of the stories
we hear about, some of the older men who wore
two or three overcoats, two or three suit jackets
or whatever. But it was kind of a desolate
feeling, I think. Family names became numbers. GEORGE: And that family number,
15066, we had to put onto our jackets,
we had to put onto our bags that we were going to carry,
we had to put onto everything. And those of us that
were incarcerated, we will never, ever forget
our own family number. On the morning of May 13th,
1942, Hood River Nikkei gathered
at the train station. LINDA:
There were armed guards, there were bystanders, and the local newspaper
even publicized an article talking about the celebratory
atmosphere. But, in fact, my grandparents
and their friends remembered crying in the train as it left. MAN (VO): “The quick brushing of
hands across eyes; women sat with bowed heads while their menfolk stared
straight ahead.” Hood River News. BESSIE:
All the blinds were down. We didn’t know where
we were going. We didn’t know how long we were
going to be gone or anything. Not knowing where we were going
was terrible. Those from Hood River
were on their way to Pinedale, California,
near Fresno. WOMAN (VO):
“Hi, Bessie. I’m sending the valley to you. Hope it makes you feel good.” Nikkei from the Willamette
Valley reported to Portland’s assembly
center, a livestock exhibition pavilion
hastily converted to house more than 3,500 incoming
citizens. My first impression,
I can smell the odor of the manure seeping
through the wooden floors. I remember the smell
of livestock urine permeating throughout
the building. When we got there, we were
assigned three stalls. And they were like regular
horse stalls, you know? HENRY: Our living cubicles had
no ceilings and no doors, just a canvas drop cloth. The sounds of the night were
quite loud and easy to hear. GEORGE:
It was a barbed-wire barn. [ ♪♪♪ ] The newly created War Relocation
Authority, the WRA, was in charge, and official
government photos were carefully controlled. HENRY: We were on display,
so to speak. For those detained,
the summer of ’42 would be a waiting game as construction continued
on ten more permanent camps. GEORGE:
Franklin Delano Roosevelt called them concentration camps. He referred to us as inmates. I asked many Issei, did you
think about saying no? There were no charges, and my
children are American citizens. We thought that if this
is what the government, you know, declared,
we needed to do it. Japanese had a saying,
Shikata ga nai, meaning, “It can’t be helped,
so what can you do about it?” And if you can’t control it,
Shikata ga nai. Meanwhile, outside
the exclusion zone, a crisis was growing
in Eastern Oregon, and the root cause was sugar. [ ♪♪♪ ] Announcer: Sugar could be used
in the manufacture of synthetic tires and other
parts of this bomber. [ plane engine revving ] And sugar’s most important
byproduct, molasses, went into the production
of the industrial alcohol used in the manufacture
of these bombs. [ siren blaring ] MAN: There’s a component
in a sugar beet that was used to produce
ammunition to make bullets. So the federal government
directed local area farmers to increase their sugar beet
production by 75%. By early 1942, the Amalgamated
Sugar Company in Nyssa had 12,000 acres of sugar beets
growing in Malheur County. [ ♪♪♪ ] But the war had swept young men
into service, leaving too few people to tend
and harvest the crops. George Aiken, secretary
to Oregon governor Charles Sprague, offered a solution: relocate the
state’s 4,000 Nikkei to former Civilian Conservation
Corps camps in three counties, where they’d work
on public works projects and provide critical farm labor. The WRA rejected the plan, fearing anti-Japanese violence
in the communities. But desperate for labor, Oregon
farmers and Amalgamated Sugar began pressing Governor Sprague
for action. They went back
to the federal government with the little Oregon Plan, which proposed allowing to build
one camp in Malheur County. The proposal guaranteed that
state and local officials would keep peace
in the community and employers would pay
the prevailing wage. This plan was a go. So the very first place that
a Japanese American could go other than a concentration camp,
was this test camp in Nyssa, Oregon, something
we were extremely proud of. Recruitment at the Portland
Assembly Center began immediately. Young bachelors were the first
to volunteer. REID: My dad, Kayno, he helped
set the tent camps up. His friends and the people in
the assembly center told him, “You better not go because
you’re probably gonna get shot.” I think the reason was at that
time, Governor Clark of Idaho was really anti-Japanese. But Nisei began working
the fields and sending positive feedback. He said the farmers here around
the Nyssa area, Jameson, Vale, Ontario,
were good people and they thought
it would be okay. My oldest brother went out on
the second group and he says, “Even though we would
have to live in tents, we would be much more freer
to live a family life.” So as a result,
we decided to volunteer to go to Eastern Oregon too. Each morning, local farmers
would pull into camp and pick up their crews. We had to throw the sugar beets
on the truck, and sometimes you hit the other
person on the other side. [ laughs ] This is Kayno with
the big sugar beet. That’s how big
the sugar beets were. Can you imagine? Nikkei families already living
in the area welcomed the newcomers. There were weekend dances
and trips to town. REID: Local farmers could see
what kind of people they were. [ ♪♪♪ ] Sonny Takami was one of them. WOMAN:
My dad was 6’1″, I think, you know, always smiling,
laughing. He was a security officer
for the camp and made sure everybody made
their curfew. REID: They didn’t cause
problems. They went about their work,
and I think because of that, the Nisei that were here kind of
covered up the cultural divide. TAKA: This is a picture
of our father. That fall, the camp moved
to a former CCC camp nearby. This is in Adrian,
where the barracks were. The Nyssa experiment had proven
so successful that farm labor camps
were started in other western states. [ ♪♪♪ ] Ontario itself would never be
the same. WOMAN:
People that came here to work, a lot of them established farms
of their own and started a life here. Treasure Valley has been really
good to the Japanese people. And they’ve been good for them. WOMAN:
We helped each other. We decided to lift ourself up
and make the best of it. And that’s what we did. SUMI: My dad helped start
a church in Ontario. There’s a big calligraphy
of “God is Love.” My dad did that. And down the road at the Four
Rivers Cultural Center, a Japanese garden thrives. [ water bubbling ] MATTHEW: They were able to build
these communities like ours with tolerance and mutual
support between different races. I mean, this
is a very remote area. And the idea that there’s an
infusion of another ethnic group just changes this community’s
world. [ ♪♪♪ ] [ ♪♪♪ ] LAWSON: “Black smoke rolls
across the blue sky. Winter chills our bones. This is Minidoka.” By early fall 1942,
Japanese Americans who’d been living at the
temporary assembly centers were preparing to move again, this time to the ten
incarceration camps now considered by the government
fit for occupancy. The camps shared common
attributes: uninsulated barracks built on large tracts of
federally-owned, isolated land. WOMAN: When the government
was thinking about doing this before it was ever
announced to the public, they’d actually picked over 300
locations in the country to place camps and then narrowed
it down to the ten. Tule Lake just happens
to be one of them. Tule Lake in Northern California or Wyoming’s Heart Mountain
would be the destination of most Japanese Americans
from Hood River. Most from the Portland area
boarded a train to Minidoka, near Twin Falls, Idaho. [ ♪♪♪ ] HENRY: You see nothing
but sagebrush — grey, green, blue-green,
whatever… but sagebrush. YOJI: We went to Minidoka
in September. It was dusty and hot, and the winter
was so bitterly cold. GEORGE: I remember
that winter of 1942. It got to be 22 below zero. We were literally freezing. I remember my sister Mary and I
bundling up with every piece of extra
clothing we had, waiting for morning
to finally arrive. YOJI:
We had a potbelly stove, and my job was to get the coal
and feed the stove. BESSIE: There were about five
families to a barrack, I think. And we had just one room
with four beds. ‘Cause we had a community
bathroom, no privacy. So everybody tried to go
after midnight. GEORGE: We lined up
to take a shower. We lined up to do our laundry. We lined up to eat. I remember lining up once a week to get our two rolls
of toilet paper. We just lined up for everything. [ ♪♪♪ ] Announcer:
We’re setting a standard for the rest of the world
in the treatment of people who may have loyalties
to an enemy nation. ANGELA: When you watch the War
Relocation Authority videos that came out during
that time period, our country gives the impression
that we’re doing this for the good of the Japanese
and Japanese Americans, that we’re protecting them. Announcer:
They were in a new area on land that was raw, untamed,
but full of opportunity. ANGELA: But yet when folks
actually got to camp, they realized that the barbed
wire is pointed in on the tops, preventing them
from getting out, not somebody from getting
in to harm them. And so they quickly start
to realize how isolated they are because of that. GEORGE:
We’re American citizens. We have equal rights. We were stripped
of all of our rights. I quickly learned
and actually admired the resourcefulness
of the Japanese people. They organized. They elected a block manager. Those people that cooked
on the outside started to work
in the mess hall. BESSIE: We waited on tables,
we cleared the tables, and they paid us $9 a month. HENRY: I worked for the Minidoka
newspaper. And I was the delivery person. GEORGE: People that were doctors
tried to start a hospital. People that were dentists
looked after our teeth. People that were teachers tried
to start schools. Announcer:
When the school bell rings, it’s a signal for these students
at Park Mountain in Wyoming to change classes. The camps were, in fact,
self-sustaining. Incarcerees cleared the land and
grew their own food. [ ♪♪♪ ] Women’s groups formed and athletic teams competed. Children found new friends. They created their own beauty. BESSIE:
My mother picked up shells and she made all those shell
corsages. And she learned how to embroider
in camp too. GEORGE: We tried to create
things that were worthwhile and take our time away
from the war. But it was to our own ability,
to our own sweat that we tried to make it
into a livable community. LAWSON:
“We were a cast of thousands on the stage of confinement, expressing the full range
of our considerable lives: sorrow, fear, anger, joy.” HENRY: Gaman. It means patience, fortitude, and the ability to stand
for something. YOJI:
Perseverance, I think. Life went on. Holidays came and went. There were births and deaths. And opportunities were seized
beyond the wire. HENRY: My parents came with me
up to the main gate. My mom cried, cried, cried. During the war, more than 5,000
young men and women would be allowed
to leave for colleges outside the exclusion zone. HENRY: I was lucky being
accepted at Ohio Wesleyan. So it was pretty good to be
a man on campus. Announcer: The Americanism
of the great majority of America’s Japanese finds
its highest expression in the thousands who were
in the United States Army. After Pearl Harbor, many
of the Nisei already serving were discharged or given
menial jobs. But for a short time,
some local draft boards continued to induct them. After the Pearl Harbor,
within a month, we went to the board and my
neighbor, Bo, and I said, “Let’s join up.” We were the first draftees
of ’42. After basic training,
the late Shige Imai was eventually assigned
to prisoner of war processing units stateside
and Hawaii. It was the people that
specialized in taking fingerprints
and photographs. Knowing the Japanese language, we were asked to be
the record keeper. There was very few
Japanese American men in Hood River that didn’t serve. I just wanted to do my part. [ ♪♪♪ ] Nisei with additional language
training served with the critical military
intelligence service, translating Japanese documents
and interrogating prisoners. LINDA: Their value was that
they were a secret. They are actually credited
for shortening the war in the Pacific because of their
translation skills. In the spring of 1943, President
Roosevelt announced the formation of an all-Nisei
combat team, the 442nd. The military planned to recruit
volunteers from the camps, but to determine their loyalty,
the army and the WRA began administering a
poorly-worded questionnaire. Two questions caused the most
conflict and anger. MAN (VO): Are you willing to
serve in the Armed Forces of the United State on combat
duty wherever ordered? LINDA: Well, if we volunteer,
what if this is a ploy and they’re going to use all
of the Japanese Americans as cannon fodder? MAN (VO): Will you swear
unqualified allegiance to the United States of America
and foreswear any form of allegiance to the
Japanese emperor? ANGELA: And when you’re
an Issei and you have no citizenship in the U.S.,
the concern came up was by foreswearing that
allegiance, are we giving up our only
citizenship and now becoming a nationless
person? LINDA: And so there was
a lot of confusion. And as a result, there were many
who defied the questionnaire, who refused to answer,
or who answered, “No. No.” The No-No Boys,
as they were called, were branded disloyal
and sent to Tule Lake. ANGELA: We have families that
split up in 1943, because what happens
when you have that 20-something-year-old male
in the family who says, “No,” to the questionnaire and
everyone else answers, “Yes”? [ ♪♪♪ ] In 1943, the camp was converted into a maximum-security
segregation facility, with nearly 19,000 inmates
at its peak. They bring in over a dozen more
guard towers, so you wind up with over 28
guard towers in the camp, searchlights every 50 feet
along the perimeter. A secondary fence gets built
around the main perimeter of the camp. A separate stockade and jail further isolated the inmates
considered troublemakers. We know at one point there’s
over a hundred men inside the jail. And we know there’s over 300
in the stockade. Tule Lake would become the most
repressive, volatile, and controversial
of the ten camps and the last to close in 1946. Today, the site is a National
Historic Landmark. There are few original
structures remaining. The jail is one of them. Graffiti survives inside. ANGELA : There’s a poem
that’s on one of the cells that faces to the west that
says, “When the golden sun… MAN (VO): “…has sunken
beyond the desert horizon and darkness follows under a dim
light casting my lonesome heart, show me the way to go home.” By May 1944, Nisei volunteers in
the 442nd had joined forces
with the 100th battalion comprised mostly of
Japanese Americans from Hawaii’s National Guard. Together they fought fiercely in
Italy and France. Their motto was, “Go for broke,” because they felt like they had
nothing to lose. They still are, to this day, the most highly decorated
military unit of its size. The thing is, though,
before the war and before the service days, people always referred to us
as the Japs and the Jap Boy. And even in our neighborhood
where I grew up, some of the people used to refer
to me as a little Jap boy. And I never used to like that, but there was nothing
you could do about it. So I figured, well, once I was
serving in the armed service, then I could say that I’m just
as American as anybody else. And to this day,
that’s how I feel. Back in Hood River,
the local chapter of the American Legion
had seen things differently. In November 1944, its leaders
had ordered the names of 16 Nisei soldiers
blacked out from the honor roll
on the courthouse wall. LINDA: The response around
the country was immediate. The New York Times, the Chicago
Tribune, Collier’s called this Hood River’s
blunder. Letters condemning the action
poured into local papers, including from soldiers
serving with the 442nd. Local minister Sherman Burgoyne
was outraged. This action was un-Christian,
un-American, and undemocratic, he would say. And he challenged Hood River
to replace the names. He then became a victim
because other prominent members of the community
antagonized him. [ ♪♪♪ ] In May 1945, the world
celebrated victory in Europe. Later that summer, Japan
formally surrendered. GENERAL MACARTHUR: Let us pray
that peace be now restored to the world and that God
will preserve it always. World War II was over. Camps had been closing and Japanese Americans
were gradually leaving. But a harsh reality
greeted many. PEGGY:
My father came back to the farm and they had mass meetings
in Gresham. “Don’t let the Japs come back.” They couldn’t get insurance. They couldn’t sell
their produce. Their neighbors didn’t want
them around. [ ♪♪♪ ] In Portland, a Japanese cemetery
had been desecrated. GEORGE:
I remember going to school and my homeroom teacher
hating Japanese. I remember my father, who had
three businesses before the war, transferring twice on public
transportation, going to downtown Portland, making mashed potatoes
all day long. And back in Hood River,
a series of ads in the local papers were sending
a chilling message. LINDA: At the camps, the Issei
and Nisei received copies of the Hood River Sun,
the Hood River News and looked at these horrible,
horrible ads. And they saw neighbors and
people they considered friends who had signed statements discouraging them
from returning home. Among the first to return was
Bessie Asai’s future husband. I know that someone threw a rock
through the window of his home. and they tried to buy his land
— of course he wouldn’t sell. In the beginning they couldn’t
even buy seeds and stuff like that for
the farm, or food even. So they’d go as far
as The Dalles. That’s 20 miles away
from Hood River. Or some Caucasian neighbor,
like Mrs. Arline Moore, would buy the groceries
and bring it to them. LINDA: And Reverend Burgoyne
and Mrs. Moore founded the League for Liberty
and Justice. They volunteered to meet Issei
and Nisei on the train when they returned from camp. They sponsored educational
programs at churches and schools to help others learn about
especially the valiance of the Nisei soldiers. With pressure mounting,
the blacked-out names of the soldiers
were eventually restored to Hood River’s honor roll. But anti-Japanese attitudes
persisted, as army captain Sheldon Laurance
found out. WOMAN:
This was right after the war, and my dad was in a barbershop
in Hood River when George Akiyama walked in. George was in his — he was
a war veteran, of course, and he was in uniform
at the time. What happened next prompted
the captain to write a letter to the Oregonian. [ typewriter clacking ] JOAN: “The soldier
wore nine decorations on his battle jacket, among them the Bronze Star
and the Silver Star. Less than a minute passed when
the manager or owner of the shop stepped to the sergeant
and said, ‘Are you a Jap?’ The soldier replied,
‘What do you mean, a Jap? I’m an American.’ Whereupon the barber ordered him
to leave, then added, ‘I should’ve cut the blank’s
throat.'” My dad witnessed that and,
of course, he was very angered by it. MAN (VO): “Must I return
to my own community and witness such unjustified
prejudices and insults to some of the nation’s best
fighting men, men whose courage,
devotion to duty, and battle performance
has won the respect and thanks of millions
of service people?” JOAN: Sheldon E. Laurance,
Parkdale, Oregon. And as the tale is told,
he walked a half a mile in a snowstorm to get to
George’s house to personally apologize, so… Taka and Aya’s family, the
Iwasakis, left the Ontario area and returned to their farm
in Hillsboro, carefully tended during the war
by a friend. AYA: We got the Sherman neighbor
to negotiate and take over the harvesting of the berries
and the selling of the berries and look over the farm
until we came back. In Portland, the Matsushimas
opened a new store. YOJI: My father had to borrow
money from people and started with about $500. The American government
wouldn’t allow us to use the name Teikoku,
because it meant “imperial.” That’s when he borrowed the name
from a friend of his in Japan and called it Anzen,
which means “safety.” For many Japanese Americans,
just finding a place to live would be difficult. HENRY:
When the war ended, there was a lot of race
prejudice still. We went to this one place
and said we would like to, you know, rent the apartment. He says, “Well, I’m sorry. I won’t be able to rent
to you folks.” Some Japanese Americans
moved into former World War II housing projects, like Vanport,
or left the area altogether. GEORGE: They went to Denver. They went to Chicago. They went to New York. Plus the fact that when we were
incarcerated, the Chinese folks from Southwest Portland moved
into the former Japantown. So when we returned to Portland,
it was the new Chinatown. [ crow cawing
and traffic sounds ] Across the state, racist
attitudes would slowly change. In 1949, the Oregon Supreme
Court struck down the state’s Alien
Land Law. And in 1952, the federal
McCarran-Walter Act allowed Japanese nationals,
the Issei, to apply for U.S. citizenship. GEORGE:
My parents loved America in spite of what happened
to them, and they always wanted to be
citizens of this great country. My mother, who didn’t speak
English, had to take her test in English,
studied for three months, passed with flying colors. I was here to witness them
become citizens, and like other Niseis,
very, very proud of that day. BESSIE: My father and my mother
both became American citizens when they were able to,
because this was their home. YOJI:
My father decided that he was not going
to get his citizenship. I think he was bitter
about the war and what the government
did to him. GEORGE: There was no single
incidence of spying or espionage in the 120,000 Japanese
that were incarcerated. Not one single incident. Hood River pioneer Masuo Yasui
became a U.S. citizen when he was 66 years old,
but he never fully recovered from the war
and the stigma of camp. My father died of suicide. He died partly because
of his incarceration. I had no idea that the camp
that my mom went to was so different from
the fun, cheerful camp that I went to during
the summer. My mom didn’t want
to talk about it. The Japanese American community
didn’t want to talk about it. I became pretty angry about the
fact that I didn’t know more and I blamed my mother. I mean, I blamed my parents. LINDA:
They simply wanted to get along. If that meant submerging
their feelings, submerging their experiences,
and simply forgetting the past, I think some of them probably
were doing that. Then we hit the Civil Rights
Movement. It was all really about
finding your culture and finding your pride
and finding your voice. So it was — it’s still
a journey. In the early 1970s, the Japanese American Citizens
League, JACL, began the long struggle
for an official apology from the U.S. government. It’s like, we have to do this. We’re going to do this. And it was the people that came
together, that worked together, that believed in the story,
that believed in the history, that believed it was important. In response to the growing
movement, President Jimmy Carter created a
fact-finding commission in 1980. More than 750 witnesses
would testify about their experiences
during the war. The commission began issuing its
findings in late 1982. MAN (VO): “In sum, Executive
Order 9066 was not justified by military necessity. The broad historical causes
that shaped these decisions were race prejudice,
war hysteria, and a failure of political
leadership.” This was a congressional
commission saying that this was wrong,
that they ought to get redress, and that these were the reasons
for it. So it clearly had a huge impact. We gather here today
to right a grave wrong. In 1988, President
Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act. Japanese Americans
who’d been incarcerated and still living would each
receive $20,000, tax-free. [ ♪♪♪ ] HOMER:
There were two groups, I think, that would make redress possible
for the Japanese Americans. One was the bravery
and the heroism of the Japanese American
soldiers. You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice,
and you’ve won. And the other was JACL. Without those two, I’m convinced that we would not have gotten
redress. Everybody ought to be
acknowledged for it, including, I believe, the draft resisters,
the No-No Boys. They were all fighting for the
same thing, which was justice, which was in a country that has
a constitution like ours to uphold and defend and to
protect the Constitution. I know there’s still some people
that didn’t approve of us getting the $20,000 but,
you know, that’s nothing, nothing to what we lost. The late Minoru Yasui
had been a national leader in the redress movement. And over the years,
he’d never given up his own fight for justice. And what Yasui said to me is, “I
don’t know if we’re gonna win, Peggy, but we’re gonna
give ’em hell.” In 1983, Yasui had reopened
his curfew violation case, using newly uncovered evidence. PEGGY: The researcher for the
commission on wartime relocation found DeWitt’s original report
that said what the basis of the incarceration really was,
that it didn’t matter how long it took to figure out the loyal
from the disloyal because you couldn’t separate
the goats from the sheep. DeWitt based his opinion on the
Japanese race as an enemy race. So he’s basing it on race
and racism. Yasui lived to see his 1943
conviction vacated or nullified by the U.S. Supreme Court. On a Saturday night
in March of 1942, Minoru Yasui left his law office
to walk around Portland, Oregon. And in 2015, President Barack
Obama posthumously awarded him the Presidential Medal
of Freedom… MAN: Lori Yasui, receiving
on behalf of Minoru Yasui. The only Oregonian
to receive this award. [ applause ] [ ♪♪♪ ] Over the years,
communities in Oregon have acknowledged their past and
honored the sacrifices of Japanese Americans
with events and tributes. What was once Portland’s
assembly center now houses the Expo Center,
welcoming visitors through traditional Japanese
torii gates. [ ♪♪♪ ] Metal tags replicate those
that once hung from people. [ tags chiming ] And at Idlewild Cemetery
in Hood River, a monument made possible
by many, including the local American
Legion, stands on the Veterans
Walk of Honor. MAN: We decided to, let’s not
just honor those individuals who were blackened from
the honor roll, but all the Japanese Americans
who served our country. [ ♪♪♪ ] It’s a rock of healing. MAN: This has been a long
journey, but a glorious one. And we wish to thank all of you, all Americans for this
recognition. [ applause ] In 2011, the Congressional Gold
Medal was awarded to the Nisei
soldiers of World War II. We feel pretty lucky that they
did honor us eventually. [ ♪♪♪ ] Across the country,
those who were incarcerated, family and friends, make annual
pilgrimages back to the camps, like this one at Minidoka… to remember, heal,
and vow never again. CHISAO:
It’s an American story. It’s all of our story. HOMER: So much has been lost
from this evacuation day. And it’s never gonna be
regained. So I’m hoping that the country
wouldn’t — don’t do this again. Don’t go this way again. That’s what I hope. [ ♪♪♪ ] LAWSON: “With new hope,
we build new lives. Why complain when it rains? This is what it means
to be free.” [ ♪♪♪ ] There’s more about Oregon’s
Japanese Americans on Oregon Experience online. To learn more, visit [ ♪♪♪ ] Leading support for Oregon
Experience is provided by… Major support provided by… Additional support provided
by… And the contributing members
of OPB and viewers like you.

Tony wyaad



  1. live2av8 Posted on April 24, 2019 at 4:38 pm

    Very well done! Every Oregonian should know this history and strive to not repeat it.

  2. wattyofthewattykins Posted on April 26, 2019 at 10:52 pm

    Not that putting Japanese in concentration camps is a good thing but what these documentaries never discuss is how pervasive the ultra-nationalist movements were within these Japanese communities.

  3. Dat Soundboard Posted on April 27, 2019 at 5:16 am

    This is exactly what is happening right now in China against Chinese Muslims (ugyhur). But people don't do shit

  4. OhSweetMuffins Posted on April 27, 2019 at 2:44 pm

    Reddit brought me here! This documentary is amazing and I hope this never happens again!

  5. Mark S. Schwartz Posted on May 29, 2019 at 12:15 am

    Thank you for producing and showing this fine documentary. I had no idea Oregonians were interned. My mother was quite upset when her schoolmates in Boyle Heights in Los Angeles disappeared one day. πŸ™

  6. HERENA ZANO Posted on June 18, 2019 at 9:07 am

    Forgive shit… guys are the one who start the war 2…..ok you should be thankfull coz of what you guys they did to our countrt 😑😑😑 and now vanuatu😑😑

  7. HERENA ZANO Posted on June 18, 2019 at 1:17 pm

    Bitch yu luk like you have a lightning bitchπŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

  8. Parm Mohan Posted on July 30, 2019 at 6:43 am

    In Christianity, every cruel and wretched action is allowed because Jesus Christ will atone for it. Human character and integrity is not an essential practice. Racism is acceptable behaviour.

  9. Kuro Azrem Posted on August 7, 2019 at 4:12 am

    You know what the worst part is; those camps were not as remotely as bad compared to how the Germans, the Japanese, or even the Brits and Russians treated their POWΒ΄s and enemy populations. Imagine being a German living in England or the Soviet Union; you would have most likely gotten shot.

  10. jappie jappo Posted on August 20, 2019 at 6:23 am

    Japanese are the banned race in North America and Brazil.

  11. Tee Speck Posted on September 7, 2019 at 5:13 am

    Thank you OPB for this moving and wonderful documentary. I learned so much, and I am happy to support such a great organization. Keep up the great work.

  12. Kaid Gardner Posted on September 16, 2019 at 1:57 am

    such a sad story. And we haven't learned much from it.