Event chronicles WWII internment of Japanese Americans
Japanese internment was one of the darker chapters in American history. Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Feb. 19, 1942 — 10 weeks after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawai'i — authorized the Secretary of War to prescribe certain areas as military zones, clearing the way for the incarceration of Japanese Americans in United States concentration camps during World War II.
In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the order, "The Architecture of Internment: The Buildup to Wartime Incarceration" exhibit from Graham Street Productions (GSP) will visit the Walters Cultural Arts Center Theater, 527 E. Main St. in Hillsboro, for a one-night pop-up event on Tuesday, Oct. 17, from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
The exhibit is touring around the state to share the heartbreaking history of internment of Oregonians of Japanese ancestry during WWII. It tells the story of how individuals, organizations, businesses and elected officials advocated for the incarceration of Oregonians of Japanese ancestry or stood by while it happened, as well as the stories of those who spoke against it.
The idea for the exhibit had been germinating in GSP co-founder Anne Galisky ever since she explored the files of Oregon Governor Charles Sprague in the Oregon Archives for a master's thesis she was working on that explored the populist push to incarcerate Japanese Americans and their immigrant parents.
"Some of the most astonishing materials that I found in the files were blueprints of Oregon fairgrounds and racetracks along with reports on how they could be used as temporary prisons for Oregonians of Japanese ancestry," Galisky said.
GSP has produced two feature-length documentary films, "Papers: Stories of Undocumented Youth" and "14: Dred Scott, Wong Kim Ark & Vanessa Lopez" and one book, "Papers: Stories by Undocumented Youth." One day, when Galisky received a definitive 'no' on the public distribution of one of their films, she decided to pursue the internment project in late 2015.
The vast majority of the documents are from the Oregon State Archives in Salem. The Governor Sprague files hold the letters, proclamations, telegrams, blueprints and other documents that are reproduced in the exhibit. These materials are official correspondence and are accessible to the general public. Oregon Nikkei Endowment, Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project and Holly Yasui also provided images that appear in the exhibit.
"One of the difficulties for me, personally, was reading and absorbing all of these documents, and realizing what was missing: there are hardly any letters that objected to the incarceration of Japanese Americans," said GSP lead distributor, filmmaker and photographer Roland Wu.
The GSP team has witnessed a number of people finding their parents' and grandparents' signatures in the six-page 'loyalty oath' document from Hood River in the exhibit. The main drive behind the project is to convey the idea that the incarceration of Japanese Americans came about because of the active choices of individuals who designed, planned and carried out acts of blatant discrimination, oppression and injustice. Even before the executive order, business leaders and elected officials in Oregon were already calculating how they could profit off of the prison labor of Japanese Americans.
The exhibit has a special connection to the Walters building, which was previously the First Trinity Lutheran Church. The red stone that gives the building its iconic look was brought by the volunteers who hauled it from a quarry in 1949. Among these volunteers were the brothers of George Iwasaki, a Japanese American and Hillsboro resident whose family lost their farm during the war and became laborers for sugar beet and onion farms in eastern Oregon to evade incarceration.
"I am haunted by the absence of people standing up to this injustice, and the implications of this absence," said Wu. "What happens when people who believe themselves to be good, stand by and do not stand up against the injustices of their times?"