Most of the 700 individuals of Japanese ancestry who were relocated from Hood River on May 13, 1942, have since passed on. Those who remain were young children at the time of the incarceration.
For our community, the opportunity to listen and learn from those times of hostility and ignorance can still be found through the living and recorded voices that remain.
Author, professor and historian Linda Tamura, whose parents and grandparents were on the Hood River train, provides some guidance from her own experience on how best to attend to this history lesson.
“I interviewed my grandmother (Asayo) Noji and learned her story and from that I put together the story of my whole family,” said Tamura. The topic of the deportation and three-year internment were not subjects openly discussed within the family during Tamura’s youth.
“My grandmother was reluctant to have anyone beyond the family read it. That helped me to understand Japanese culture much better, where group harmony is more important than the individual,” Tamura said.
The cultural value of attaining and maintaining group harmony, known in Japanese as “wa,” is seen as much more important than any single individual’s experience — a concept in stark contrast to the American value of the primacy of the individual.
Tamura, who was raised in Hood River, sought to understand how that value played out in the specific experience of internment, racism and prejudice which was thrust upon her family and all of the Japanese-Americans within our community.
“My grandmother’s reluctance was my incentive to interview more people,” said Tamura. “I wanted to learn more and so I interviewed members of her generation.”
Tamura’s first book, “The Hood River Issei: An oral history of Japanese Settlers in Oregon’s Hood River Valley,” was the result of her first journey of inquiry — seeking the sometimes-reticent voices of those who came before. Tamura’s work and family story poignantly sheds light on the experience of being a minority community in a country struggling with fear and racism.
Tamura’s book however is not a story of struggles alone. It is also a story of adaptation, human frailties, resilience, success, courage and forgiveness. It is a true picture of both ordinary and exemplary lives and a story shared by any community that must face injustice.
Long before Pearl Harbor, racist sentiments found their way into letters, articles and advertisements in the Hood River News — then and now the newspaper of record for Hood River County.
“A patriotism possesses them that is second to that of no other country or race, and inspires them with a passionate determination to extend the government, commercial and cultural influence of Nippon into all parts of the world,” read news article in 1919, according to Lauren Kessler’s book “Stubborn Twig,” first published in 1993.
“Japanese farmers have swarmed into the valley like an army of conquest,” the paper reported that year.
Though expressions of support and compassion for Nikkei members of the community could be found among the long gray columns of print, articles and advertisements in this newspaper from December 1941 through 1946 largely perpetuated the fear and suspicion so rampant in this valley and along the West Coast.
Here, are a few samples of what appeared in the pages of this newspaper.
— Kirby Neumann-Rea
Hood River News, December 12, 1941:
Arrival of the news that Japan has opened hostilities against the Hawaiian islands last Sunday synchronized with action taken by County Judge C.D. Nickelsen and Sheriff John Sheldrake to afford resident Japanese the maximum amount of protection against any untoward incident, which might be expected to come as a result of public indignation at the methods employed by the warlords of Japan against the United States.
The first intimation that M. Yasui, leading Japanese resident, had that hostilities had actually broken out between the United States and Japan, reached him when a member of the Civil Defense Council notified him and offered a number of suggestions to be followed by Japanese residents. Within an hour, County Judge Nickelsen and Sheriff Sheldrake visited Japanese leaders and stated that, under the existing circumstances, it would be to the best advantage of all Japanese if they would stay on their ranches and not come to town for a few easy, unless accompanied by a white American. The suggestion was quickly accepted, and before evening all Japanese in the valley were fully informed of what was required of them under orders issued by Governor Charles A. Sprague.
Under a blanket order of the federal government, all Japanese assets were immediately frozen and the first National bank received orders to refuse to honor any checks drawn by Japanese. This was regarded here as a temporary measure to be revised as soon as the status of the Japanese in the United States is defined.
Hood River News, December 12, 1941:
The views of many of the alien Japanese residents in Hood River valley on the present crisis, are expressed in the following letter from a prominent fruitgrower of the Upper Valley:
“Doubtless all of us so-called Alien Japanese in this country sincerely prayed, hoped and expected that there would be some way to iron out the difficulty between the United States and Japan peacefully. The war came so suddenly and unexpectedly I could hardly believe the news that war was declared and almost lost my mind about what to do. But time has brought back my senses and now I know very distinctly what to do if possible, directly or indirectly. I will fight against any enemy, including Japan, to protect my children and wife, all of whom are American citizens, and defend the community in which they live.
“Though we are denied the right to become naturalized by the Constitution of the United States, and I am a subject of Japan, I have lived in this country for the most part of my life and am as much Americanized as any of the immigrants who came to this country. I do fully understand the ideals of Democracy and am willing to prove this if there is any chance. I am more than willing to cooperate with the Civil Defense Council, Defense Food program or anything to protect the community where we make a living.
“I solemnly pledge my loyalty to this community and sincerely hope that America is big enough to give me the opportunity to prove it.”
May 8, 1942:
The posting of Civil Exclusion Order No. 49 at noon yesterday at many points in Hood River and in Hood River valley, marked the final chapter in the plan to move all Japanese and Americans of Japanese lineage from this section of Military Area No. 1. The order revealed that all will be on their way out of this area to Pinedale, Calif., by train by noon on Wednesday of next week, May 13 …
Cooperating in efforts to render all help to these evacuees are State Public Welfare commission, Hood River County Civil Defense and a number of other agencies, which will provide facilities for storage of goods and many other details. A U.S. Army unit, which arrived Wednesday of this week, will also help evacuees to move their belongings and give any other assistance required during evacuation.
When time for evacuation comes evacuees will be permitted to take with them bedding and linens (no mattresses) for each member of the family; toilet articles, extra clothing, knives, forks, spoons, plates, bowls and cups and essential personal effects. No pets of any kind will be permitted.
The U.S. Government is providing for the storage, at the risk of the owner, of all or any other furniture and effects belonging to evacuees.
Transportation will be furnished to the Assembly center from Hood River, and no private transportation will be permitted ...
All evacuees from Hood River, Wasco and Sherman counties will board a special train at Hood River and will proceed direct to Pinedale, near Fresno, California, where a special detention camp has been prepared.
Any Japanese or American of Japanese lineage remaining in this zone after noon on Wednesday, May 13, will be subject to arrest and internment.
May 15, 1942
The trek of a colony of more than 500 people of Japanese birth and lineage, including men, women and children, started by train at 10 a.m. Wednesday of this week from the Union Pacific depot, under U.S. Army orders, which ordained that, by noon, Wednesday, May 20, all persons of Japanese nationality and their American born children, should be entirely evacuated from Hood River valley, Bingen and White Salmon, Wasco and Sherman counties, all of which are within the designated Military area No. 1. There was but one exception to the order, Mrs. Kusachi, who, hospitalized several days ago, will later go to the Portland Assembly center, with her husband. Minoru Yasui, under bond to the U.S. district court at Portland for alleged violation of the curfew order, was taken to Portland on Tuesday, where he will await his hearing …
The several days before the time of departure arrived, was spent by old and young evacuees alike in this city, older folks making many purchases of household articles suitable for an assembly center, and the young people buying clothing, notions and enjoying their fill of ice cream. Many visited stores and other places of business to settle accounts, to the end that none could say any went away owing bills.
At the depot Wednesday morning, many hundreds of white residents had assembled, while troops and local and state law enforcement officers were on hand to witness the evacuation. Every detail went thru without the slightest unexpected incident, and there was not the least evidence of any hostility towards any of the evacuees. On the contrary, a most friendly spirit was maintained and there were many incidents which conveyed better than words, the spirit of compassion which was largely held for these evacuees who have come under the ban of stern military necessity.
Many groups stood chatting with their American friends until the “All aboard: signal was given — and then came hasty “Good-byes,” and the quick brushing of hands across eyes, as these evacuees faced the ordeal of leaving the valley they had called Home for many years — some of them, all their lives.
As the train slowly rolled out of the depot, there were some who are still privileged to stay and live in the beautiful Hood River valley, who noticed many of the older women who were in the coaches sat with bowed heads, while their men-folk stared straight ahead. And there were plenty of lumps in the throats of many who watched the train head west and who wondered how many other similar scenes are being enacted in many other sections of the world in this time of total war. These evacuees go to Pinedale, Calif., assembly center, near Fresno.
Hood River News, April 27, 1945:
Dillon S. Myer, head of the War Relocation Administration, Saturday of last week, at Library hall, outlined to an audience of about 80 residents, representing all sections of the valley, the task of his administration in repatriating a large number of Japanese and their American-citizen offspring during the remaining months of this year. A large section of the audience was comprised of listeners, but there were frequent interpolations from a group, members of which are leading the movement to have all Japanese and their Nisei sons and daughters excluded from their former homes in Hood River valley, where they were engaged largely in fruit growing before they were evacuated from this and other Pacific coast areas by order of the war department in the early summer following the Pearl harbor attack by Japan.
The WRA will close all evacuation centers before the end of this year and plans call for the complete rehabilitation of all evacuees who have passed the several tests for loyalty to the United States. Under the laws of the United States, said Myer, these evacuees now have the option to go wherever they please, and while his agency has advised them not to congregate in large numbers in any one community, as they had prior to the war, he made it clear that, if they make up their minds to return to their old homes, the WRA will give them all the help possible to assure that they are given fair treatment after they leave the evacuation centers.
Some of the reasons given by Myer for the rapid repatriation of these people were explained as follows:
There are between 18,000 and 20,000 children of school age who have spent three years in these relocation areas, and if they are to be given a chance to grow up as normal American children, they must be removed from the abnormal influences which prevails in these camps.
There is a great need of manpower, said Myer, and able-bodied workers should not be permitted to waste their energies in relocation centers. This is the best time for these people to enter the productive fields.
Japanese who are old and ill will need help from welfare agencies, which are now in a good position to give it.
Congress is anxious that the cost of maintaining these centers be eliminated as soon as possible.
“This is the job my administration has been delegated to do,” said Myer, “and we are going to do it to the best of our ability.”