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Roots and Branches: Past, present and future

Easter morning woke quietly across the valley, painting the sky with the soft glow of peaches ripening in the heat of summer. As the rays of the rising sun kissed the mountain tops, the wash of peach turned the shimmering, snowy peaks a fiery orange. Perfect weather conditions to create Easter Sunday in technicolor, proving once again that Mother Nature is seldom rivaled by man’s attempt to capture her creations on canvas or recreate her spectacular beauty.

I had ventured out much earlier in the morning, when the hillsides were still cloaked in darkness, checking the temperature and frost gauges, listening for the flutter of fans beating back Mother Nature’s counterpart, Father Frost. The closer they came as the cold rolled up the valley, the more urgent the need to add our orchard fans to the cacophonous concert.

Hallelujah! It was not necessary this fine Easter morn. I returned to the comfort of our warm bed, catching a few more ZZZZs before the grandmotherly duties of hiding eggs for the youngest grandchildren called me back into my boots and jeans. In the interest of instilling healthier life choices for their family, Niko and Kathy had asked that we stuff fewer eggs with candy for Ren and Aya, and think in a less food centric manner the way we celebrated this holiday.

Our family traditions have long been one of coloring eggs around a newspaper draped table the evening before Easter, then hiding the eggs for all the kids that joined us before the holiday Sunday feast. Food centric for sure. Adults would fill the plastic eggs with little candies, and kids would receive baskets filled with sugary treats. Huge chocolate bunnies were a must have in the basket, but as our own children aged, we began filling plastic eggs with quarters to ply the washing machines in their college dorms. At least they didn’t bring dirty clothes home for their mother to wash over Easter break.

We were open to changing traditions. A handful of Hersey Kiss-stuffed eggs led to the grandkid’s vegetable garden, where a flat of strawberry plants awaited their eager digging trowels. For Corey and Cara’s three,who were past the Easter Bunny stage, but still loved the adventure of an egg hunt, we filled plastic eggs with puzzle pieces, starting the puzzle together, then searching for the missing pieces secreted in eggs in the upstairs loft. They too got planting soil and strawberry plants so they could experience the excitement of watching their own gardens grow and add fresh fruit to their breakfast menu. I love instituting new traditions while paying homage to the old.

This last year has been intrinsically tied to the past, paying homage to those who have faced the trials of discrimination and preventing similar actions in the present and future. Each action has instigated a new action. Beginning with the long journey of securing the Presidential Medal of Freedom for Minoru Yasui in November 2015, through the institution of Minoru Yasui Day on March 28, 2016, in Oregon, the March on the Multnomah County Jail, the joint resolution by Oregon’s legislature in 2017, to acknowledge the 75th anniversary of President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which stripped Japanese Americans of their possessions, their sense of acceptance and ultimately their freedom.

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Kendra Wilkins and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown.

On March 28, granddaughter Kendra Wilkins opened the House session in Salem, moving some legislators to tears with her acapella version of the song Manzanar by Tom Russell (if you wish to hear her go to this link: youtu.be/HrG7x9_LVQU). In the evening, we attended the premiere of the film “Never Give Up,” the story of Minoru Yasui’s fight for “Justice for All.” It is never more relevant than in these political times.

As the family sat in the packed Grand Theater in downtown Salem, elbow to elbow with the governor, senators and representatives, Jun Schumann from Oregon Nikkei Museum handed me a package of identification tags and instructions on filling them out for a project that Chisao Hato was creating for the evacuation of Japanese from Portland in 1942. Would I ask the students who had participated in the 2016 March For Justice in Portland help detail these identification tags, with each evacuees name and ID number who was forcefully interned at the Portland Assembly Center on May 5, 1942?

I accepted the challenge, but shared that while our students are tremendous advocates, it is always their decision about the projects with which they may wish to get involved. I was thrilled that they wanted to help the Portland group with these tags. But why weren’t we doing them for the evacuation from Hood River, which occurred on May 13, 1942? This would be the 75th anniversary. Yep, once again the pushed by youth, we had to move forward.

County and city officials are working on their own resolutions to be read at the May 13th noon event at the train depot, where 398 Hood River residents of Japanese Ancestry, most American citizens by birthright, were forcefully evacuated. Hood River Valley High School Leadership students are making 398 identification tags that will be flown as a reminder to us all that this injustice should never happen again. Kendra will once again sing the soulful song “Manzanar” to illustrate the suffering of the Japanese community. A dedication of the Minoru Yasui Legacy stone now placed on the north lawn of the library on State Street will also be held.

Our students carry forward the plea that this type of injustice will never happen again. We deeply appreciate their commitment, their willingness to mobilize, and their passion for the rights described in our constitution. It is our responsibility as well to uphold the human rights of all people, from every faith, walk of life, age, ethnicity, culture and gender. We are one.

Join us at high noon on May 13th at the Mount Hood Railroad depot in downtown Hood River. We will be instituting a new tradition which pays homage to the past by creating a future where justice is available to all.



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