February 19 is the Japanese American Day of Remembrance, a time to reflect on the impact of the incarceration of Japanese Americans in the United States during WWII. Starting in February 2022, there will be a special Day of Remembrance mini exhibit at the Japanese American Museum of Oregon that focuses on life at the Portland Detention Center and history of the remembrance events. As always, our permanent exhibition also has many items related to Executive Order 9066, the Detention Center, and the concentration camps where Japanese Americans were eventually sent.
On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the removal of all people from military areas “as deemed necessary.” 110,00 Nikkei were excluded from the West Coast, forcibly removed, and incarcerated in various confinement sites.
Nikkei living in Portland and Southwest Washington had seven days to close shop, sell off personal belongings, say their goodbyes, and report to the temporary Portland Detention Center, formerly the Pacific Northwest Livestock Exposition. They were assigned a family number, given an identification tag, and shown an animal stall to live in, their new “home” for the summer of 1942.
The War Relocation Authority (WRA) laid floorboards on top of manure and built dividers between animal stalls to create living quarters. The site functioned like a small town; the WRA appointed a center manager, and responsibilities were divided into twenty departments like food, mail, security, and school. They were all coordinated by an advisory board of Nikkei.
View this hand-sewn Fire Department arm band in our exhibit, as well as photographs, objects, and a letter from Yashichiro Funatake depicting details of everyday life at the detention center, complete with hand-drawn map. You can also flip through a digital copies of the Evacuazette, the newspaper created by Nikkei almost immediately after they were detained at the center, which is full of drawings, news of arrivals, and stories from detention.
Thirty-six years after the signing of EO9066, Japanese Americans in Seattle put together the first Day of Remembrance events. The logo, which can be seen in the mini exhibit, was designed by Pacific-Northwest local Frank Fujii, a Seattle Nisei once incarcerated at the Puyallup detention center and Tule Lake concentration camp.
Mr. Fujii was also a Korean War veteran and the Director of Graphic and Instruction Resources at Seattle Central Community College. He was, “thrilled to have the Day of Remembrance use my symbol. That symbol means a lot to me. It has the kanji for the numbers one, two, three, representing the three generations of Japanese Americans who were in concentration camps. Surrounding the kanji is the barbed wire that surrounded the camps. The symbol really depicts to me what it was all about without being too harsh.” The symbol was used at the first Puyallup Day of Remembrance in 1978; Portland held its first event the following year.
“Some people came up to me afterward and said they were going to take the symbol home and frame it. I felt so proud when I heard that.”
Mr. Fujii added, “I am afraid for anyone who can lose rights without due process the way we did. You know everyone in this country is a hyphenated American, and this could have happened to anyone.”
You can visit the Day of Remembrance mini exhibit and our permanent exhibition, Oregon’s Nikkei: An American Story of Resilience Friday-Saturday, 11AM – 3PM. Call 503-224-1458 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your timed-entry tickets.
The 2022 Portland JACL Day of Remembrance, Organizing in Solidarity: Continuing the Fight for Reparations event will take place February 26. You can read more about it here.