Oregon ArtsWatch, March 23, 2021
As the only Oregon native to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, Minoru Yasui arguably should be a household name in the state already. Yet only recently—nearly eight decades after Yasui’s most heroic act—has his journey become known to a wider audience.
“Many people don’t know his story,” says Lynn Fuchigami Parks, executive director of the Japanese American Museum of Oregon. “But he really is a civil rights hero.”
Anyone who encounters Yasui’s former jail cell, which has been relocated to the Japanese American Museum of Oregon and restored over several months by artist Brian Borrello, will find his story hard to forget. The museum has been in the process of relocating from its longtime home on Second Avenue to the Old Town Lofts building at NW Fourth and Flanders. It’s set for a by-appointment reopening on May 7. Once it does reopen, visitors can get a vivid sense of life in Portland’s Japantown—or Nihonmachi—through a collection of artifacts and photographs from the museum’s permanent collection. Yet nothing can quite compare to the arresting power of this eight-by-eight-foot steel cell, where Yasui spent nine months in solitary confinement in 1942 and ’43.