After our adventure out to Tillamook Forest, the Tillamook Cheese Factory and the beach, we made our way back to Portland. As you will recall from our first post in this series, we went on this road trip in 2012, six weeks after both of our grandparents passed away hours apart.
Portland is a city of great importance to our family history. Our grandma was born in Sherwood but she grew up in Portland. As she grew older, she never had the desire to go back so we never got to experience the city with her. However, our mom had spent time in Portland with her mom so we got to have these experiences second hand.
Portland had a large population of Japanese immigrants at the turn of the century. Our maternal great grandfather sailed to Oregon in 1906. He was originally going to immigrate to San Francisco, but he saw the devastation of the 1906 earthquake from the boat and decided to sail on to Oregon. A large community developed in the area and today there is still a large Japanese presence in the city.
We went into downtown Portland and walked around Japantown. The site that had the most impact on us was the Japanese American Historic Plaza. This plaza is part of the Tom McCall Waterfront Park which sits on 36 acres and runs along the Willamette River.
The Plaza was developed by the Oregon Nikkei Endowment “… to raise greater public awareness about the diversity of cultural experiences in America. The Japanese American experience is a unique story that evokes a deep appreciation of the freedoms granted to all Americans by their Bill of Rights.” This article from 2010 was written on the 20th anniversary of the Plaza’s dedication and gives more description of the Plaza.
The Plaza features several cast bronze reliefs and large granite slabs that have been engraved with poems that tell the story of Japanese Americans in Portland during World War II and with the names of internment camps. One hundred cherry trees shade the Plaza and people are a draw to the area every spring when they blossom.
We started out by reading this dedication plaque, that explains the purpose of the Plaza.
One of the bronze relief sculptures showing a father carrying his son on his back.
This granite slab is engraved with the names of the internment camps. Our grandma was interned at the Minidoka War Relocation Center with her family. Read our blog post about our visit to Minidoka here.
Another bronze relief depicts a Japanese American soldier. While in camp, Army recruiters came looking to enlist young men to fight in the Army. Many did their patriotic duty even though they were being incarcerated by the same government that was now asking for help. Japanese Americans were organized into two regiments, which later combined to form a single combat team: the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Infantry Regiment.
The 442nd Regiment became one of the most decorated units in American military history. For more, read History.com’s Unlikely World War II Soldiers Awarded Nation’s Highest Honor.
One of the poems.
Another relief depicting children waiting on the train to leave for camp.
Another poem relaying the sentiment of Japanese American children in internment camps.
A depiction of the Japanese Americans being forced to report for deportation to internment camps, in accordance with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066.
A poem talking about the experience of being sent to internment camp.
The following two pictures are of the cast bronze copy of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 that acknowledged and apologized for the evacuation and internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.