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Crook County Library hosts exhibit exploring World War II Japanese internment April 16-28

 - People visit a traveling exhibit that explores how Oregonians participated in the decision to incarcerate Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants during World War II. The exhibit comes to the Crook County Library next week.

Not many history classes cover the Japanese internment of World War II, but it happened, and it affected Japanese people in Oregon.

"The incarceration of Japanese Americans and immigrants during World War II is considered by many as one of the worst human rights violations in U.S. history," said Buzzy Nielsen, the Crook County Library director.

Central Oregon residents have an opportunity to learn more about this decision in an exhibit at the Crook County Library, "Architecture of Internment — The Build Up to Wartime Incarceration." The exhibit, which runs from April 16 to 28, is co-sponsored by the Human Dignity Advocates of Crook County, the Rural Organizing Project, and the library.

"It's really important that we understand our history, and this was a pretty dark point in our history," said Barbara Fontaine, who is on the leadership team of the Human Dignity Advocates of Crook County. "The people of Oregon were complacent in the final decision to incarcerate Japanese Americans and immigrants. It was horrific."

"Architecture of Internment," designed by Portland-based Graham Street Productions, is a traveling exhibit that highlights the role of Oregonians in the decision to incarcerate 120,000 Japanese Americans and immigrants, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens.

Several panels will be displayed on easels and set up in the main part of the library.

On display are personal letters sent from Oregonians to Governor Charles Sprague, advocating for the exclusion and incarceration of Oregonian Japanese Americans. Also on display are reproductions of blueprints of potential "Assembly Center" and "Relocation Camp" locations, which were planned in places such as race tracks and fairgrounds. The outrage of Japanese Americans is expressed in the exhibit through their own personal letters.

"It's well done. It leads you through a storyline, capturing the atmosphere that was going on at this time in our country, and it has been very well researched," Fontaine said of the exhibit, adding that the subject has not been covered extensively in history classes.

As part of the exhibit, the library will host a showing of the film "A Family Gathering" about the Yasui family of Hood River County in Oregon.

"The film explores the legacy the incarceration had in the family and the deep silence and shame that followed it for many years," Nielsen said.

The Yasui family was the subject of Lauren Kessler's book "Stubborn Twig," which was selected as an Oregon Reads title in 2009 by the Oregon Library Association. "A Family Gathering" was broadcast as an episode of the PBS series "American Experience" in 1989.

Before coming to Crook County, Nielsen directed the public libraries in Hood River County, which was and still is home to a lot of people of Japanese heritage.

"The World War II internment deeply affected families in the Hood River Valley. Many lost their homes, their property, and their livelihoods," Nielsen said. "The decision to incarcerate Japanese Americans and immigrants in World War II has lasting impact even to this day, which is quite evident in Hood River County."

That history does not seem to have touched Central Oregon as deeply as it did the Gorge, Ontario, or some other areas of Oregon, he pointed out.

"I think it's really important for people to inform themselves about this part of our history and what caused it, and hopefully we can learn something so that we can avoid the mistakes of the past," Nielsen said.

He agreed to help bring the exhibit to the local library, noting that the core of their mission is a dedication to lifelong learning.

"That includes helping youth, but we also want to offer educational, informative, and rewarding programs and exhibits for adults," Nielsen said. "When HDA approached us to host this exhibit, we really felt that this is a deeply important and sometimes forgotten part of Oregon's history, so we were eager to help people learn more about it."

Fontaine said Human Dignity Advocates, which has 25 active members in Crook County, heard about the exhibit through the Rural Organizing Project, a statewide organization of locally based groups that believe in the equal worth of all people, the need for equal access to justice, and the right to self-determination. That group provided the funding for distributing the exhibit around the state.

"When local history is highlighted in ways that connects it to the broader more national history landscape, I think it's really meaningful for people," Fontaine said. "There are a lot of ethnic groups and immigrant groups today in our country who are facing the same kinds of uncertainty and hatred that was present when the decision to intern Japanese Americans was made — a lot of similarities — and we need to know our history in order to prevent this from happening again."

"Architecture of Internment - The Build Up to Wartime Incarceration" exhibit

Dates: April 16-28

Movie Night: "A Family Gathering"

Date: 5-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 17

Cost: Free

Place: Crook County Library, 175 NW Meadow Lakes Drive

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