Exhibit highlights Oregonians' role in Japanese internment
The Columbia County Coalition for Human Dignity is hosting an exhibit this month exploring Oregonians' role in the internment of thousands of Japanese people in the United States during World War II.
The exhibit, titled "The Architecture of Interment: The Buildup to Wartime Incarceation," showcases eight panels of text, excerpts of historical documents, photos and other quoted materials to explain what led to the internment of Japanese citizens and non-citizens during the 1940s, and how Oregonians were involved.
Throughout October, the exhibit is traveling to various locations in the county. The first week of the month it was housed at the Clatskanie Cultural Center. This week, it was displayed at the St. Helens Public Library. Later this month it will be featured at Scappoose and Vernonia high schools.
On Tuesday, Oct. 9, the human dignity coalition hosted an evening lecture at the St. Helens library featuring several guest speakers, including the former executive and founding director of the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center in Portland, June Arima Schumann, and Chelsea Strautman, a St. Helens-based immigration and social justice attorney.
During the presentation, Schumann spoke about the historical significance and timeline leading up to internment of Japanese people in the 1940s, including local stories of those affected in places like Portland and Hood River.
Strautman spoke about present-day immigration news and the challenges facing asylum seekers trying the enter the United States. Strautman discussed her experience working with Immigration Customs and Enforcement detainees held at a federal facility in Sheridan earlier this year.
Lawson Fusao Inada, Oregon's fifth poet laureate and a survivor of the interment camps was scheduled to speak, but was unable to travel due to health concerns. Instead, Elaine Nussbaum, a member of the Columbia County Coalition for Human Dignity, read excerpts from two of Inada's books, "Only What We Could Carry" and "Legends from Camp."
A similar presentation will be held at the Scappoose High School library Tuesday, Oct. 16, at 6:30 p.m.
Gigi Gordon, a member of coalition, said the stationary display is meant to be informational and to explain the historical context of previous social injustices in the country.
"You know, it goes with that old adage, 'Those who don't learn history are doomed to repeat it, and that's exactly what's going to happen,'" Gordon said, drawing parallels between historical and modern events.
Gordon said reactions to the display so far have run the gamut from visitors saying they were old enough to remember when Japanese internment happened, while others have said they learned something new by visiting the exhibit and hadn't studied the topic much when they were in school.
Assembling the exhibit has been informational and inspirational in a sense, she explained.
"This whole process of displaying the exhibit and putting it together has been so interesting," Gordon said. "We've got to remind people it happened so it doesn't happen again."
The "Architecture of Interment" display will be hosted in the Scappoose High School library from Oct. 15-19 and the Vernonia School Library from Oct. 22-26.