A Place to Note Contributions of Japanese Pioneers Here

March 9, 2018 • Community, News

[The following editorial is being republished with permission from the Yakima Herald-Republic. It originally appeared in the newspaper’s Feb. 22, 2018, issue.]

By Yakima Herald-Republic Editorial Board

Eight years ago, the Yakima Valley Museum chronicled the forced relocation of more than 1,000 residents of Japanese descent from the Yakima Valley into internment camps outside the area, mostly at Heart Mountain, Wyo., during World War II. On [Feb. 18], the museum followed up its commitment to telling that story by hosting its first Day of Remembrance, which commemorated the 76th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of the executive order that sent more than 110,000 people from their homes. Out of Sunday’s event came an idea that could give more prominence to the role of Japanese pioneers in the Valley.

Patti Hirahara with some of her family’s Heart Mountain artifacts that are now on exhibit at the Yakima Valley Museum. (Photo: Courtesy of David Lynx)

The Day of Remembrance featured talks and presentations by some key players in telling the families’ stories. One was Patti Hirahara, a California resident whose father and grandfather were prominent in the Valley’s Japanese American community. She has archived historical photos and documents, placed artifacts in museums and put together a video that has aired at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, N.Y. Hirahara’s father and grandfather defied a ban on cameras at Heart Mountain and managed to take more than 2,000 photos of life in the camp.

Also speaking was Ellen Allmendinger, a Yakima County engineering department employee and Valley history tour guide. She spoke with detail about Japanese American businesses that existed in downtown Yakima but disappeared with Roosevelt’s executive order — along with a degree of economic vitality in the Valley.

Hirahara and Allmendinger provided valuable material for the Yakima Herald-Republic’s Tammy Ayer, who parlayed the 75th anniversary of Roosevelt’s internment order last February into a yearlong series detailing the lives of the uprooted families. Ayer also spoke at Sunday’s discussion, which was moderated by longtime Seattle TV journalist Enrique Cerna, who grew up in the Wapato area with several Japanese American families.

A focus of Sunday’s event was the history of the Pacific Hotel, which was operated by Hirahara’s grandfather, George Hirahara, from the mid-1920s until his internment in 1942. The building still exists on First Street just south of Yakima Avenue, its bottom floors occupied by Maker Space and the Downtown Association of Yakima, its upper floors vacant. Apartments could go into the upper floors down the road, but even sooner the building could serve as a historical marker.

A photo panel donated by Patti Hirahara to the Yakima Valley Museum. The panel shows her grandfather George Hirahara’s involvement in the Yakima Valley through the years with his Grand Marshall Ribbon from the Washington State Pioneer Power Show in 1987 and being a pioneer of the Central Washington State Fair in 1988. (Photo: Courtesy of David Lynx)

One idea presented at Sunday’s event was a plaque or monument at the hotel site to commemorate its role in the once-thriving Japan Town. The building is part of the city’s Downtown Historic Walking Tour, but its history as a center for the Japanese American community is not detailed. A physical commemoration would spread the story of Japanese pioneers outside of the museum and provide a different angle for those entities seeking to tell Yakima’s overall history.

The stories aren’t always easy to tell, as reflected in the title of the museum’s eight-year exhibit: “Land of Joy and Sorrow — The Japanese Pioneers of the Yakima Valley.” Very few returned from Heart Mountain to the Valley after World War II ended; by most estimates, around 10 percent of the interned Japanese Americans came back.

But the difficulty in passing along the stories underscore the need to tell them. A visible marker in downtown Yakima would supplement the work of the museum and this newspaper in their accounts of these important chapters of the Valley’s past.

— Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Bob Crider and Frank Purdy.

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