In addition to recognizing and remembering Day of Remembrance, the chapter gathers to honor its roots and continue its work for the future.
By Christopher Lee, Portland JACL board member
Day of Remembrance usually involves retelling and reliving some “traditional” stories about the effects of Executive Order 9066, but Portland JACL decided that it should also combine important duty with a birthday bash.
On Feb. 17, the Portland Chapter of JACL celebrated “90 Years of Service to Our Community” with a luncheon at the Aerie at Eagle Landing in Happy Valley, Ore.
Arriving guests were treated to a slideshow that demonstrated Portland JACL’s rich history — including pictures from the Portland State University Archives and the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, as well as more recent images from the chapter’s annual calendar and monthly newsletters.
The program began with music from the Minidoka Swing Band, one of the chapter’s ongoing projects. The band played a mix of classics and jazz standards. Local newscaster Kyle Iboshi from the NBC affiliate KGW-Channel 8 led the program as the master of ceremonies.
Iboshi gave a summary of the historical events of the early 1900s, such as Oregon’s Alien Land Bill and the federal government’s 1924 exclusion act that led to the formation of the Portland Progressive Citizens League, which was the chapter’s original name before changing to the Japanese Citizens League when it merged with the national organization out of Seattle.
One of the first issues that the Portland Progressive Citizens League tackled was helping to simplify the process for Nisei in Oregon to obtain birth certificates.
Other early battles focused on securing citizenship for Nisei veterans and challenging the Portland Realty Board’s support of segregated neighborhoods. Portland JACL also actively tried to find ways for Nisei to get better jobs. Although housework or other physical labor was readily available, it was very difficult to get a well-paying office job.
The scholarship committee, which is still a major function of Portland JACL, was started to provide tuition for college. At that time, $100 scholarships were awarded, which covered a year of tuition at an Oregon state school. This May, the Japanese American Graduation and Scholarship Banquet will celebrate its 71st year.
Seventeen past Portland JACL presidents were in attendance at the event, with many relating stories surrounding Executive Order 9066, the chapter’s first Day of Remembrance ceremony in 1979 and its effort in helping National JACL achieve redress for its members.
After 90 years, what comes next? Japanese Americans have gone from being illegal aliens to prisoners in their own land and now a respected part of the community.
Yet, immigrants still face many obstacles today. A travel ban isn’t much different from an exclusion act, and deporting dreamers is not dissimilar to denying citizenship to the Issei. Today’s first-generation immigrants still face many of the same challenges that Japanese Americans experienced before WWII.
After hearing Portland JACL’s history and listening to the chapter’s past presidents, there is hope that in the next 90 years, immigrants and their “Issei” can come to this country in the true spirit of America. Never give up!