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New OPB Documentary Explores the Rich History and Unjust Treatment of Oregon’s Japanese Americans


Later this month, OPB will premiere a new historical documentary “Oregon’s Japanese Americans,” which explores the history of Oregon’s Japanese community from its early pioneer beginnings to its forced incarceration during World War II, and beyond.  

This one-hour “Oregon Experience” documentary airs on OPB TV Monday, April 22 at 9 p.m. and will be available to watch online at the same time at opb.org/JapaneseAmericans.  

In the early 1900s, Japanese Americans had established a vibrant community in the Old Town district of Portland, Oregon, where more than a hundred businesses thrived. Japanese American businessmen and farmers also staked their futures in the Hood River Valley—clearing forest land, planting strawberries and creating orchards of apples and pears. The Issei, or first-generation Japanese immigrants, were raising children who were American-born citizens.   

Families laid down roots in Oregon and were here to stay. Their success, though, fueled anti-Japanese attitudes long before the start of World War II. The bombing of Pearl Harbor would greatly magnify the growing racial hatred toward Japanese Americans.  

In February 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 that authorized the forced removal of all people of Japanese ancestry—regardless of citizenship—from the West Coast.   Nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans were sent to ten incarceration camps located in isolated parts of the country. Most from the Portland area boarded a train for Minidoka near Twin Falls, Idaho. Those from the Hood River Valley were transported to Tule Lake in northern California or Heart Mountain in Wyoming. Families lived in rudimentary, uninsulated barracks surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. They were denied their civil rights.   

Decades later, camp survivors, their children and grandchildren would help fight for an official apology from the U.S. government—and win.    

OPB’s new documentary traces the rich history and painful experiences of Oregon’s Japanese Americans. It follows the people who were forced to suddenly abandon homes, schools and businesses, only to return after the war and start over as intense prejudice prevailed.    

Oregon’s Japanese Americans” also visits the national historic sites of Minidoka and Tule Lake to learn what life was like there during World War II. The program features archival film, photographs and firsthand accounts from camp survivors. Interviews include:  

  • Linda Tamura, author and professor of education emerita, Willamette University
  • Henry Sakamoto, Portland businessman and community activist who helped create Portland’s Japanese American Historical Plaza
  • George Nakata, Portland businessman and community activist Homer Yasui, retired surgeon and son of Hood River pioneer Masuo Yasui; and brother of attorney Minoru Yasui, the first Japanese American admitted to the Oregon State Bar
  • Lawson Fusao Inada, former Oregon poet laureate
  • Matthew Stringer, executive director of Four Rivers Cultural Center in Ontario, Oregon  

Oregon’s Japanese Americans” premieres on OPB TV Monday, April 22 at 9 p.m. and will be available to watch online at the same time at opb.org/JapaneseAmericans. The film is written and produced by Nadine Jelsing, edited by Dan Evans and narrated by Cathy Kiyomura.

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