YAKIMA, Wash. — Having its successful exhibition “Land of Joy and Sorrow: Japanese Pioneers of the Yakima Valley” celebrating its eight-year anniversary in 2018, the Yakima Valley Museum will be holding its first Day of Remembrance event on Sunday, Feb. 18.
The exhibition has been one of the museum’s most successful endeavors with the exhibit winning the 2011 Washington Museum Association’s Award of Exhibit Excellence. The association noted that “the museum went beyond textbooks and documentaries, seeking out personal histories and artifacts concerning the community’s past and present. Not only is it a significant contribution to the understanding of a community; it also enhances the rich history of Washington State. In creating it, the Yakima Valley Museum has set an elevated standard for all heritage organizations throughout the state.”
Since last year, due to the 75th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which put over 110,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans into incarceration camps during World War II, the Yakima Valley community has focused on this history that devastated the Nikkei community in 1942.
Tammy Ayer, features/reader engagement editor of The Yakima Herald Republic, started a year-long monthly series highlighting this anniversary in February of last year to focus on this vanishing community.
“Concerning my series, I’ve most enjoyed solving mysteries created by the loss of local knowledge and the passage of time,” Ayer said. “I relished seeing the response to the story about Japantown in Yakima. The comments from readers amazed me; so many were from people who grew up here, who have lived here for decades and never learned that Yakima had a thriving Japantown.
“Readers have sent me snail mail and emails about the series as well as adding their own memories. One woman was 4 years old when she heard her mom talking about members of the Valley’s Japanese community being forced to leave everything they had for imprisonment at Heart Mountain. ‘I remember Mom saying it was wrong,’ the woman said in a letter. ‘Many of her friends were sent to Heart Mountain and never returned to the Valley.’
“In terms of what has resonated most for me while doing this series, in the beginning, I didn’t think much about the ramifications of just 10 percent of a community returning to the Yakima Valley. But the more I learned more about this community, I realized how much was lost. The Valley would be a very different place today if EO 9066 had never happened.”
Ellen Allmendinger, a Yakima historic tour guide and speaker, started to work with Ayer and had been leading historic walking tours of Yakima’s Japantown, Downtown Yakima, Historic Tahoma Cemetery and other vicinities since 2016.
“Researching the multi-layered facets of the residents, businesses and buildings within Yakima’s once-thriving Japantown has been a fascinating journey,” Allmendinger said. “Having the means to share the information via tours and speaking engagements has been both an honor and a blessing.”
Allmendinger is also a public speaker and has given many presentations on Yakima’s history at a variety of venues, meetings and engagements. Currently she is completing her first book, “The Hidden History of Yakima, Washington,” with Arcadia Publishing, scheduled to be released this year. It will include Yakima’s Japantown history.
As a wrap-up of The Yakima Herald Republic’s year-long focus on the Japanese American community and EO 9066, the Yakima Valley Museum will host “The Yakima Valley Japanese Pioneers: Their Story Continues to Educate New Generations” event from 1 to 3 p.m. on Feb. 18.
A panel discussion and audience question-and-answer will include Ayer, Allmendinger, and Patti Hirahara, from Anaheim, whose family history has been instrumental in telling the Yakima story across the U.S. as well as inspiring the creation of the museum’s current exhibit.
Hirahara has been promoting the Yakima story since 2008, when she contacted the Yakima Valley Museum to see if they had ever done an exhibition on the Japanese pioneers in this Central Washington region. She donated her family’s artifacts, documents, and photos to help create a collection that would allow the museum to develop an exhibition.
Three generations of the Hirahara family lived in the Yakima Valley before the war, farming and also owning/operating the 60-room Pacific Hotel in Japantown.
Of the 1,018 people that left from the Wapato, Wash. train station to the Portland Assembly Center and then to Heart Mountain in Wyoming in June 1942, only 10 percent returned, with the Hiraharas among the first.
“I am very happy to come and participate in this very important program and to share what I have learned about my own family history in the Valley before and after World War II,” Hirahara said. “This was my family’s home and where two generations are buried. So this is a second home to me.”
Peter Arnold, executive director of the Yakima Valley Museum, said, “The museum is proud to host its first Day of Remembrance event. The story of the Yakima Japanese community and EO 9066 encapsulates the very purpose of history — that is by studying the past we can make better decisions in the future. We are very grateful to the panelists for all the work they have done to make this event a reality.”
After the panel, guests are invited to visit the “Land of Joy and Sorrow” exhibit until closing at 5 p.m. Admission to the panel and exhibit will be free for all the event attendees. Due to limited seating, the museum requests that all attendees RSVP by calling (509) 248-0747 by Feb. 15.
For more information, visit: http://yakimavalleymuseum.org/