Before virtual reality software, TV and even radio, books served as our portals to other worlds and times. And staff at the Driftwood Public Library have chosen a vivid portal indeed for this year’s Lincoln City Reads program, which will see “Snow Falling on Cedars” serve as the inspiration for a slew of events throughout May.
David Guterson‘s award-winning bestseller, first published in 1994, tells a story set in the Pacific Northwest in the middle of the last century.
“The book has a few themes that we felt were relevant to the Central Coast including commercial fishing and rural area journalism,” said Circulation Supervisor Ken Hobson. “But the primary theme is that of the Japanese experience during and shortly after World War II.”
To help bring that story to life, on Sunday, May 5, Kurt Ikeda, education manager of the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center will be talking about the impact the imprisonment of Oregon’s Japanese residents, roughly two thirds of whom were American citizens, had on Portland and the greater Northwest.
“My grandfather was in a prison camp from the ages of eight until 11,” Ikeda said. “Growing up with that family history and some of the stories he told me before he died is a large reason why I do this work.”
To delve more deeply into the experience of his ancestors, Ikeda, formerly a high school teacher in Southern California, spent four months working at Minidoka National Historic Site, a preserved concentration camp in Idaho.
“The camp is where the people from Portland and other places in Oregon were held, so it was a natural fit for me to come here next,” he said. “Now I get to educate both young and old about parts of history they may not have known.”
The Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center is housed in a former hotel, a remnant of Portland’s pre-war Japantown and the site of efforts to revive some of the area’s history.
“Japantown in the 1940s was a thriving community with 86 hotels, 14 restaurants, 18 laundries and bath houses and four different newspapers,” Ikeda said. “There was a judo hall, sumo dojos and two different schools; there was even some rivalry between the sports teams. These people were given seven days to close up businesses, say goodbye to friends and neighbors and leave al-most everything, even their family dogs.”
After the war ended, only one business survived because their neighbors looked after the property. Though now in a different part of Portland, Ota Tofu is still owned and operated by the same family.
“I really want Oregonians to know some of the 120,000 stories of the Japanese exclusion, forced removal and unjust imprisonment,” Ikeda said. “That number has grown through inter-generational trauma.”
Ikeda recounted the story of Minoru Yasui, born in Hood River and a graduate of the University of Oregon Law School. Though a legal resident ready to fight for the United States, he was one those sent to the Minidoka camp. Prior to his imprisonment, Yasai used his legal knowledge to fight the injustices, famously saying, “What is done to the least of us can be done to all of us.” Yasai was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
Visitors to the library can see a visual account of the story in the traveling exhibit, “The Architecture of Internment,” on display through May 6, in the Distad Reading Room.
To represent the fishing theme in the book, on Saturday, May 11, Michelle Longo Eder will lead a discussion titled, “Salt in our Blood: Family Commercial Fishing in Lincoln County,” then on Sunday, May 12, members of the US Coast Guard will discuss the dangers of ocean fishing.
The importance of journalism in a small community will be the topic of a talk on Sunday, May 19, by Les Zaitz, publisher and editor of the Malheur Enterprise and former Oregonian reporter.
“My focus is on the loss of confidence in the news media and how we and citizens can work together to rebuild the trust that’s been lost,” he said. “It’s so important for citizens to have some-where to turn for accurate reporting of issues, especially ones that are relevant to them locally.”
Other events include trivia night at The Black Squid, a talk by a local farmer of Japanese descent, and the screening at the library of the documentary “Rabbit in the Moon.”
The series wraps up on Saturday, May 25, with a free screening of the 1999 film adaptation of “Snow Falling on Cedars” at the Bijou Theatre.
For more information, including event times, go to driftwoodlib.org or call 541-996-1242. Drift-wood Public Library is located on the second Floor of the Lincoln Square complex at 801 SW Hwy. 101.