A Portland man will recount his family’s experiences living in an American concentration camp during World War II.
In May 1942, George Nakata’s family was forced to give up their possessions, lived in a stockyard surrounded by barbed wire, and was sent to Minidoka Relocation Center near Jerome, Idaho. Thousands of other Japanese-American families experienced similar treatment in the years following the 1941 attack at Pearl Harbor.
“Experiences in an American Concentration Camp” is Saturday from 1-2:30 p.m. at Tamástslikt Cultural Institute, located near Wildhorse Resort & Casino in Mission. Admission is free and refreshments will be served.
The presentation is held in conjunction with the current exhibit, “Art of Survival: Enduring the Turmoil of Tule Lake.” The northern California site was the largest confinement center, housing those considered “disloyal” to the United States.
Initially, Nakata and his family were taken to the North Portland Livestock Yard — now the Portland Expo Center. They lived in plywood stalls created for livestock for six months, Nakata said, while permanent camps were constructed.
“I remember walking into that building to this day — the pungent odor of manure seeping through the wooden floors, the urine smell permeating throughout the building, fly paper hung with flies all over, pigeons flying around, surrounded by barbed wires and a guard station,” Nakata said.
Eventually, the Nakata family was sent to Minidoka, which housed nearly 10,000 people from 1942-45. Although conditions were brutal, Nakata said the Japanese were resourceful people — starting their own schools, hospitals and even creating a baseball diamond.
As the war ended, the concentration camp residents — 120,000 Japanese-Americans were held in Utah, Arizona, Idaho and California — were given $25 and a ticket back to their home states, Nakata said. However, he said most had lost their homes and businesses.
“I believe that in America, freedom is fragile. We have been careless with our Constitution,” he said. “Using the example of my people is why I tell my story.”
According to the National Park Service, most of what’s left of the Minidoka National Historic Site in on private property. However, tourists may walk through remains of the entry station, waiting room and rock garden. Also, interpretive signs include commemorative plaques listing the names of Japanese-American troops from Minidoka who served during the war.
For more information about Tamástslikt programs, visit www.tamastslikt.org.
Contact Community Editor Tammy Malgesini at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4539