How do you protect your people during war? Who are your people? Thirty-two hours after the Imperial Government of Japan attacked Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor, the United States Congress declared that a state of war existed between the two nations. Japanese American community leaders in California, Oregon and Washington were immediately arrested.
What, where, how . . . WHEN? Rumors flew.
Japanese Americans from parts of California and Washington had already been incarcerated. Would Portland be next? Who would have to go? On April 28, 1942, the United States War Relocation Authority posted signs throughout Portland ordering all individuals of Japanese descent to report to the Portland Assembly Center within seven days. Businesses had to be sold, homes had to be left; belongings were hastily gathered up. Japantown, the heart of the local Japanese American community for over fifty years, disappeared overnight.
A Temporary "Home"
The Assembly Center was really the Pacific Northwest Livestock Exposition Pavilion. Plywood construction and rough partitions could not cloak the smell of manure, or deter the swarms of black flies. For the next four months, over 3,500 evacuees made do in this roughshod temporary housing with minimal plumbing and little privacy. No information was given on how long they would be at the assembly center or where they would go next.
By early September 1942, ten internment camps had been constructed in remote portions of the west. The makeshift community that had formed at the Portland Assembly Center was broken up as families boarded trains bound for different destinations. Many were sent to the barracks at Minidoka, Idaho. Others were sent to Heart Mountain, Wyoming; and Tule Lake, California.
Starting in 1943, the War Relocation Authority began to permit internees who were considered loyal to leave the camps to attend schools or find work in the East—their old west coast homes were still off limits. Some internees made the decision to leave the camps, but many elected to stay.
Few had the resources to start their lives over. The war ended on August 15, 1945, and the last camp closed in March of 1946. Now internees had no choice—they had to decide where to go to make new lives for themselves. With no homes or businesses to return to, many decided to move east. Only about half of the Japanese Americans who had lived in Portland decided to return.