By Patti Hirahara
Part 3 of 3
Photos courtesy George & Frank C Hirahara Photo Collection, Washington State University Libraries, Manuscripts, Archives and Special Collections
(In part 1, Patti shared how her family came to the US. In part 2, she revealed the secret dark room under the incarceration camp at Heart Mountain leading to the largest personal collection of photos there in the world. Today we learn how 2,000 photos taken by her family are helping to keep the story of the incarceration camp experience alive)
I have donated our Heart Mountain photo collection to my Father’s alma mater of Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. He was a member of the Cougars track team and was elected to represent the WSU Associated Students on the WSU Athletic Council from 1946 – 1947. This was amazing since it was one year after the war was over. He graduated with a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering in 1948.
This Fall, Washington State University is taking an unprecedented campus wide look at the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII. It’s also paying tribute to WSU’s Japanese American student body during the 1940’s through December 13, 2014. Here is the event link as well as highlights of the WSU George and Frank C. Hirahara Photo Collection, which is part of the WSU Libraries Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections.
The photographic work of my father, who graduated from WSU in 1948, was exhibited at the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center in Portland, Oregon from February 1 through June 15th of this year. My Father’s old employer of Bonneville Power and the famous Portland Rose Festival highlighted his exhibit. Portland Mayor Charlie Hales proclaimed “Oregon Nikkei Legacy Day” on March 5, 2014.
I have established a total of five Hirahara Family Collections. They are in Anaheim, California;
Washington State University; the Yakima Valley Museum in Yakima, Washington; the Oregon Nikkei Endowment and the Oregon Historical Society which are both in Portland, Oregon.
In donating my family’s artifacts, photos, and documents to the Yakima Valley Museum in 2009, this donation inspired the museum to create its current exhibit “Land of Joy and Sorrow” – Japanese Pioneers of the Yakima Valley which is now scheduled to run through 2018.
Our photos have opened the doors to help other families tell their stories. This I feel is the most rewarding part of the work I am doing now.
David Ono learned about the Heart Mountain story from me when I called and left a voice mail message asking for help to identify the people in these photos in July of 2012. That call has led to this marvelous documentary co-produced by David Ono and Jeff MacIntyre.
People who watch this Emmy Award winning documentary say that it has helped to create a dialog between those incarcerated and their descendants. This indeed is a wonderful result. It shows aspects of the Japanese incarceration to a new generation that never knew about this time in history.
Due to the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII, four generations of my family felt it was important to continue a dialog between the U.S. and Japan and become a bridge maker between our two countries.
My family was pioneers in Yakima, Washington and when Japanese visitors came to Yakima, after the war, my Grandfather would become an “Ambassador” of sorts welcoming people and inviting them to their home for a Japanese meal.
My Father had a key role in working in America’s space program as well as being a liaison to NASA. After retirement, he became Lt. Governor of Zone 1 of the Pacific Southeast District of Optimist International for 1998 – 1999 and was the 30th Anniversary President of the Suburban Optimist Club of Buena Park from 1995 – 1996.
As the Yonsei of the family, my contribution was in working as a public relations counsel to the trade promotion arm of the Japanese Government, JETRO, the Japan External Trade Organization. During my tenure, I helped the State of California and other states export their products to the Japanese market and I became their highest paid public relations agent among JETRO’s 78 overseas offices worldwide.
In acquiring the JETRO, Los Angeles account, I was able to establish Productions By Hirahara in 1982–
a full service public relations and television production company and I was mentored by JETRO’s Chairman Shoichi Akazawa.
It was a very rare sight to see a Japanese American woman in an executive role at a time when Japanese office women were serving tea and making copies in the 1980’s.
Through my many trips to Japan, I also became a product development specialist for Panasonic for over 20 years through their factory in Japan.
Our family , both then and now, felt that we have an obligation to become involved in our community and it is my hope, that in sharing my family’s history that the upcoming generations will learn from our story and other Japanese American families to make an impact in their own community for years to come.