Hood River Oregon is one of the many beautiful places in the Columbia scenic gorge. It is a small town known for all the outdoor activities it offers: snowboarding, hiking, wind surfing, skiing, SUP, etc. It is a town full of normal folks with a seemingly normal history. Except it was involved in nationwide news at one point. Hood River Oregon created a scandal.
It happened on Nov 29, 1944. Hood River had a Memorial Board honoring 1,600 locals serving in the Armed Forces. On Nov 29th, 16 of those names were removed and Hood River launched a campaign to discourage these Veterans and their families from returning to Hood River. What had these 16 men and their families done? Nothing. They were American citizens whose heritage was of Japanese descent. The Veterans were returning from serving in the United States Army and their families were coming back from Internment Camps.
The hate Hood River had was so strong that only 186 of 462 decided to return to Hood River.
Statement to returning Japanese
Under the War Department’s recent ruling you will soon be permitted to return to this county.
FOR YOUR OWN BEST INTERESTS, WE URGE YOU NOT TO RETURN.
Hood River Post No. 22
Names of those supporting the campaign were listed in the Hood River newspaper. 1,184 residents signed their names to the Anti-Japanese movement.
Kent Shoemaker Hood River, Oregon
Japs Are Not Wanted in Hood River
You Japs, listed on this page, have been told by some that you would be welcomed back in Hood River. This is not true, and this is the best time you will ever have to dispose of your property.
The petitions, below, were circulated in different districts of the county and represent a cross-section of the sentiment. If you will look over the list, you will probably find neighbors whom you thought might welcome you back. If you do not find their names this week, keep watching this page from week to week and I think you will eventually find their names.
With our outside critics, who might see these papers, I have no quarrel. This seems to be a local problem, however, and they should know that our valley is only about eight miles wide and twenty miles long. WE consider it the most beautiful valley in the world. It has been rated the highest cultured farming community in the United States. Our farmers are good Americans and highly intelligent. Can ANY good American blame us for wanting to preserve it for OUR posterity?
Hood River, Golden Valley in the hills,
Who is to possess its acres and its hills?
A horde of aliens from across the sea?
Or-shall it be a Paradise for you and me?
Ads such as these were ran in the Hood River newspaper.
Linda Tamura, a granddaughter of Japanese immigrants and a former Hood River resident, made the exhibit What If Hero’s Were Not Welcome Home? It asks the pointed question, what would you have done? Would you have signed your name to the Anti-Japanese list? While United States propaganda played a part in racism, so did greed. Even before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor Anti-Japanese sentiment abounded in Hood River.
By 1910 Hood River was the largest Japanese settlement in Oregon outside of Portland. Issei (Japanese immigrants) could gain free stump land in Hood River if they cleared the land. They put their farms and orchards in their children’s name, the Nikkei-Second generation Japanese American. These lands that were once rejected as unprofitable became valuable.
After Pearl Harbor happened and as the Japanese immigrants and their families were herded into the Internment camps they were left with the question: What to do with their farms, orchards, businesses and homes? Some sold at a huge loss. Others entrusted their lands and homes to neighbors and friends.
How was the home coming reception? No Jap signs were hung in store windows, their homes were vandalized, and they were unable to harvest and sell their crops. The few who defended the Japanese were also threatened with boycotting.
One experience of returning Veteran George Akiyama was when he wanted to get a haircut. Wearing his uniform he entered the barber shop. “Didn’t you see the No Jap sign?” The barber asked. “Get out of here before I slit your throat.”
What was the end result? Outrage at Hood River’s actions in regards to the removal of the Veteran’s names flooded in and became national news.
One serviceman wrote, “Put names back, or take mine off.”
“Your actions and policies are not American; they do not give us the treatment of loyal Americans soldiers….
1st Sgt. Johnny Y. Wakamtsu, France, Hood River Nisei Soldier. January 6th, 1945 letter
“Must I return to my own community for a visit and witness such unjustified prejudice and insults to a small group of some of the nation’s best fighting men?”-Sheldon E. Laurance Capt., A.C., Parkdale Oregon. Appeared in Oregonian Dec. 23, 1945
The 16 names were replaced, but the fight to stay in the community was not over. There was some support for the returning Japanese Americans and with combined efforts peace finally returned to Hood River.
If you wish to read some experiences I recommend Nisei Soldiers Break Their Silence and The Hood River Issei: An Oral History of Japanese Settlers in Oregon’s Hood River Valley by Linda Tamura. Video accounts are also available to watch at Hood River Museum. The exhibit-What if Heroes Were Not Welcome Home? is currently on display at Columbia Gorge Discovery Center in The Dalles, Oregon.