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Internment exhibit on display at Independence Civic Center

An exhibit on the Japanese internment camps in Oregon is on display at the Independence Civic Center through Aug. 25.

Stephanie Blair
An exhibit on the Japanese internment camps in Oregon is on display at the Independence Civic Center through Aug. 25.

INDEPENDENCE — On the second floor of the Independence Civic Center stands a series of panels. On them, scanned images of blueprints and letters alongside written captions tell the story of how Japanese internment camps came to be in Oregon; with rousing support from Oregonians.

The series is an exhibit put on by Graham Street Productions, entitled “Architecture of Internment: The Build Up to Wartime Incarceration.”

“We wanted to shed a different light on (how internment happened) — this was not just top-down, because that is how the story is told,” said Anne Galisky, a Graham Street Productions member whose master’s thesis was the basis for the exhibit. “It was not a natural disaster, it was not just a response to the federal government. You could see how the people pushed state government leaders, and then they are begging— including here, there’s a telegram from Governor Sprague where he’s demanding that Japanese-Americans ‘work or be told they would be ordered (to be) deported.’ Deported? They were born here!”

The exhibit puts on display how internment in Oregon was citizen supported and planned for by state government before the federal government passed down any executive order.

Citizens’ letters to then-governor Charles Sprague advocating for the incarceration of Japanese nationals and Japanese-Americans fill one panel, while the one next to it shows a pledge of loyalty to the U.S. that many Japanese-Americans from Hood River signed and sent to Sprague shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

The effect of the letters advocating for internment seemed to sway Sprague significantly, Galisky explained.

“After initially urging calm (in response to Pearl Harbor) he sends a telegram to the Attorney-General of the U.S. … and he actually asked for the internment of Japanese-Americans of the state,” Galisky said.

“I think (a lot of people) don’t realize that it was something that happened here, necessarily,” added Roland Wu, another member of the team who assembled the exhibit. “I think we tend to think of things as happening in other places.”

This disconnect is one thing the exhibit was designed to abolish with such visuals as the layout of a building that was repurposed from a livestock facility into an internment camp. This building is now the Portland Expo Center.

The exhibit opened yesterday and will stay in Independence until the Aug. 25. It is free to view and open to the public.

Though the exhibit will only be in Independence for two weeks, those who miss the opportunity to see it will be able to find it at the Corvallis Public Library in December.

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