Oregon’s 4,500 Japanese detainees
By Steve Dodge
The road to exclusion and detention for Oregonians of Japanese decent during World War II began in Portland, where they were ordered to assemble at the Pacific International Livestock Exposition Center, now the Portland Expo Center, in North Portland.
There, approximately 4,500 people were “housed” before relocation to one of three detention centers designated for residents of the Pacific Northwest and Northern California. With the odor of livestock still heavy in the air, families slept on straw mattresses in 200-square foot livestock stalls, lit by a single light bulb during the spring and summer of 1942.
Pacific student Yukie Katayama ’07 (later Sumgoe) of Hood River, Oregon and her parents were then sent by train to the Tule Lake Relocation Center, just over the southern Oregon border near Newell, Calif. Tule Lake was located on a desolate patch of government land, surrounded by barbed wire and overseen by guard towers. At its height, some 18,000 internees of Japanese decent, most American citizens, were held in hastily-built tar-papered barracks at the camp, one of ten operated by the federal War Relocation Authority.
To add insult to injury, Japanese detainees in all of the camps were required to fill out a questionnaire probing their loyalty. Those who refused to answer two key questions about U.S. military service or loyalty to the government were deemed disloyal and eventually concentrated at Tule Lake. The camp was rife with unrest and protest over poor working and living conditions and was eventually put under martial law. Fortunately, the Katayamas were able to transfer to another camp before this occurred.
Tule Lake finally closed on March 28, 1946, and on February 19, 2006, the 64th anniversary of the exclusion order, the camp was designated as a National Historic Landmark.