Japanese-American Wartime Experience Focus of Anaheim Public Library Exhibit


From the City of Anaheim:

Japanese-American Wartime Experience Focus of Anaheim Public Library Exhibit

Internment photo collection, documentary, inspired by Anaheim High School graduate

ANAHEIM, Calif. (Oct. 29, 2015) – The Anaheim Public Library Foundation on Nov. 10 will unveil a digital photo collection and a screening of the Emmy Award-winning documentary “The Legacy of Heart Mountain,” inspired by photographs taken by Anaheim resident Frank C. Hirahara during his time at a northern Wyoming internment camp during World War II.

Anaheim Union High School District Superintendent Michael Matsuda, whose mother, Ruth Ikeda was interned, will be on hand for the documentary screening and photo exhibit. Ikeda was an Anaheim High School student when her family was sent to the Poston internment camp near Yuma, Ariz. Her future husband, Jack Matsuda, also was interned at the camp with his family.

Patti Hirahara, a 1973 graduate of Anaheim High School, will present the documentary and family photo collection. The Hiraharas are the first Anaheim family to be showcased in the Anaheim Library’s photo collection.

As the fourth generation and last descendant of her family in America, Hirahara has made it her mission to preserve the Japanese-American legacy in her own community.

“My mother and I felt that the Japanese-American legacy had never been highlighted in Anaheim,” Hirahara said.

Japanese families settled in Anaheim before 1920 and were part of the local business community, according to Census records and telephone directories. Anaheim was a major center for the Japanese-American community in Orange County for many years.

The Hirahara family worked with the city of Anaheim to sponsor the 2009 unveiling of the Hirahara Family Exhibit, a collection of artifacts, photographs and documents archived over a century and now digitized for posterity.

The more than 2,000 photos that Hirahara’s father and grandfather took and developed in their own secret underground darkroom in the Wyoming camp became the inspiration behind the filming of “The Legacy of Heart Mountain.”

In 2012, Hirahara contacted ABC7 Eyewitness News anchor David Ono to share with him her family’s preserved history.  Ono saw how the photos could fill a historical void. The result was “The Legacy of Heart Mountain,” a powerful film narrated and produced by Ono about how this dark time affected upward of 110,000 Japanese-Americans interned during World War II.

“The library foundation event is a wonderful opportunity to view this poignant documentary, and to hear from Patti about her family’s 60 years in Anaheim and their contributions across the country,” said Ginny Gardner, a vice president of the library foundation.

Hirahara has also helped identify more than two-thirds of internees depicted in the Heart Mountain photographs, giving other families a piece of their family history that they never knew existed. Other times, she was able to help people put a photographer’s name to the Heart Mountain photos that had been in their family scrapbooks for decades.

The original photos were donated to the alma mater of Hirahara’s father, Washington State University, as the George and Frank C. Hirahara Collection. Other collections reside at the Yakima Valley Museum in Yakima, Wash., the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, the Oregon Historical Society, and Densho: The Japanese-American Legacy Project.

Hirahara said her family’s biggest honor came in May, when her grandfather George Hirahara’s Heart Mountain softball was put on display in the nation’s capital at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s “Price of Freedom – Americans at War” exhibition.

“I hope to continue to preserve the history of Japanese settlers who came to Anaheim and paved the way for me to do what I am doing today,” Hirahara said.

Having been born a mere decade after the end of the Japanese-American incarcerations, Hirahara said she wanted only to be known as an American and not tied to her ethnicity.

Throughout Hirahara’s education in Anaheim, she was usually the only Japanese-American, or one of only a few Japanese-Americans, in her class. Winning the first “Miss Suburban Optimist” queen contest representing the Orange County Japanese-American community in 1974 was an opportunity that changed her life forever.

Hirahara started meeting people who had been incarcerated in Heart Mountain alongside her father and grandfather, including the publisher of a Japanese-American language newspaper, who offered her a job. Hirahara started covering stories in the local Japanese community and realized what she had been missing by not being a central part of the community.

After graduating in 1977 from California State University, Fullerton, with a bachelor’s degree in communications, Hirahara switched to broadcast journalism and began reporting in English for a Japanese-language television station.

Although she enjoyed being in front of the camera, Hirahara found she could make a difference by helping Japanese businessmen communicate to the American public. This led her to start her own Anaheim public relations firm and represent JETRO, which helped the State of California enter the Japanese market in 1984. JETRO is the trade promotion arm of the Japanese government.

The library foundation event is Tuesday, Nov. 10, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the multipurpose room of the Anaheim Central Library, 500 W. Broadway, Anaheim. RSVP to Ginny Gardner at ginnygardner340@gmail.com. For more about the film, visit Heartmountainfilm.com.

For more information on the City of Anaheim, please visit Anaheim.net.

The wartime internment of Japanese-Americans was a terrible, unnecessary injustice. The forbearance, patriotism and dignity exhibited by the internees is still something for us to marvel at.

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