Family Photos Inspire Events about Japanese Internment

An older man stands in front of Heart Mountain Relocation Center barracks. Photo courtesy of WSU’s Manuscripts, Archives and Special Collections.

Patti Hirahara’s favorite photo among the more than 2,000 taken by her father and grandfather during World War II shows an older man standing on a road in the middle of a camp, rows of barracks stretching ahead of him toward the distant, leveled-off top of Heart Mountain near Cody, Wyo.

It is a lonely image, made lonelier by the knowledge that the man – like Hirahara’s family and 10,000 other Japanese and Japanese Americans – was interned at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, forced to leave behind a home, work and possessions after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.

“Of all the photos in the Washington State University George and Frank C. Hirahara Collection, this photograph, for me, depicts what life was like at Heart Mountain,” Patti Hirahara said.

Hirahara, of Anaheim, Calif., donated the collection of Heart Mountain photos to her father Frank’s alma mater in 2010. A National Park Service grant the following year funded the collection’s digitization and preservation – giving the public access to the documented weddings, cultural events, sports, funerals and more that took place under barbed wire and the watchful eyes of guards.

Now WSU is delving into the history of Japanese American internment through a series of exhibitions and events, thanks in large part to Hirahara’s efforts to promote her family’s ties to the Heart Mountain story.

“This photo collection shows how the people lived and tried to make a normal life for themselves under difficult circumstances in Heart Mountain,” she said. “It is my hope that these photos will continue to be seen and used for years to come to tell the story of these Japanese and Japanese Americans during World War II and that, through them, WSU will continue to be part of the Japanese internment conversation for future generations.”

For more details on the campus-wide events, read the story at….