Not forgotten

The Yakima Valley was once home to a thriving community of Japanese-American immigrants and their American-born children.

When the U.S. entered WWII every one of Japanese descent was forced from their homes and deported to concentration camps far from the West Coast.

After the war, only a few dozen of the more than 1000 people deported returned to the Yakima Valley.

Scroll down for the complete, year-long series.

Japanese immigrants began arriving in the Yakima Valley in the 1890s, first to the Lower Valley towns of Wapato and Toppenish, where they worked on the land, clearing sagebrush and digging irrigation canals and then farming land leased to them on the Yakama Reservation.

Another community of Japanese immigrants and their families developed in what is now downtown Yakima. The neighborhood bordered by Yakima Avenue, South First Street, Chestnut Street and South Front Street and packed with hotels, restaurants, stores and other businesses owned and operated by residents of Japanese ancestry.

Despite legal barriers, widespread racism, and occasional violence the Japanese immigrant community grew through the 1910s and 1920s. The community sponsored several churches, civic groups, and a baseball team.

On June 4-5, 1942, a total of 1,017 Yakima Valley residents of Japanese ancestry were forced to travel by train to the Portland Assembly Center as a result of President Franklin Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066. They were there for three months before being taken to Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming, where they lived in hastily constructed barracks until the end of World War II.

Only about 10 percent returned to the Yakima Valley, almost all to the Wapato area. Yakima's Japan Town district never recovered as former business owners, operators and residents relocated to Southern California, Chicago, St. Louis and other urban centers.

2017 marks the 75th anniversary of the internment, and all this year Tammy Ayer is telling the story of the Japanese American community in the Yakima Valley, in hope that though they may be gone, their story is not forgotten

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Just before boarding two trains to Portland in early June, they collectively sent a letter, signed “Valley Evacuees,” to the editor of the Wapato Independent.

“We, Japanese evacuees of this valley, are extending our hands in farewell to all our faithful friends, who have done their part in making our departure from all our life’s work less miserable,” it read.

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About 75 percent of the Japanese immigrants in the Yakima Valley followed the teachings of Buddha. As in Japan, the local Buddhist church was the social center as well as the religious focal point of community life.


Eight years ago, the Yakima Valley Museum chronicled the forced relocation of more than 1,000 residents of Japanese descent from the Yakima Valley into internment camps outside the area, mostly at Heart Mountain, Wyo., during World War II. On Sunday, the museum followed up its commitment to telling that story by hosting its first Day of Remembrance, which commemorated the 76th anniversary of President Franklin Roosevelt’s signing of the executive order that sent more than 110,000 people from their homes. Out of Sunday’s event came an idea that could give more prominence to the role of …

YAKIMA, Wash. -- More than a decade ago, Patti Hirahara set out to tell the story of her family, gathering Washington State University memorabilia, passports, details about their life in Yakima and other information.