Family photos inspire events about Japanese internment

By Nella Letizia, WSU Libraries

PULLMAN, Wash. – 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.”

Except for the Nov. 13 performance of “Within the Silence,” all events listed below are free to the public. More information can be found at, or call 509-335-6140.

Roger Shimomura exhibition

The WSU Museum of Art kicked off events Sept. 19 with the opening of an exhibit, “Roger Shimomura – An American Knockoff,” which runs through Dec. 13.

Interned as a child with his family at the Minidoka Relocation Center in Idaho, Shimomura addresses sociopolitical issues of Asian America through a painting style that combines his childhood interest in comic books, American pop art and traditions of Japanese woodblock prints.

For details about the exhibit, visit

Hirahara Collection display

Through Oct. 24, WSU’s Manuscripts, Archives and Special Collections, which houses the Hirahara Collection, will feature a display, “Images of the Heart Mountain Relocation Center: Selections from the Hirahara Collection,” at MASC’s reading room area in Terrell Library.

To view the online collection, visit

“The George and Frank C. Hirahara Collection is a tremendously important resource for documenting life at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center,” said Trevor Bond, head of MASC. “The donation of this collection led to other important donations to the WSU Libraries of primary sources related to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.”

‘Witness’ documentary showing

ABC7 Los Angeles Eyewitness News anchor David Ono, Patti Hirahara and TV editor and videographer Jeff MacIntyre at the 2014 Emmy Awards. (Photo courtesy of Patti Hirahara)

A screening of the Emmy Award-winning documentary “Witness: The Legacy of Heart Mountain” will take place at 7 p.m. Oct. 15 in the CUB Auditorium, preceded by a public reception at 6 p.m. in the WSU Museum of Art.

The documentary was co-produced by ABC7 Los Angeles Eyewitness News anchor David Ono and Emmy Award-winning TV editor and videographer Jeff MacIntyre. Ono and MacIntyre will be on campus for the screening and participate in a panel discussion afterwards with Patti Hirahara, WSU associate professor John Streamas and WSU Murrow College systems administrator Jeffrey Snell.

For details about the film, visit and

CUB installation of internment memorabilia

On Oct. 13-Nov. 14, the Student Entertainment Board and CUB Art Gallery will present an installation of Japanese internment-related materials and memorabilia from WSU alumni in the gallery display area.

There will be a reception noon-2 p.m. on Oct 15 in the gallery.

For details, visit

‘Within the Silence’ performance

Living Voices theater will perform “Within the Silence” at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13 in Daggy Hall’s Jones Theatre. The story follows Emiko Yamada and her family as they build a life and business in Seattle’s Nihonmachi (Japantown), lose everything in the days following the bombing of Pearl Harbor and are interned at Minidoka Relocation Center.

For details, visit

Continuing her father’s and grandfather’s work

Hirahara is the fourth generation of her family to live in the United States – and the last. She discovered her family’s Heart Mountain photos in the attic of her grandfather’s home in Yakima, Wash., and at her father’s home in Anaheim. With no children to share the legacy with, she set out to track down the people pictured in the photographs.

The most satisfying reward has been to find more than 70 percent of them and to bring some of them a part of their history that they never knew existed, she said.

“I came from a small family, and now I have made this huge family through the collection. I feel blessed,” she said. “My father and grandfather loved people, and they loved taking pictures. That never changed throughout their whole lives.

“I’m passing these photos on to the American people so they know about Japanese American internment and to open the doors for others to tell their stories.”


Patti Hirahara, George and Frank C. Hirahara Photograph Collection donor, 714-392-2103,
Nella Letizia, WSU Libraries public relations/communication coordinator, 509-335-6744,
Steve Nakata, WSU Administrative Services director of marketing and communications, 509-335-1774,