February 1, 2005
With the Willamette River as a backdrop, the irregularly shaped Japanese-American Historical Plaza/Bill of Rights Memorial takes advantage of the site’s contours and setting. Partly flat and symmetrical, with large carved columns, the rest of the plaza runs out in scallops hugging an earthen berm; one side flagstone, the other lawn. Pieces of flagstone seemingly forced up by weight or pressure rise, some portions coming fully upright as standing stones. These are embedded with information, including a list of the ten War Relocation Authority (WRA) camps (but not the fifty INS camps), or carved with poetry (not including the haiku above). Certainly the 100 sakura (ornamental cherry trees) in season command attention. For a short time each year, a profusion of pink blossoms, then a snow-like flurry, leaves branches bare and scratching the sky. The remainder of the year, they serve as exclamation marks for the history enshrined here, while their austere angularity echoes the strut work of the bridges beyond.
I am learning, I am practicing
To say your name.
[Willamette pronunciation (Wav file)]
During WWII, well over 100,000 persons of Japanese descent (more than half were children) living in the Western U.S. were effectively incarcerated without trial. They lost everything but what fit into modest-sized suitcases: years of hard work and diligence erased, businesses lost, futures, and hope ... William Sumio Naito’s family among them. The Naitos returned. Their contributions to the community became many and various. He said Nay-toe, everyone else says Nigh-toe. Bill was self-invented and stubborn as hell. The plaza is flanked by the Willamette River and Naito Parkway, the latter renamed in memoriam for Bill.
[The Portland Exposition Center occupies the site of the Portland Assembly Center, where Japanese-Americans were processed locally before being sent to the camps, Heart Mountain, or Poston (mostly).]
"Who? What? Where? When? Why?"
[Not all the poetry follows traditional compositional rules.]
Eventually a tacit acknowledgement of wrong must be replaced a by public one. A partnership of effort from the Oregon Nikkei Endowment, Portland Parks & Recreation, Metropolitan Arts Commission, Portland Development Commission, and the Portland-Sapporo Sister City Association conceptualized a public apology to be written in stone, so to speak. They hired award-winning Robert
Murase to create the plaza that would garner him yet more awards.
"Sure, I go to the school same as you. I'm an American."
Dedicated August 3, 1990, the plaza serves also as reminder of hope that the panicked mistake of Executive Order 9066 will never be repeated, and so The Bill of Rights is enshrined at one end of the plaza. The wedge (70 to 200-feet by 300-feet) of plaza lies at the northern end of Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park, between the Burnside and Steel Bridges.
Portland Parks & Recreation: 503-823-PLAY, email@example.com
From journal Portland Greenspaces: Something for Everyone