Ahead of remembrance event, internment camp survivor recalls det - KPTV - FOX 12

Ahead of remembrance event, internment camp survivor recalls detainment at Expo Center

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Portland's Expo Center is perhaps best known for its special events and trade shows. But, during World War II, it was known as a place where thousands of men, women and children of Japanese descent were detained, before being sent off to internment camps.

Executive order 9066 sent some 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent to internment camps during the war.

Portland became the first West Coast city declared free of all Japanese Americans. More than 3,500 people were forced from their homes and corralled in live stalk stables at the Expo Center. Back then called the Portland Assembly Center.

"There were cows, pigs and horses kept there before us," said survivor Joni Kimoto.

FOX 12 was there as Kimoto walked into the Expo Center for the first time since her family was forced to live there against their will. She was just 4 years old.

"When I walked in the room, I know there is no smell here, but I felt a memory kind of a pungent smell, an ugly feeling, it's not good," said Kimoto.  "I think it was from the animal, the smell of feces and urine. That's a memory I didn't expect to have. They tried to cover up the hall with wood and partitions, I know we lived in a small 14-by-19 foot area. I remember there was fly paper everywhere and I had never seen fly paper before."

Kimoto agreed to come back to the Expo Center to help the Portland Nikkei Community prepare for an upcoming remembrance event.

"I didn't realize how large this hall was, but on the other hand, it was actually very small when you think about so many people living here," said Kimoto.

May 6 marks 75 years since Kimoto, her parents and thousands of other Portlanders lived as one in this hall.

"On Sundays, my mother and father had great Caucasian friends and they would come and bring them little treats, or bring them news of the neighborhood," Kimoto said. "I remember we had to talk to them through the barbed wire and my mother would say to me 'don't get near there because it would hurt.'"

Months later her family was transferred to Minidoka, an internment camp in Idaho.

"Isn't it hard to imagine? It doesn't seem like we live in America does it, it really was a part of our history that wasn't a good time, it truly wasn't," Kimoto said.

Painful memories, though necessary ones for Kimoto.

"The order was never receded and it could happen again," she said.

A feeling that weighs heavy on her heart.

"Nobody should be treated as prisoners, nobody should have their rights denied," said Kimoto.

The Return and Remembrance event is coming up on May 6 at the Portland Expo Center. It's a free event that's open to the public.

For more information about speakers and exhibits visit:  http://www.expocenter.org/events/return-remembrance-pilgrimage-portland-assembly-center or http://www.oregonnikkei.org/activities.htm

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