With the rise in Anti-Asian violence and bullying, history is again a source of understanding for the road leading here.
Back in 2014, the Deschutes Historical Museum hosted What if Heroes Were Not Welcome Home?, an exhibit that chronicled the hatred and discrimination that Japanese American Veterans faced in post-World War II Oregon upon their return home. At the time, we published a short piece in our monthly newsletter about an incident in 1920, when Japanese businessman George Shima and two white business partners attempted to establish a potato seed farm operation in Terrebonne. They were driven out of Deschutes County after a year of operations. Their commitment to farming in Deschutes County ended not long after their Japanese employees were terrorized by unknown assailants. In the end, the three wealthy businessmen from California decided that Central Oregon was not worth the effort if they were not welcomed here.
You can read that article here:
Since 2014, the museum began researching a different story. During the the 1920-30s, there were a handful of Japanese families living around Central Oregon who watched the “Yellow Peril” unfold. They were employed by the railroad and stationed along the train’s route–Madras, Culver, Redmond, Bend. The men worked as maintenance foremen, and they had families whose children attended local schools.
Their story is intertwined with another tale, about an ambitious program by the International Church of Christ in the late 1920s. In order to build friendship among the world’s children and foster world peace they had a simple idea: a doll exchange. While they envisioned the Friendship Doll Exchange as multi-country, only America and Japan successfully exchanged dolls. Thousands of dolls traveled between the two in a well-intentioned bid for peace. Locally, Mrs. Walter (Daisie) Daum registered Bend’s congregation to participate. The idea seems quaint in today’s world. (You can read more about the program on this website: http://www.bill-gordon.net/dolls/exch1927/gulick/index.htm)
The dolls were meant to represent what life was like for the children in each country. Two dolls from Japan visited Bend, their arrival heralded in the newspaper and sponsored by both Shevlin-Hixon and Brooks-Scanlon Mills (below). The children of Bend developed a doll of their own and sent her on a voyage to Japan. They named her Mildred Louise and we know that she toured Shizuoka Prefecture, although not precisely which schools.
We also know that the success of this program inspired Mrs. Daum to launch an annual Japanese Doll Celebration in Bend. She partnered with Mrs. Riheji (Kiyan) Tanaka, who hosted the event at her home until the crowd became to large. They grew the event in size and popularity between 1928 and 1934. The ladies formed an early Japanese Society of Central Oregon. In 1933 and 1934 they entered impressive floats in the Bend Water Pageant. The friendship and educational work of Daisie and Kiyan are unmistakable in the articles left behind in the paper; musical programs, birthday celebrations, and more.
War between Japan and China in the 1930s foreshadowed World War II, and an increase in anti-Japanese sentiment returned. In September 1935 Riheji Tanaka took a leave of absence from the railroad and returned to Japan with Kiyan and their five children for what the paper reports will be a six month stay. They had lived in the United States for 25 years, built friendships and took an active role in their community. Their three youngest children were born in the United States, including daughter Teruko in Culver in 1922. With their lives divided between two countries, what pressures severed their ties with Deschutes County? Whatever the causes, the diversity they fostered was lost with their move.
This is an unfinished research project, but it appears that in spite of the extent of their lives in America, only Teruko returned to America. She finished high school in Japan, but around 1940 she returned to her birthplace of Oregon as a single woman. Trained as a music teacher, we know she was in Portland and visited Bend. Under Executive Order 9066, she was incarcerated at Minidoka Internment Camp. We have not picked up on her trail yet to know where life took her afterward. We also have not yet ascertained what happened to the rest of her family in Japan.
Deschutes County’s history is filled with both hate and acceptance. A future historian waits to turn their lens on us and our actions now. Friendship dolls seem so naive in the face of the violence of our times, but maybe they shouldn’t be. Maybe the simple act of declaring yourself a friend is exactly where our healing starts.