Friday, July 2, 2010

Nihonmachi- A Lost Neighborhood

Last Saturday, I took a class with poet Kaia Sand to explore two of Portland's lost neighborhoods- Nihonmachi and Vanport. Readers may remember my interest in the Japanese
internment during WWII here.
It's been a long time since I've taken a writing class. We met at Floyd's Cafe in Old Town, did some practice writing exercises about place and old neighborhoods we remembered from our childhood and how they are different today.
We visited the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center to learn about Nihonmachi or Japantown in Portland. Then we walked to the Japanese American Historical Plaza at the north end of Water Front Park on the Willamette River. I wrote the poem below to honor this old neighborhood and its residents.
Nihonmachi

Nihonmachi- lost and revisited
A different, extinct place
No Kanji speak
No Issei
No friends' door stoop conversation
No stacked laundry bundles butcher-paper wrapped with family name
Where to live? No hotels only registered historic buildings
Where to bathe? No 20 cent bath houses
What to eat? No Teikoku Mercantile

April 28, 1942
Did you see the Exclusion Oder No. 26?
It changed everything
Silence, people gone, forced out

3,500 mandated to Portland Assembly Center
aka Pacific NW Livestock Exposition Pavilion
Where cattle stood days before
the stench, the rain, the exhaustion, the unknown dark fear

Gaman- accept what is with patience and dignity

We have to gaman
We have to gaman
We have to gaman

Crowded trains bound for Minidoka
A dry and arid landscape

We have to gaman

Persevere, be resourceful, make do
Create with what is here- scraps, found objects reinvented into beauty

We have to gaman
We have to gaman
We have to gaman

8 comments:

edina said...

A really lovely poem, Paula - thank you for sharing it. Hope you have a safe and happy holiday weekend!

steph b said...

What a beautiful stroy, I didn't know much about that part of pdx, sad.
steph

Dayna Collins said...

Thank you for the visual history - I love hearing about special neighborhoods, too.

Robin Olsen said...

This is lovely Paula. You incorporate so many sensory details that bring the sad story to life.

purple bird art said...

Thank you for sharing this with us. The poem is both touching and bittersweet and paints a verbal picture of a sad time in our history. Thanks, too, for visiting my blog!! Would love to get together after August 1 - do you think we could do a photocrawl here locally?

Paula McNamee said...

Jan, an August photo crawl in Portland is a great idea. I appreciate everyone's thoughts on my poem. I keep this history in mind because I do not want our country to repeat it.

Jo Reimer said...

Poignant. Touching. Shameful time. Beauty from ashes.

This is a wonderful post, Paula.

cynthia said...

I loved reading your poem about this time and place. I hope you will post more of your writing.