PULLMAN, Wash. — To close Washington State University’s annual month-long celebration of Asian Pacific American heritage activities in April, Patti Hirahara of Anaheim, a WSU donor, gave the keynote address at the Asian Pacific American Student Coalition’s closing ceremonies on April 27.
Hirahara has donated more than 2,000 photographs taken and processed by her father, Frank, and grandfather, George, at the Heart Mountain internment camp in Wyoming during World War II. The Hiraharas captured images of camp life and special milestones such as engagement celebrations, weddings, and family portraits.
In the summer of 1942, the Hiraharas were sent to Heart Mountain with hundreds of others from Washington state’s Yakima Valley. In all, the camp housed over 10,000 Japanese Americans, making it the third-largest settlement in Wyoming. As with other camps, Heart Mountain consisted of hundreds of tarpaper barracks amidst a dry, rocky landscape. These features provided the backdrop for many of the Hirahara photos.
While George Hirahara worked jobs both inside and outside of the camp to earn money, mail-order catalogs allowed him and other internees access to goods that could not be obtained in camp.
It was through Sears & Roebuck that Hirahara ordered cameras, photographic equipment, and supplies. Beneath his family barrack, he built a darkroom and photo studio. The Hiraharas captured people at work and at play, in community and in isolation, in celebration and in mourning.
A considerable portion of the collection depicts high school life in Heart Mountain. As photo editor and photographer for the 1944 Heart Mountain High School annual, Frank Hirahara took hundreds of photos. He was elected ASB commissioner of general activities in the spring of 1944, which provided him a unique vantage point in coordinating student activities and an opportunity to capture a behind-the-scenes look at the 1943-1944 academic year.
This collection received a 2011 National Park Service grant to digitize and preserve the collection with a select portion of the photographs being put online.
During her stay, Patti Hirahara met with WSU President Elson S. Floyd, who shared how touched he was that she had entrusted WSU to be the custodian of such an important historical collection “that documents a painful time in our history, so painful that words cannot accurately describe it.
“We’re very grateful for allowing us to preserve this history in a way that will benefit people for generations to come. For me, this collection is an excellent reminder that we need to always treat one another with humanity, dignity and respect — that’s what it’s all about.”
As a way to help foster cultural interaction and understanding at WSU, Floyd recently announced plans to build a new Multicultural Center on campus that will provide a place where students, faculty, and staff can immerse themselves in different cultures by attending classes, seminars, and enjoying diverse visual and musical arts in this new facility.
“It is important that we devote an entire structure for this purpose,” Floyd said. “The architects have been meeting with students and others in the WSU community and we’re very excited that this project is under way.”
Hirahara envisions the new building as a wonderful addition to WSU’s continued interest in promoting the stories of its Japanese American alumni, and the pair also discussed future projects that WSU is planning in the years ahead.