The date May 13, 1942 is etched into Rita Saling’s memory. That’s when 431 of her neighbors in Hood River boarded a train bound for Pinedale, California, and the internment camps of World War II.
“There wasn’t anything in Hood River Valley that commemorated the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II,” Saling said. “I wanted to acknowledge and memorialize what had happened.”
So, Saling, a Master Gardener trained by the OSU Extension Service, spearheaded an effort to build a Japanese garden at the Mid-Columbia Research Center in Hood River.
Growing up near Hood River, Saling remembers seeing signs in store windows, banning Japanese customers. As a child, she wondered about a Japanese classmate’s absence. Later in life, she grew more curious. “I went to the library and looked through all of the newspapers printed around that date in 1942, and I did not read one word about these people being shipped off,” Saling said. “People didn’t talk about it.”
There’s a Japanese phrase—”Shikata ga nai”—that means “Nothing can be done about it.” And yet, the interned families did what they could, Saling learned. The men persuaded the guards to let them leave to search for materials to build gardens. The makeshift oases of stone and azalea somehow softened waiting in the chow line in the searing sun.
The Japanese Heritage Garden was dedicated in 2009, and today Master Gardeners Laurel DeTar and Ellen Penswick coordinate maintenance. When visitors enter, their eyes are drawn to the 6-foot Nishinoya-style lantern under the Norway spruce. Flowering currants, Russian tea flowers, and Japanese maples border paths of stone and grass. A stunning vista of patchwork Hood River farmland emerges in the horizon.
Visitors sit on stone benches and remember the quiet pain of another time, a time of perseverance, strength, and dignity. Shikata ga nai.