October 15, 2021

East Portland Farmers

Creative Placekeeping

East Portland Farmers
Date: 2019
Location: APANO Community Space, SE 82nd Avenue, East Portland
Collaborators: Lynn Yarne

Although it is now not readily apparent, Montavilla and east Multnomah County were once where many Japanese American communities lived and worked, played pool, attended Japanese language schools, picked strawberries, and played a significant and underrepresented role in Oregon’s agricultural industry and the development of the east Multnomah County area. According to the Japanese American National Museum, by 1920 Japanese American farmers occupied 90% of the acreage of strawberries and 60% of all vegetable and truck gardens.

Documentation of this history is difficult to find as many photos were lost when Japanese Americans were incarcerated by Executive Order 9066 in 1945. Some photos were lost to the waters that flooded Vanport in 1948 or have been out of view because few people outside the families to whom they belong have asked to see them.

As you look at these walls, look for a 1917 photo of the Suematsu and Masaki Ando family, who raised produce around 92nd and Main, and Irene (Shido) Hayashi, whose family owned the Russelville market on 103rd and Stark, which was a hub for the Japanese American community. Find an image of the Shiogi family farm, the Kinoshita family in a strawberry field or picnicking with friends, and children’s faces from a Russelville school photo. Look for Jayne (Kinoshita) ichikawa and Cheryl (Kinoshita) Freeman dressed up for a big winter snowstorm in the 1950s and Toshi Okino on his vegetable farm in Gresham. Look for budding strawberries.

As our stories about place continue to grow, may we be intentional in learning from the past and honoring those who have tilled the soil and laid the groundwork for future generations.

Photos courtesy of Roberta Ando, Jayne Ichikawa, Ron Sato, City of Portland Archives & Records Center, and artist Lynn Yarne. This project was made possible by the Oregon Community Foundation, the Oregon Arts Commission, and the Multnomah County Cultural Coalition.