The Portland community will have a chance to reflect on its history through engaging student presentations at the “Honoring Our History: A reflection on the Vanport Flood and the Portland Assembly Center” event at 6 p.m. May 26 at the Expo Center.
The event is intended to honor and remember those affected by both the Vanport Flood and Japanese internment, with projects by students from Beaumont Middle School, guest speakers and more.
The area around the Expo Center has particular historical significance for the region's communities of color. It was the site of the Portland Assembly Center, one of Oregon’s internment camps in 1942. Nearby, the community of Vanport flooded in 1948, displacing close to 20,000 residents, many of whom were black and not welcome in many Portland neighborhoods.
“There’s not a more powerful history than sense of place in my mind,” said Matthew Rotchford, director of the Expo Center. “When you can attach history and community to a sense of place and gather people in a location – there’s power there.”
The event came together in part after a grant from Concordia University to create a community project centered on Vanport. When Kirsten Parrott, an 8th grade social studies teacher at Beaumont, was asked to become involved, she thought it was an excellent opportunity for her students.
Students last year created projects to inform the public of the personal histories of Vanport through narratives, photographs and capturing of oral histories, while this year students focused on Japanese internment. All of these projects will be at the Honoring our History event.
Before beginning the projects, Parrott said through email, her students knew a little about the Vanport Flood, but when she took them to the Nikkei Center in Chinatown to learn about Japanese internment, they had, as she put it, “no clue.”
“They wanted to know why it wasn’t more of a big deal,” she said. “So when they were given an opportunity to make it a big deal, they jumped at the chance.”
Rotchford thought the presentations were the perfect way to teach the area’s history to the community.
“When I heard what these Beaumont students were doing, I was just blown away,” he said. He said when he started at the Expo Center, he noticed there seemed to be an air of discomfort about the site’s history, and that he’s wanted to push forward and work through that.
The student projects serve as a way to share the site’s history in a sensitive and responsible way, without being preachy, he said.
“Visitors will see posters and collages that show the research, creativity, curiosity and compassion 13- and 14-year-olds have about their own community’s past and the people who experienced it firsthand,” Parrot said.
Guests will also be able to go to computer stations to listen to the Japanese American interviews collected by the Densho archive, and have the opportunity to contribute interviews to students who will record them.