Explore taiko drumming, earthquake preparedness and history as Salem Reads 2022 kicks off

Prior to World War II, Japanese farmers just outside of Salem grew the vast majority of Oregon’s celery. Their story is just one of those that will be explored during a month of Salem Reads activities based on Ruth Ozeki’s “A Tale for the Time Being,” a novel about intersecting lives.

The Salem Reads flyer for 2022 (Salem Public Library Foundation)

The Salem area was once home to a thriving community of Japanese farmers who grew most of Oregon’s celery.

Although the community is less well known today than the larger Japanese-American communities of Portland, Hood River and Ontario, approximately 300 families lived near Lake Labish, sending their children to Japanese school on weekends while they worked the land.

When President Franklin Roosevelt ordered Japanese and Japanese-Americans from the Pacific Coast to be sent to concentration camps at the start of World War II, most farmers in the Salem area lost everything, said Chisao Hata, spokesperson for the Japanese Museum of Portland. Oregon.

But some were able to return, in part because they had neighbors in Salem who helped families or held their property for them during the years they were interned.

“I think it’s an important story to tell nowadays, that there were people who stood up in those days,” Hata said.

Salem residents can learn about the farmers of Lake Labish — or delve into other aspects of Japanese culture, Buddhism and magical realism — through virtual programs scheduled for February as part of the annual Salem Reads Month. from the Salem Public Library Foundation.

Each year, a foundation committee selects a book for Salem residents to read together and purchase copies to distribute for free.

The city’s librarians then plan a month of contests, talks, art exhibits and more related to the themes of the book.

The 2022 selection is “A Tale for the Time Being” by Ruth Ozeki, American-Canadian author and Buddhist monk.

The novel tells the story of Ruth, a Japanese-American writer living on an island in British Columbia, who finds the diary of a 16-year-old Japanese girl, Nao, washed up on shore following the Japanese tsunami of 2011. Ruth becomes engrossed in teenage life.

Sonja Somerville, a teenage librarian from Salem, chairs the library’s programming committee and has worked to plan a month of events that touch on the book’s varied themes.

“We want to have fun things and thoughtful things and educational things,” Somerville said.

She said the book’s themes, which include “seeking connection, exploring relationships and also dealing with very negative relationships”, as well as grief, resilience and “finding reasons to carry on”, resonate particularly well as the world is approaching the third year of a world. pandemic.

“All of these themes seem very relevant in our current world,” Somerville said.

Because the book uses elements of magical realism, the library holds workshops for teens and adults on the writing style, which is commonly associated with Latin American literature.

Portland Taiko, a musical group that plays the traditional taiko drum, will hold a demonstration on Saturday, February 5. Other events cover Oregon’s earthquake warning system and the basics of genealogy research.

A “Dear Stranger” letter writing event is also running through February 27. Anyone can write a letter to a stranger and mail it or drop it off at the library downtown. At the end of the month, each writer will receive a letter from a stranger.

Somerville said the idea came from a humanities program in Oregon. Participants have the option of signing their letters or remaining anonymous. To help you overcome writer’s block, the library offers a prompt – write about an important memory or what you hope will be remembered. Somerville said the goal is “to have that moment of connection with someone through writing.”

There’s also a writing contest inviting teens and adults to submit a fictional journal entry written by a grandparent or ancestor, with cash prizes of $50, $30, and $20 for the top three finishers. .

Hata and Oregon artist Megan Stahl will present Feb. 8 on the history of Japanese Americans in Oregon and Salem, with a focus on the impacts of internment. Like other Salem Reads events this year, the conference is being held on Zoom.

This is part of a larger effort by the newly created museum to better share the history of Japanese citizens in Oregon as the 80th anniversary of the internment order approaches.

“We are truly the holders, custodians and sharers of this story,” Hata said.

She said Stahl was working to create an interactive tour of historic sites, including the Lake Labish farming community.

Hata said she particularly wanted to highlight the instances where people stood up for Japanese Americans, both during World War II and after, as the community sought to rebuild and ultimately sought reparations for their imprisonment. .

“I think in these times of social change and social justice and a lot of questions about where we are in our culture and our world, it’s important to know the history but it’s also important to know how people have handled the story. A lot of times the whole story isn’t told,” Hata said.

For more information on Salem Reads, including an event schedule and registration details, visit the Salem Public Library Foundation website.

Contact journalist Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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