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INTERSECTIONS. Intersections is an award-winning look at the neighborhoods along Interstate Avenue through the eyes of their residents, each chapter corresponding to one of the ten stops on the MAX Light Rail Yellow Line. Sue Sakai, pictured at right, spent more than four months living in the Portland Assembly Center with more than 3,500 other Japanese Americans from the Portland and Central Washington areas. (Photos courtesy of Julie Keefe)
From The Asian Reporter, V15, #51 (December 20, 2005), page 12.
Traditions, tragedy, and triumph
Intersections: TriMet Interstate MAX Light Rail Community History Project
By Judy Blankenship
Photographs by Julie Keefe
Tri County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet), 2003
Paperback, 83 pages, $5.00
By Josephine Bridges
Portlandís North and Northeast neighborhoods share a rich history of traditions, tragedy, and triumph," writes TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen in his preface to Intersections, an award-winning look at the neighborhoods along Interstate Avenue through the eyes of their residents, each chapter corresponding to one of the ten stops on the MAX Light Rail Yellow Line. Several of the neighborhoods described here are long gone, and that is Portlandís loss, but Intersections keeps them in our memories.
In her introduction, Judy Blankenship writes, "I want the readers of these accounts to hear the rhythm and tone of the voices I heard, to experience the humor, passion, and poignancy with which these eleven individuals shared their life stories. So although I served as the filter through which these histories passed, I hope I have been a fairly transparent one." The author has indeed achieved her objective; all the voices in Intersections ring loud and clear.
Our journey begins at the Interstate/Rose Quarter MAX station, where Roslyn Hill once lived in a neighborhood called Lower Albina, which vanished in the 1950s to make way for Interstate 5 and the Memorial Coliseum. "What if you wanted to take your children or grandchildren around to show them where you grew up, and you had nothing to show?" Roslyn Hill asks. It is a great strength of the collection of stories that it doesnít duck this hard question. Nightclub owner Paul Knauls acknowledged that racial segregation was a sad fact of life in Portland in the 1960s, but suggested that good entertainment brought together groups of people who might otherwise never cross paths. "If you give your customers what they want, no matter what color they are, theyíre going to come out."
Jeanette Lattanzi grew up in the heart of Portlandís Polish community, in the Overlook district, two doors down from St. Stanislaus Church. But as a student at Jefferson High School, she "had a feeling of not belonging, sometimes because I was Polish and other times because I was Catholic."
Toni Linne, who moonlighted at the Swan Island Shipyard during her senior year in high school, remembers March of 1942, when "construction crews moved onto Swan Island with pile drivers, bulldozers, tractors, and graders, and began uprooting the 640 Japanese cherry trees around the outer periphery of the island that had drawn sightseers every spring at cherry blossom time."
Regina Flowers, whose photograph graces the cover of Intersections, came with her mother and brothers to Portland from Oklahoma to join her father, who was working in Henry Kaiserís shipyards and living in Vanport. "When we left Muskogee on the train, it was in segregated cars, but when we got to Kansas City, Missouri, and changed to a train car going to Oregon, we were integrated. Just like that!"
Paris Nunes, who grew up and still lives in St. Johns, is one of a number of children fostered and adopted by Gladys and Jack Nunes, who were well into their sixties when the Childrenís Services Division sent them the six-month-old boy. "According to CSD rules, age cannot be held against adoptive parents if they are Native American," writes the author. Says Paris, "My childhood was pretty normal."
Rudy Trujillo, whose ancestors came from Barcelona, Spain, settled in Portland "because of the wonderful plants here." A landscape contractor who designed a number of projects along the Columbia River including the landscaping for the Jantzen Beach shopping center, he also got a contract on the Interstate MAX, moving "seventy-eight large trees that were in the right-of-way, some of them up to thirty-feet tall."
Les Jorg remembers the Kenton of his youth as a very diverse small town, home to "a Russian prince and an Englishman we could hardly understand." There were Italians and Greeks and a "Sihk [sic] with a beard and turban." After the Second World War, all that changed. "I especially felt the absence of the Japanese, who were a very important part of our community. Damned if I can understand why they put Japanese in prisons, while nobody bothered about my mother, who was German and pro-Hitler."
Marion Craig, a native of Presque Isle, Maine, tells the story of Vanport, at one time the second-largest city in Oregon, which was destroyed at the end of May 1948 by a flood. A riveting storyteller and a woman of great mettle, Marion Craig is white. While Vanport was an integrated community, at the time of the flood from a quarter to a third of its residents were black, far above the national population of five percent. When I called the author to ask her reason for choosing a Caucasian to tell this story, she explained that "Because the tale of the Vanport flood has been told so many times from the viewpoint of African Americans who lived there, TriMet wanted a perspective that more accurately represented the demographics all along the Interstate line." Given our cityís troubling history of racism and the loss of life in the Vanport flood ó "Eventually, the official number of dead was fifteen, but certainly many more people were swept away and not counted," writes Judy Blankenship ó I would have chosen otherwise.
Sue Sakai brings Intersections to a sobering close with her recollections of internment at the Portland Assembly Center, now the Portland Metropolitan Exposition Center, which was then "one of seventeen temporary locations along the West Coast where Japanese Americans were held between May 2 and September 10, 1942." Says Sue Sakai, "Whenever there is unrest in any part of the world, I quickly worry about what is going to happen to people from that particular country who live in the U.S. Right now, of course, Iím very concerned about Muslims and Arab Americans."
Julie Keefe took most of the photos in Intersections, and the stories they tell are as rich as the narrative. Reminiscent of the sepia-tone photos we associate with the distant past, they whisper, "This is your history."
To purchase a copy of Intersections, go to the Portland Oregon Information Center in Pioneer Courthouse Square (701 S.W. Sixth Avenue) or visit <www.trimet.org>.