1973 Anaheim High School graduate Patti Hirahara was breaking barriers at an early age, being the only minority among 10 finalists in the Lanolin Plus Miss Baby Curl photo contest in a 1960 broadcast on KABC-TV/Channel 7’s “Chucko’s Cartoon” and winning second place in Seventeen Magazine’s National Youth Advisory Council scholarship competition in 1973, the only minority of four national finalists chosen from among 500 representatives across the country. She has been a trailblazer all her life and is now working to preserve the Japanese American legacy. (Photo by Pat Karlak/AUHSD)
ANAHEIM — The Anaheim Public Library Foundation will unveil a new digital photo collection and host a screening of the Emmy Award-winning documentary “The Legacy of Heart Mountain,” inspired by photographs taken by Anaheim resident Frank C. Hirahara while interned at the camp during World War II.
The Nov. 10 screening and debut will be attended by Anaheim Union High School District Superintendent Michael Matsuda, whose mother, Ruth Ikeda, was an Anaheim High School student when her family was sent to the Poston internment camp near Yuma, Ariz., as was her future husband, Jack Matsuda, and his family.
Presenting the documentary and family photo collection will be Patti Hirahara, a 1973 graduate of Anaheim High School. The Hiraharas are the first Anaheim family to be showcased in the library’s Digital Anaheim Photo Collections.
Hirahara said that as the fourth generation and last descendant of her family in America, she decided to preserve the Japanese American legacy in her own community of Anaheim. “My mother and I felt that the Japanese American legacy had never been highlighted in Anaheim,” she said.
According to census and telephone directories, Japanese families settled in Anaheim before 1920 and were part of the Anaheim business community. Anaheim was the major center for the Japanese American community in Orange County for many years.
The Hirahara family worked with the city to sponsor the 2009 unveiling of the Hirahara Family Exhibit — the artifacts, photographs, and documents that had been accumulating for a century and have now been digitized for posterity.
The more than 2,000 photos that her father and grandfather took and developed in their own secret underground darkroom in the Wyoming camp became the inspiration behind the filming of “The Legacy of Heart Mountain.”
In 2012, Hirahara contacted ABC7 Eyewitness News anchor David Ono to alert him to the history that her family had preserved photographically. Ono agreed that the photos could help fill a void in the historical record. The result was “The Legacy of Heart Mountain,” a powerful film about how this dark time in history affected upward of 110,000 Japanese Americans interned during World War II.
“The event hosted by the library foundation is a wonderful opportunity to view the poignant documentary, plus hear from Patti about her family’s 60 years in Anaheim and their contributions across the country,” said Ginny Gardner, a vice president of the library foundation.
Hirahara has also helped identify more than two-thirds of internees depicted in the Heart Mountain photographs, giving other families a piece of their history that they never knew existed. Other times, she was able to let people put a photographer’s name to the Heart Mountain photos that had been in many family scrapbooks for decades.
It has been 42 years since Patti Hirahara graduated from Anaheim High School, but she has brought distinction to her alma mater by being a part of the only four-generation family in the City of Anaheim and the Anaheim Public Library’s archives. Her work in helping to preserve the Japanese American legacy as well as being a bridge-maker between the U.S. and Japan is a unique focal point to Anaheim history, especially with Japanese settlers coming to Anaheim before 1920. (Photo by Pat Karlak/AUHSD)
The original photos have been donated to Hirahara’s father’s alma mater of Washington State University, as the George and Frank C. Hirahara Collection. Other collections reside at the Yakima Valley Museum in Yakima, Wash., the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, the Oregon Historical Society, and Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project.
Hirahara said her family’s biggest honor came last May, when her grandfather’s Heart Mountain softball was put on display in the nation’s capital at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s “Price of Freedom — Americans at War” exhibition.
“I hope to continue to preserve the history of Japanese settlers who came to Anaheim and paved the way for me to do what I am doing today,” she said.
Having been born a mere decade after the end of the Japanese American incarceration, Hirahara said she wanted only to be known as an American and not tied to her ethnicity. Throughout her education in Anaheim, she was usually the only Japanese American, or one of only a few Japanese Americans, in her class. Winning the first “Miss Suburban Optimist” queen contest representing the Orange County Japanese American community in 1974 was an opportunity that changed her life forever.
She started meeting people who had been incarcerated in Heart Mountain alongside her father and grandfather, including the publisher of a Japanese American newspaper, who offered her a job. Hirahara started covering stories in the local Nikkei community and realized what she had been missing by not being a central part of the community.
After graduating from CSU Fullerton in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree in communications, she switched to broadcast journalism and began reporting in English for a Japanese-language TV station. Although she enjoyed being in front of the camera, she said she found she could make a difference by helping Japanese companies doing business in the U.S. communicate to the American public.
This led her to represent, through her own public relations business, the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) in Los Angeles, which helped the State of California enter the Japanese market in 1984. JETRO is the trade promotion arm of the Japanese government.
The library foundation’s event is being held on Tuesday, Nov. 10, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the multipurpose room of the Anaheim Central Library, 500 W. Broadway, Anaheim. RSVP to Ginny Gardner at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the film, visit www.heartmountainfilm.com.