In the community

History group features author of Japanese American tale rooted in Malheur County

VALE — A local author whose debut novel revolves around the experience of Japanese Americans in the region during World War II will speak on the research she conducted to write her book at the Malheur Country Historical Society’s annual meeting Thursday, Nov. 10.

The meeting starts with lunch at 11:30 a.m. at the Vale Senior Center, catered by the Willowcreek Café.

Elaine Cockrell, born in Nyssa and raised in Adrian, said she began the research on her historical novel, “A Shrug of the Shoulders,” in 1985. 

Cockrell’s book tells of two Japanese American families, the Yanos and Mitas, and their experience at Japanese internment camps in eastern Oregon during World War II.  

Additionally, Cockrell said the book tells the story of the farmers who lived in the region and hired Japanese Americans during the war.  Cockrell, a retired high school literature teacher, said her uncle said he was always proud of her grandfather, a beet farmer, for paying interned Japanese workers a fair wage. 

It was that comment, according to Cockrell, that intrigued her to research the history of the Japanese American experience in Malheur County. 

“I knew I had Japanese American friends and classmates,” Cockrell said. “But I didn’t understand the historical part of it, and we’d not been taught (the history) in school.” 

Cockrell said that after Japan attacked the U.S. in 1941 at Pearl Harbor, Oregon Gov Charles Sprague wanted to keep Japanese Americans in the state. 

Sprague knew the Japanese were hard workers and outstanding farmers and he wanted to find a way to keep them, specifically in eastern Oregon. 

She said that Sprague ultimately persuaded then-U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt to approve one internment camp south of Nyssa. 

“It’s really a wonderful story,” Cockrell said. “And I wanted to tell it, especially with the community accepting the Japanese Americans to live and work there.” 

Indeed, Cockrell said, the situation was not ideal and there was prejudice, but the community came to an agreement. 

The historical society’s luncheon begins at 11:30 a.m. and will go to approximately 2 p.m. The lunch costs $15. To reserve a meal, contact Bonnie at 541-881-7750.

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