Train of Tears Commemoration Begins Healing, Reconciliation

See the live-stream of the commemoration service at Riverside on May 13. 

“It starts with gratitude … gratitude for this Riverside congregation,” began Oregon’s Episcopal Bishop Rev. Diana Akiyama, during the Train of Tears commemoration in the Riverside sanctuary, “for your acknowledgment for the way that silence participates with violence. And for having the courage to step up, 80 years later, the courage to know that it still matters to speak the truth. What you have done with your apology starts the process of healing.”

More than 200 people, including Japanese elders, local elected officials, and ministers from many faith traditions, gathered for the commemoration. It began in the Riverview Room with displays from the history museum. In the sanctuary, Pastor Vicky welcomed our guests, and led prayer, followed by words from Bishop Akiyama. Tim Mayer and Kristine Warnock sang and played, and our moderator, Yvonne Arbogast, read the declaration the congregation adopted on May 1. (You can read it below.)

Then participants, carrying tags with the names of those deported 80 years ago, walked to the train station, for more music and prayers, and the dedication of a peace pole, led by our UCC conference minister, Rev. Tyler Connoley.

Bishop Akiyama grew up in Hood River in the years after the deportation. But her family was deported on May 13. She gave us words to live by as we explore what it will mean in the future to declare, “never again.” She said:

“We know now that trauma is a physical part of the body, how it can be passed on as part of one’s DNA to generation after generation. We Yonsei [fourth generation Japanese Americans] were holding shame and we didn’t even know why. It’s so perfect and fitting that a church, above any other organization, should call itself to examine what it would mean to participate in the act of reconciliation, beginning with an apology. You are living the love ethic of Jesus with your apology. Healing can change a life too; it can be inherited generation after generation. That is the transformative love we hear about in the Gospel that Jesus is teaching. That is the transformative thing that Riverside has began.”

A Declaration on the Eightieth Anniversary of The Train of Tears

For more than 100 years, Riverside Community Church, United Church of Christ, has shared the extravagant love of God in the beautiful and majestic Columbia River Gorge. Riverside’s congregation is known throughout the Gorge for its commitment to social justice issues and education, its willingness to directly address injustice, and its ability to amplify the voices of those in our community who have been historically stifled or silenced. We are proud of who we are and what we stand for.

Regretfully, we as a church have not always been so outspoken against injustice. Eighty years ago, as it does today, Riverside stood on the hill overlooking the train station. On May 13, 1942, more than 400 members of the Hood River community were forced out of their homes and onto trains at that same train station, where they were taken to internment camps for the duration of World War II, solely because they were Japanese. We have searched for evidence of this church’s public voice during that period and have found none. We have found no record of publicly speaking out against the treatment of our neighbors of Japanese ancestry, nor did we, as a faith community, take any other steps to try to stop their removal and internment. Nor have we found any public declaration from the period following the war, when some of those neighbors returned, that they were welcome, that we stood by them and with them, or that we would be allies as they reintegrated into the area they had been forced to leave.

We now declare as a congregation that our silence 80 years ago was wrong and that by remaining silent, we too caused harm. We are sorry for our silence when voices mattered most. We therefore are signing on to this declaration as a form of public apology for that silence and a vow to never again stay silent in the face of oppression. We stand with our Japanese friends and neighbors. We recognize the many gifts and benefits that you have brought to our community over the decades. We appreciate your rich heritage and commit to ensuring that future generations know the true history of your journey through education, activism, and acts of friendship.

May the God of love and justice forgive us, and grant us the courage and grace to move forward with love.

Adopted by the Riverside Community Church, UCC, on May 1, 2022