Janice Okamoto was just a baby, only a few months old, when she was sent to Minidoka with her family. Her father was a musician, and like all the other incarcerees, he was permitted to bring only what he could carry in two suitcases. This meant leaving behind everything in their house, including his beloved musical instruments. Janice’s father could not bear the thought of living without music, so he brought a harmonica in his pocket. After three years, the Okamoto family was released from the camp in northern Idaho. They were given a train ticket to Portland, and $20. Back in what had been their home city, the Okamotos found most places in Portland unwilling to rent to Japanese Americans. Eventually they ended up in Vanport. With the Vanport flood of 1948, Janice and her family once again lost everything—first when they were imprisoned, and later when they were flooded out.
Many Roads to Here is a production of The Immigrant Story. Many thanks to the Japanese American Museum of Oregon, who allowed us to record there. The original interview was conducted in December of 2021, by Stephanie Vallence and Sankar Raman.
This episode is part of the I Am an American series, generously funded by Anne Naito-Campbell. For more episodes in the series, please visit our website. It was produced by Emily Ker with audio editing by Gregg Palmer. Our executive producer is Sankar Raman.
For more stories, visit theimmigrantstory.org/manyroads, listen live at prp.fm, or stream us wherever you get your podcasts.