Editorial:

Heart Mountain Pilgrimage’s message of hope resonates now more than ever

Posted 8/1/19

Never again. 

Since the opening of the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center in 2011, those two words have become the unofficial rallying cry of the center’s annual Pilgrimage, an event of …

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Editorial:

Heart Mountain Pilgrimage’s message of hope resonates now more than ever

Posted

Never again. 

Since the opening of the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center in 2011, those two words have become the unofficial rallying cry of the center’s annual Pilgrimage, an event of profound importance to the Japanese-American community. The journey is taken by former incarcerees, their descendants, friends and the public who seek to understand this dark and poignant history and its impact on us today. 

And while parallels can easily be made to more recent events, and some wonder if we are indeed doomed to repeat one of the darker chapters of our nation’s history, another word continues to bubble to the surface amidst the chaos of the day:

Hope.

As the keynote speaker at last weekend’s Heart Mountain Pilgrimage, retired Judge Lance Ito, he of “The Trial of the Century” fame, spoke with reverence about his parents, James and Toshi Ito. 

The Itos had met and began dating when both where interned at the relocation camp. The young couple went on to have long careers as teachers in California following their release from the camp, though Judge Ito said his parents rarely spoke of their incarceration, at least while he was growing up.

While in the camp, James Ito, a farmer, was instrumental in improving the food at the site by working with other farmers to turn the surrounding desert into farmland. It worked, and by the end of the camp’s second year, Heart Mountain was raising nearly all its own food. It was a perfect illustration of the Japanese-Americans, uprooted from their lives and their homes simply because of their ethnicity, making the most of their situation.

In the years following the end of the war, the Itos, like many of their fellow incarcerees, slowly began telling their story, intending it as a cautionary tale for future generations. Those stories have built the foundation of places like the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, where bridges continue to be built between the past and the present. Incarcerees never lost hope, even in their darkest times, and that message has never been more relevant than it is today.

At a Heart Mountain reunion in 2005, a group of Riverton High School students cast the hands of 87 former incarcerees in plaster, and later glass, as part of a class project. Incarcerees were reluctant to participate at first, but warmed to the idea after James and Toshi Ito agreed to be the first to have their hands cast, with the stipulation that their hands be

cast together.

The glass cast of the Ito’s hands was on display at the Interpretive Center this weekend, complete with a tiny confetti heart placed in the space between the hands years ago by Toshi herself. It was a touching symbol of the couple’s love, as well as a reminder of a time when things weren’t so certain.

And all they had was hope. 

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