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Puyallup Fair's Internment Camp Past Remembered

Sam Eaton
09/08/2000

THE PUYALLUP FAIR OPENS TODAY, CELEBRATING 100 YEARS SINCE ITS FOUNDING. IT HASN’T BEEN AN UNBROKEN RUN, THOUGH. IN FACT, THE FAIRGROUNDS WERE CLOSED DURING WWII, AND HASTILY TRANSFORMED INTO A HOLDING PRISON TO PROCESS THOUSANDS OF JAPANESE-AMERICANS. KUOW’S SAM EATON REPORTS: THIS CHAPTER OF PUYALLUP HISTORY WILL BE INCLUDED AT THIS YEAR’S CENTENNIAL EXHIBIT.

FOR MANY AMERICANS, THE 1940’S EVOKE NOSTALGIC EMOTIONS. DUKE ELLINGTON WAS ON THE RADIO. AMERICA HAD JUST ENTERED WORLD WAR TWO, AND MUCH OF THE NATION WAS PULLING TOGETHER TO FIGHT A COMMON ENEMY. BUT NOT EVERYONE HAS FOND MEMORIES OF THE TIME. People were turning into monsters all of a sudden, we didn't know them anymore. That was the first day I really truly felt like a Japanese. IN 1942, TAMA TOKUDA WAS AN ENGLISH MAJOR AT THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON. SHE REMEMBERS BEING CALLED AN "ENEMY ALIEN" AFTER JAPAN BOMBED PEARL HARBOR. THEN CAME ORDERS FROM PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT: EVACUATE ALL JAPANESE AMERICANS FROM THE WEST COAST FOR INDEFINETE INTERNMENT IN MAKESHIFT CAMPS. TOKUDA AND HER FAMILY HAD 24 HOURS TO CLOSE THEIR BUSINESS AND HOME AND PACK ONLY WHAT THEY COULD CARRY. Once we got on the bus we were so exhausted, no one spoke, it was just absolute silence, I don't know how to call a feeling like that… It's just too much to bear it seems like. STORIES LIKE TOKUDA'S ARE ON DISPLAY AT THIS YEAR'S PUYALLUP FAIR IN A SPECIALLY-DESIGNED EXHIBIT. THIS WEEK, BOB SHIMABUKURO WITH SEATTLE'S WING LUKE ASIAN MUSEUM WAS COMPLETING THE FINISHING TOUCH: A BARE LIGHTBULB HANGING FROM THE RAFTERS OF A SMALL SHED. HE'S PAINSTAKINGLY RECREATING A BARRACK LIKE THE ONES THAT HOUSED SEVEN THOUSAND JAPANESE AMERICANS ON THE FAIRGROUNDS. SHIMABUKURO SAYS THE BUILDING DESIGN STRIPPED FAMILIES OF PRIVACY AND COMFORT… AND DIGNITY. And you could hear what every family was arguing about, or whatever any other family was doing and there was this space above the wall on the side that, I guess you could say was common to everybody. THE PUYALLUP FACILITY WAS CALLED "CAMP HARMONY." SHIMABUKURO IS TOO YOUNG TO HAVE EXPERIENCED INTERNMENT, BUT HE'S HEARD THE STORIES OF ELDERS, LIKE TAMA TOKUDA. SHE REMEMBERS ATTENDING THE PUYALLUP FAIR BEFORE THE GROUNDS BECAME A PRISON… MAKING HER CONFINEMENT EVEN MORE TRAUMATIC. STILL, TOKUDA RECALLS SOMETHING IN THE CAMP THAT GAVE HER HOPE. IT WAS THE SIMPLE PLEASURE OF HEARING BOYS NEXT DOOR SMOKING CIGARETTES AND EATING POTATO CHIPS IN THE DARK. We really didn't have any feelings anymore but somehow that crackling and chewing of the potato chips touched our funny bone and we started to giggle. I think that's the moment we started to feel life again. TOKUDA’S FAMILY SPENT FOUR MONTHS IN PUYALLUP’S PROCESSING FACILITY BEFORE BEING SHIPPED TO AN INTERNMENT CAMP IN IDAHO. TODAY, IN HER HOME ON SEATTLE'S BEACON HILL, THERE’S A PICTURE OF HER TAKEN AT CAMP HARMONY, STANDING BEHIND BARBED WIRE… IT HELPS HER TO REMEMBER. History becomes just pages eventually and just another fact. It doesn't have life to it but we have these recreations, it brings it to life that actually ordinary human beings went through this. A VIDEO OF PERSONAL STORY’S FROM THE INTERNMENT CAMP ERA WILL PLAY AT THE PUYALLUP FAIR. TAMA TOKUDA BELIEVES PERSONAL ACCOUNTS HELP MAKE HISTORY MEMORABLE, BRINGING CURRENCY TO AN EVENT THAT SHE SAYS COULD EASILY HAVE BEEN FORGOTTEN. SAM EATON, KUOW, 94.9, PUBLIC RADIO.

01.16.18

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