The Art of Camp Harmony
By Chrystal Marner
Japanese-American art tells the story of internment and processing during WWII. Camp Harmony was the name of the processing center held at the Puyallup Fairgrounds during the 1940s. It was at Camp Harmony where Japanese-Americans were gathered and processed before being dispersed to internment centers around the country.
Elsie Yotsuuye Taniguchi is the Puyallup Valley JACL (Japanese American Citizens League) President. She shared that at age 5, she and her family were given orders to be prepared to leave to, what was known as, Camp Harmony in 72 hours based on Executive Order 9066. They were bused to the camp where she resided in the horse stalls. Their pillowcases filled with straw to be used as mattresses and were only allowed to leave to the camp with what could be contained in one suitcase. They were never notified as to where they were going, how long they would be gone and why they were being taken from their homes. They were American citizens and confused as to why they were being taken to these camps.
They were eventually shipped out by a train with blacked out windows to Minidoka Internment camp near Twin Falls, Idaho and lived there for 3 years. They were placed at Camp Harmony while Minidoka was being built. There were 7,000 people who were sent to Minidoka from Camp Harmony.
This exhibit was put together to inform others of the atrocities that occurred. This was also after a visit from Justice Antonin Scalia where he stated the Supreme Court could authorize another a wartime abuse of civil rights such as the internment camps for Japanese Americans during World War II. He stated sharing these stories were key to keep this from happening again. “You have to live, you have to forgive; hard to forget but you do have to forgive.” (Elsie is second from left in the photo provided. She has the red flower in her hair)
Mizu Sugimura is the artist behind the three original pieces on display with the exhibit. Her parents were citizens that were sent to Camp Harmony. Her mother was 16 and her father was 14 when they went to camp. She was born 10 years after they left the camp. Her parents did not speak about their experiences until they viewed Mizu’s art and they have only started sharing little bits of their stories. The pieces are how she began to communicate with them regarding their imprisonment. Her pieces are based on living 24/7 in an environment with people who had left camp and were unable to disassociate from being in prison. Those who were imprisoned were confused to be saying the pledge allegiance to a country that had betrayed them. Her pieces reflect this as well.