The Puyallup Valley chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League is in the early stages of creating a remembrance gallery to honor people of Japanese descent who were imprisoned on the fairgrounds there in early WWII. They came from Seattle, rural areas of Pierce County and Alaska, and were incarcerated in the only temporary WWII concentration camp in Washington State.
The permanent historical exhibit will include interpretive displays and list the names of the 7,600 camp residents. It will be seen by hundreds of thousands of visitors who arrive at the fairgrounds for events throughout each year. The project will highlight the social injustices residents experienced and foster comparisons with other groups being denied justice today.
Begun conceptually in 2017, the project’s anticipated completion date is late 2023. Its projected total cost is $1.5 million. Fundraising, which began mostly after Sept. 1, is now over $117,000. This includes $6,000 in seed money from the national JACL.
Project Manager Sharon Sobie-Seymour commented, “We want our community to know three things. First, we’re doing it. After 80 years, we’ll have some kind of remembrance gallery…. It’s going to happen.”
Second, “because we’re listing all (affected) families and names, please check your family’s names” (online).
“Third, and most important, our goals are to show our respect, bring awareness and educate to reduce further incarceration based on race, religion, or ethnicity.”
For funding, the Puyallup chapter is mainly approaching foundations and corporations.
Regarding the specific setting, the fairgrounds just opened its own museum, “The Washington State Fair Historical Experience.” The proposed JA exhibit will be “right across the hall from that, under the grandstand.” The location also works for pedestrian flow reasons. It is “right by the scones.”
At present, a small plaque accompanying a bronze sculpture by George Tsutakawa, mentions the Fairground’s incarceration role in WWII history.
Beyond that plaque and sculpture, there had been only “makeshift displays” on the fairground’s role in JA incarceration. Those displays were staffed by 5-6 Puyallup JACL docents spread thinly across the Fair’s 21-day run.
“People were absolutely interested,” Sobie-Seymour said, of the 2022 Fair’s temporary displays.
Further info: Puyallup Valley JACL