(Mis)Representing History: Forced Removal of Japanese Civilians

Have you ever been to the Washington State Fair? If you have, you’d probably recognize the sights and smells– the roller coasters and grandstands, the food and the animals.

The Washington Fairgrounds are old, over 100 years old, as fairgrounds tend to be used again and again for many different uses. What may be shocking is that part of the Washington State Fairgrounds’ history includes a brief interlude in which it was used to “roundup” Japanese Americans during the Second World War.

The language surrounding Japanese incarceration has been purposefully misleading as it distorts and softens the real experiences.One glaring example is how, at the time of the executive order and forced removal, President Roosevelt can be quoted on over a dozen occasions referring to the camps as “concentration camps” (Herzig-Yoshinaga 2009), but when a plaque was being commissioned for the historic site at Manzanar, the majority of the commission board balked at the notion of calling Manzanar a concentration camp.

This type of revision severely impacts the interpretation of the detainment era and impedes on the ability to tell the stories of people who were impacted by the xenophobic policies of our government, similar to glossing over the history of local sites such as the Puyallup Fairgrounds.

By revising the terms used to describe the incarceration of Japanese civilians during this period and by shedding light on just how close to home this history is to Seattle and other major cities, this piece of excluded past can be integrated into a more holistic understanding of our region’s and our country’s history.

Composite image of Japanese inmates in 1942 and the modern Puyallup fairgrounds courtesy of the Washington State Historical Society.


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