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  • Camp Harmony: Seattle's Japanese Americans and the Puyallup Assembly Center
  • Priscilla Wegars (bio)
Camp Harmony: Seattle's Japanese Americans and the Puyallup Assembly Center, by Louis Fiset. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009. Xvi + 210 pp. $65.00 cloth. ISBN 978-0-252-03491-6. $25.00 paper. ISBN 978-0-252-07672-5.

In Camp Harmony: Seattle's Japanese Americans and the Puyallup Assembly Center, Louis Fiset, author of the acclaimed Imprisoned Apart: The World War II Correspondence of an Issei Couple (University of Washington Press, 1997), provides another significant look at an understudied topic. The Puyallup Assembly Center was one of fifteen (xiii) or sixteen (5) temporary detention centers where, in 1942, Nikkei (people of Japanese ancestry) were forcibly confined prior to incarceration in War Relocation Authority (WRA) camps.

As Roger Daniels observes in his "Foreword," Camp Harmony is "the first detailed history of that place" (xiii). Although "mass resistance" never materialized (fortunately, considering the horrific consequences that might have ensued), the Puyallup Assembly Center's inmates were not "patient, passive victims"; instead, their active resistance involved subtly making their confinement "as tolerable as possible under the circumstances" (xiv).

Fiset's "Introduction" notes that by 1910, Seattle's increasing interaction with Japan led to a population of over 6,000 Nikkei as well as a thriving nihonmachi, Japantown. Marriages with women from Japan meant that, by 1920, women comprised a third of Washington State's Nikkei; one-quarter were children. Although the Nisei (second-generation, U.S.-born) were American citizens, U.S. racist laws still denied naturalization to their Issei (first-generation, Japan-born) parents. The increasing numbers of Japanese proved intolerable to bigots; in the 1920s, emigration from Japan was curtailed, then stopped entirely, but by the 1940s, Nisei numbered 60 percent of Seattle's 7,000 Nikkei.

Chapter 1, "Prewar Japantown," discusses the vibrant, thriving, residential and business sections of Seattle's nihonmachi; a brief discussion of the effect of Washington State's Alien Land Law (1921) on this community might have been [End Page 314] enlightening. Nevertheless, by 1940 Seattle's Nikkei owned or managed hundreds of hotels, apartment houses, restaurants, and other businesses, and interacted with many non-Japanese residents, particularly Chinese, Filipinos, and African Americans. The Issei were also powerful leaders of the community's cultural, financial, and social institutions, but by 1940 the older Nisei chafed to assume more active roles.

For example, within the space of less than a month, from December 1927 to January 1, 1928, Nisei James (Jimmie) Sakamoto began to go blind from a boxing injury; became a widower; left his small daughter on the East Coast, in the care of her maternal grandparents; and returned to Seattle to publish his first issue of the Japanese American Courier (21–22). This English-language newspaper advocated the interests of the rising Nisei generation.

Chapter 2, "War Comes to Japantown," describes how Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor affected Seattle's Nikkei residents. Personal recollections from several interviewees vividly recall those somber times. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested numerous Issei, mostly men; the Nisei, led by Jimmie Sakamoto, eagerly filled the leadership gap. On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 allowing the Nikkei to be "excluded" or "evacuated" (euphemisms for "removed") from western Washington and all or part of other West Coast states; some discussion of this terminology would have been helpful.

"Preparing for Exile," Chapter 3, includes the arrest of more Issei elders; Nisei job losses; some voluntary migration inland; and the shameful, if not illegal, assistance of the U.S. Census Bureau in identifying Nikkei households.

Chapter 4, "Puyallup Assembly Center," describes the hasty transformation, in April 1942, of the Western Washington Fairgrounds at Puyallup, thirty miles from Seattle, into a temporary detention center. Inmates began arriving April 28, and "Camp Harmony" soon held over 7,000 people. Meanwhile, forced sales, at pennies on the dollar, deprived Nikkei of businesses, farms, homes, and personal property in preparation for their removal.

In Chapter 5, "Exile," former prisoner S. Frank Miyamoto summed up the removal experience: "I can still remember the acute sense of embitterment, humiliation, resentment, anger, depression, … which I...


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