Vashon’s community commemorates the
Day of Exile
By Marina-Rae Gill, Online Editor
The Japanese Presence Project was created to shine a light on the Japanese American community members who lived on Vashon before Executive Order 9066. Put into effect by the FDR administration, the order demanded that beginning February 19, 1942, all people of Japanese ancestry be forcibly removed from their homes and exiled to prison camps. The Japanese Presence Project, co-founded by historian Bruce Haulman and demographer Alice Larson, began its work to research and digitize details about the Japanese American population who lived on Vashon before the evacuation. Presently the project is focused on illustrating the lives of those community members through biographies which are to be published on a website for public access.
Before founding the Japanese Presence Project, Haulman and Larson’s work involved compiling information from census data gathered in the early to mid 1900s.
“We took the handwritten census data and transcribed it, digitized it, and put it into spreadsheets,” Haulman said. “Alice and I both noticed there was a sizable Japanese American population on the island [so] we created the Japanese Presence Project [to bring] together a number of Japanese American islanders”
The project also began working closely with Mukai Farm and Garden, a property historically owned by Japanese Americans, as well as the Heritage Museum, and Japanese families on Vashon.
“We have a joint agreement between the museum and the Mukai Farm and Garden to have an archive that we share,” Haulman said. “We’re working with a number of families to build family trees and give people access to their own histories.”
For Haulman, the importance of this project is to allow anyone to educate themselves on the events that took place before, during and after Japanese internment, in the hopes that similar situations be prevented.
“We’ve come to recognize how wrong the exile and imprisonment of Japanese Americans was during World War Two,” Haulman said. “The majority of those removed were American citizens, they had not broken any laws, they had not done anything illegal, and yet because of their race… they were considered threats. And we need to make sure that doesn’t happen again to anyone.”
In the spring of 2021, John Stanton, VISD Chief Technology Officer, began working with Mukai Farm and the Heritage Museum to organize a ceremony to honor Japanese Americans.
“VISD is in partnership with the Vashon Maury Island Heritage Museum and the Mukai Farm and Garden on a project which is the commemoration of the internment of Japanese American students and their families during World War Two,” Stanton said. “That project is called ‘100 Cherry Trees’.”
In the 1930s VHS received the gift of 100 cherry trees from the local Japanese American community. The gesture was meant as a symbol of appreciation for the schools and the greater community.
“We [will] share the story of the 100 Cherry Trees on May 15th at Mukai Farm and Garden.” Stanton said, “This will be in conjunction with Mukai Farm and Gardens hosting of the “80th Anniversary of the Day of Exile.’”
The ceremony will be accompanied by several short biographies written by AP U.S. History students at Vashon Island High School, as well as several art pieces and signage.
“There are several goals [of the project]: to tell the internment story on Vashon through biographies written by VHS students and to commemorate the cherry trees and their story with art created by students and former students,” Stanton said. “I am also working with VHS graduate Chantal Uto who is creating an image that will appear on a sign commemorating the
internment of VISD students.”
Uto is a Japanese American artist from Vashon who has been working with the project since the start of the winter and is honored to be a part of it.
“One of the things that’s cool about this project for me personally, having gone to the high school and growing up on Vashon, is that there weren’t a lot of immigrant families and it felt kind of weird,” Uto said. “I didn’t grow up knowing much about the history of the Japanese Americans on Vashon, so it would have been kind of nice if it had been more public knowledge.”