YAKIMA, Wash. -- As the daughter of an acclaimed sculptor and a talented dancer, Mayumi Tsutakawa grew up in the arts and made creativity her career, crisscrossing the state in a long career as a culture advocate and leader.
Her family legacy keeps the Seattle resident on the road even in retirement, but for a different reason.
This is the 75th anniversary year of Executive Order 9066, which forced approximately 120,000 Japanese-Americans into prison camps because of their ancestry.
Among them was her mother, Ayame Iwasa, then a teenager. Speaking about what happened is more important than ever given today’s political climate, said Tsutakawa, who spoke Wednesday at the Yakima Valley Museum.
“I think people are speaking about what happened then and what could happen now to immigrants who look different, who play differently, who speak a different language than what is considered the norm, the Christian norm,” she said.
Her talk, “The Pine and the Cherry: Japanese Americans in Washington,” was the second in the museum’s annual “Voices from the Past & Present” series. Tsutakawa is a speaker for Humanities Washington, which is sponsoring this year’s series with additional support by the Fresh Hop Ale Group.
Tsutakawa summarized the history of Japanese-Americans in Washington while sharing her family’s 110-year history in the state.
The first Japanese immigrants to the West Coast were contract workers in lumber, railroads and fishing. Her father, renowned sculptor George Tsutakawa, was born in Seattle in 1910. His father and two uncles ran Tsutakawa Co., an import-export business.
In 1900, Seattle had six Japanese-owned or operated hotels, she said. Twenty-five years later, there were 127 hotels owned or managed by people of Japanese ancestry.
But sentiment was building against Japanese businessmen and farmers, including those living in the Lower Yakima Valley.
In 1920, California passed the Alien Land Law, which prevented Japanese from owning or leasing land long-term. A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1922 denied citizenship to the Issei — those born in Japan. The Immigration Act of 1924 limited the number of immigrants allowed into the United States through a national origins quota and completely excluded people from Asia.
“Wartime hysteria was something that built up,” Tsutakawa said. “It wasn’t just because of Pearl Harbor. But after Pearl Harbor, this brought about the expulsion of Japanese-Americans on the West Coast.”
Of those approximately 120,000 people forced from their homes — including 1,017 from the Yakima Valley — nearly half were under age 18, she said. Her mother was sent with her family to the Tule Lake Relocation Center in northern California.
“My father was serving in the U.S. Army while his future wife was in Tule Lake,” Tsutakawa said. They met while he was there visiting family and married in 1947.
Her parents’ artistic talents extended to three of her brothers as well. Gerard is a sculptor; Deems is a jazz musician and recording artist and Marcus is an orchestra conductor at Garfield High School.
Interim executive director David Burton was pleased with Wednesday’s turnout — “a record crowd,” he said of the 145 people who attended.
Burton encouraged those in the audience to visit — or revisit — “Land of Joy and Sorrow: Japanese Pioneers in the Yakima Valley,” an exhibition that highlights the personal stories and possessions of those immigrants and their descendants.
“We’ve extended it through this year because of the anniversary of Executive Order 9066,” he said.