Japanese pioneers in the Eatonville Cemetery

An unexpected memorial is a reminder of a dark chapter in Pacific Northwest history.

A couple years ago I decided to visit the graves of my mother’s grandparents in the Bethany Cemetery, and to visit the town of Eatonville, Washington where my great-grandfather taught in the high school. Of course, I had to visit other pioneer cemeteries in the area including the one right in town, the Eatonville Cemetery.

The Eatonville cemetery is fairly large for a small town and is well-maintained. I was surprised, and pleased, and sad too to find the Japanese pioneer section of the cemetery, in a back corner.

In the early part of the 20th century, Japanese men were recruited to work at the Eatonville Lumber Company. After decades of life in the little town, during World War II, in May 1942 the Japanese families in Eatonville were removed to internment camps. It appears they went to different destinations, beginning with “Camp Harmony” (the Puyallup Fairgrounds) in Puyallup, WA and continuing to California and Idaho. There’s an excellent write-up of this in the Eatonville to Rainier blog.

Many of the graves aren’t marked with a date, or even with a name. They probably all pre-date the war, since many Japanese didn’t return to Eatonville after the war due to anti-Japanese sentiment. While it is good to see the Japanese pioneers recognized, it’s also quite obvious that their memorials are largely confined to one corner of the cemetery. Racist laws and attitudes were very much present although many local accounts describe the Japanese as appreciated neighbors, friends and coworkers.

The WWII Japanese internment camps are a dark and painful part of our history. I haven’t come across many Japanese or Chinese cemeteries or sections in all the ones I’ve visited on the west coast. I’m glad memorials like this remain to raise awareness.

Stump and Lamb explores personal growth and meaning via travels to pioneer cemeteries of the West.

This post was originally published at michellerau.com.

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