Chizuko Judy (Sugita) de Queiroz

Artist spent part of youth in relocation camp


From ages 9 to 12, Chizuko Judy Sugita de Queiroz lived in an internment camp for Japanese Americans at Poston, Arizona (block 38-7-C). Her father, Yutaka "Joe" Sugita, had owned a nursery in Orange County before the family's forced relocation. Chizuko's mother had died when she was born. Three older brothers and two older sisters also were sent to the camp. A married sister lived in Idaho.

                                 Photo: Chizuko Judy Sugita de Queiroz

The atomic bombs dropped in Japan by the United States, on Aug. 6 and 9 in 1945, marked the end of the war for her family, something they eagerly awaited so they could return home. They later learned her father's entire family in his hometown of Hiroshima, except for a cousin and a great aunt, were killed in the blast.

But Chizuko says the happiest day in her father's life came in the mid-1950s when he was sworn in as a U.S. citizen. They all were happy on V-J Day.

We were in the camp waiting to get a sponsor and a place to live. Then V-J Day happened. We thought, oh good, great, we're going to get out of camp and everything would be fine and my dad would get to start his business again.

Well, they gave each person $7 when we left camp, so there was very little money. Everything had been confiscated and taken away at the beginning of the war. And we still had no sponsor.

My sister, who was working in Pasadena, wrote to the Red Cross several times and asked if my brother (serving in) the U.S. Army could come and help us get out of the camp. It took two letters before his commanding officer let him go. They gave him a week's leave of absence before he was to be shipped out with MacArthur's troops to Japan.

First he went to L.A., got us a hostel to live in. Then he came to camp and took us out.

We were just really joyous. The tumbleweeds were coming through the camp and the Indians were walking through the camp – it was their reservation, of course, that the camp was built on. All the barracks were almost empty.

When we did get to L.A., the brownstone that we were staying in was where Skid Row is now.

My dad and the other men in the brownstone would wait on the porch – sort of like the Mexicans on the corner, waiting for a job – waiting for someone to sponsor them. I think about three months passed and we were just getting really discouraged. No one would offer my dad a job. He was 61.

This one man came and said he had three properties and if Dad would take care of the gardening for the three properties we could have a chicken coop to live in. We were just overjoyed. At last somebody wanted us. At last we were going to get to go and start our lives.

We came to Huntington Beach and my sister would come home from her Pasadena house girl job on the weekends and help us get things organized. We had this little hot plate to cook on. My dad and my two brothers made this Japanese bath house outside. And then they had an outhouse.

We had some friends that had relocated earlier and they took us to our property (in Orange County, near what is now Knott's Berry Farm) from before. Well, everything was gone, except my brothers and my dad had taken the tires off two cars and put the cars up on blocks. There was this Model A Ford that my oldest brother had had before the war. My youngest brother was really a mechanical wonder. He could take things apart and put them back together. With the money my sister made as a house girl and the money my brother made in the Army they were able to order parts from Sears.

My dad started doing gardening with this little Model A Ford ...Dad was able to open his nursery in eight years, in Long Beach on Seventh Street, called the Evergreen Nursery. And it was just great.

We had our life back.

"It was the proudest day of his life," says Chizuko Judy Sugita de Queiroz, as she showed a painting she created from a snapshot after her father was sworn in as a American citizen in the 1950s. She is at left of her father Yutaka Joe Sugita, at right is her sister Mariko Frankie Sugita Fukuda. She says of her father's citizenship: "My dad was very proper, he never smiled in pictures. He said only idiots smiled in pictures. I never really saw him laugh a lot because he would contain any kind of emotion. No crying, no smiling, no laughing kind of thing. Very stoic Japanese American. But when he got his citizenship papers he was just smiling all day long. I'd never seen my dad so happy."

Painter Chizuko Judy Sugita de Queiroz attends and sometimes instructs at an annual painting event at California's Manzanar War Relocation Center started by her mentor Henry Fukuhara. Years ago she had given him this three-inch brush and after his passing the family returned it to her. She used it to paint this tribute to him. She says of her time in camp: "It was very, very depressing for a couple of months. But you know you get over things. We started school in the barracks. I was always a person to do my very best, so I did well in school. I was a good reader and I was a good artist. My teacher was Miss Perry, my first teacher. And she sort of recognized that I had some artistic talent. It sort of gave me some confidence. My dad would always say out of every good comes a little bad and out of every bad comes a little good."
Artist paints the colors of an internment camp.

By Rebecca Villaneda,
Peninsula News

Chizuko Judy Sugita de Queiroz’s exhibit "Camp Days 1942-1945" was on display at the Palos Verdes Art Center in Rancho Palos Verdes which ended March 8, 2009.

The former Peninsula resident’s paintings, which are for sale, illustrate her 3 years in the World War II concentration camp in Poston, Ariz.

The woman behind the brush strokes of Camp Days 1942-1945 tells her life story like every detail was meant to be.

Borrowing from a favorite saying of her father’s — "Out of every bad comes some good, & out of every good comes some bad" — she has turned any negative in her life to positive & wants to share it with the world.

"Those 3 1/2 years in camp changed my entire life," Chizuko said. "I think the good that came out of the feelings of loneliness & despair, & wanting my mom alive & [life] in camp … I think what really worked for me is I started getting more resilient & I started to get more outgoing, because I had to force myself."

Chizuko’s life in camp followed shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, when she was 9. Her family lived in Orange, Calif., at the time & her father, a Japanese-born immigrant, owned a nursery.

Her mother died from childbirth complications after having Chizuko. Having lived with her aunt, then her oldest sister for a few years each, moving again, this time to the camp, wasn’t a big deal for the "fearful, withdrawn & non-social kid."

Noticing everyone in the camp looked similar, her sister, Lil, explained to her the reasons why she & her family were relocated — a moment that she illustrates in a painting. "I was just so depressed, because I realized then that I was a Jap. That I was the enemy & it was a real terrible feeling," she said. "I always thought I could grow up one day or wake up one day & be blue-eyed & blond. Nothing was impossible in my mind."

"And I always thought my mother would come back to life, because my sister said if I prayed hard enough, my prayers would come true. So I knew before camp that anything was possible, but in camp I realized that was not right....That sort of colored my life," she added.

Camp life
Once "everything sort of loosened up," life behind the barbed wire was safe & people began to take on roles to make do. "The Japanese-Americans started farming the land & they dug all the ditches to bring the water from the Colorado River to the camp," Chizuko said. "They did start farming outside the camp, where people would get passes to work the farm for produce for inside the camp."

Some were paid $12 a month, while other "inmates" made $19, she said, depending on their job. As a fireman, her brother made $16.

"We built a huge society within the camp," she said. "My dad was active....He thought we needed more vegetables & less canned things. Finally, after a year or two, they started sending sacks of rice in, instead of just flour."

Americans volunteered as doctors & teachers, & lived in white houses in the camp, versus the barracks Chizuko & her family called home. Aside from school, & her chores, like washing clothes, Chizuko found solace at the camp’s only library.

"I had a very confined, limited life. I would go to the library, which was half a barrack & about a mile away," she said. "I spent many, many hours in the library. I checked out the same books over & over. It just afforded me a place to go when I couldn’t find anybody."

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt died in 1945, Chizuko’s father gathered the family to mourn his life. She called it the second saddest event while in camp; the first was losing her Uncle Johnny to the war.

"My dad was raised in the Meiji era in Japan...And the attitude people learned was that no matter what your station in life, you do the very best you can & you never hurt anyone else & you never hurt yourself & you make your living honestly," she said. "And always respect your elders & the leaders. He knew that Roosevelt didn’t like [the] Japanese & was instrumental to sending us to the concentration camps, but no matter who your leader is, he’s doing the best he can."

Chizuko admired her father. He came to the United States in 1902. Although he came from a well-to-do family in Japan, he set out to find "his fortune" in San Francisco.

Along with other family members, he ran the Tamura Hotel, & helped Japanese immigrants find jobs & homes. It was very successful until the 1906 earthquake destroyed it. "His fortune just went up & down, up & down, up & down," she said. "And just when he was starting over again, after the depression, he started his nursery in about 1939-40, & it was doing fine, then the war broke out....He never did make it [back] to Japan."

Chizuko’s father became a United States citizen in 1952, when Asians could become naturalized citizens. "He really considered himself an American," she said.

From Arizona to California
Integrating back into life after the camp was difficult for Chizuko. To move out of the camp, the family had to have a sponsor & a place to live. Her oldest brother moved them to a hostel in Los Angeles, which she compared to living back in a barrack. But it was home, until her father was offered work tending the properties of a landowner, who also gave the family a chicken coop to live in.

Eventually her father owned a nursery once again, the family got back on its feet & Chizuko was able to go to college at Long Beach State University & Dominguez Hills University, where she earned both a BFA & an MFA, respectively.

Remembering her days in Poston was not a common topic of conversation as people who lived through it wanted to forget it. "It was a shameful thing, because we were made to feel like 2nd-class citizens or like we did something wrong. And we really didn’t do anything wrong," she said.

The first time she began to talk about camp freely followed a Poston camp reunion. Chizuko was talking to colleagues & couldn’t stop crying. "I think a lot of people have these feelings that they don’t know what to do with," she said. Chizuko chose to paint to get through her memories, although she admits it was painful to get them on canvas. "I just wanted [people] to know that everybody can become very resilient in bad times & not succumb to the things that are happening to them," Chizuko said.

Her daughter, Meigan Everts, who in high school first began to hear about her mother’s past, said the art has been cathartic. "She’s a very caring person, & she really feels a lot of things & this is a way for her to express some of those feelings. And I think it’s really neat that she’s been able to do that," Everts said. "It’s was not a great experience & it was a horrible thing that happened in the United States history, but it’s something that happened. You can’t change the past & you have to work through it."

Said Chizuko, "I started to change completely by saying, ‘I’m going to be a really great American & I’m leaving this junk behind me,’ & I was able to do that."

Chizuko Judy Sugita de Queiroz, a former Palos Verdes High School art teacher.

Source: http://www.pvnews.com/articles/2009/02/12/local_news/news3.txt
Artist shares camp memories in Japanese American Museum of SJ exhibit
November 25, 2010
By Erin Yasuda Soto

     Artist Chizuko Judy Sugita de Queiroz was 9 years old when she and her family were uprooted from their home in Orange, California and incarcerated in a wartime concentration camp in Poston, Arizona for three years.
     Sugita de Queiroz illustrates her childhood memories through watercolors in the traveling exhibit “Camp Days 1942-1945: Childhood Memories of Chizuko Judy Sugita de Queiroz,” which is currently on display at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose until April 30, 2010. The watercolors represent a portion of a collection of 61 paintings.
     “My experience in camp was the worst and most unhappy time I’ve had in my entire life. I would not want anyone to experience my feelings of loneliness,” she said. She said that as the youngest of nine children in her family, she often felt left overshadowed by her older siblings.
     “Most of the time, I was alone. My sisters and brothers were outgoing and made friends quickly. I was always treated as the baby of the family, so I never talked much. It was terribly hard on me. I had little social skills. So I spent my time in the library, checking out books and reading several a day,” she said.
     Prior to becoming an artist, Sugita de Queiroz served as an art teacher. After retiring early from Palos Verdes High School in Southern California, she started painting full time and presenting exhibits. Sugita de Queiroz said that the “Camp Days” paintings arose from her desire to share her experiences with her family.
     “I wanted to let my children and grandkids know about my life during that period of my childhood. So I painted from memory my camp days for my one-man show in Laguna Beach,” said Sugita de Queiroz, who resides in Irvine, California.
     Sugita de Queiroz said that she felt a tremendous sense of loneliness growing up in camp, especially following the death of her mother. Her father was a bonsai artist who emigrated from Hiroshima, Japan.  “My mother died shortly after I was born. I was sent to live with my aunt and uncle when my mother died, then my sister. I loved my father so much and waited for his visits and the time I could leave with him. He was always my inspiration in everything I did. I admired his hard work and his love of bonsai that he did all his life,” said Sugita de Queiroz.
     She said that one of her artistic influences growing up was her older sister Lillian, an artist and painter. Sugita de Queiroz depicts Lillian painting a watercolor in the book “Camp Days 1942-1945.” Sugita de Queiroz said she would help to fetch watercolor supplies for Lillian whenever she chose to paint a sunset.
     “I loved art and painting because of Lillian and, of course, my artistic father influenced me,” she said. In addition, Sugita de Queiroz said her camp teacher, Miss Perry, recognized her talent and asked her to create paintings for the teachers’ dining room in camp.
     Sugita de Queiroz said the process of creating the “Camp Days” exhibit was cathartic for her. “It was very difficult. I was going to do 250 paintings, but by the end of the year I was spent and did not want to relive any more horrendous memories,” she said.
     Sugita de Queiroz said her family did not discuss their camp experiences much after they left. “No one in my family talked about camp. And my dad always said, ‘Never dwell on the negative, the past can’t be changed. Concentrate on the now and the future.’ He had such wisdom. It was like the Japanese saying ‘Shikata ga nai’ — it can’t be helped.”
     Sugita de Queiroz said that the process of planning her paintings involved drawing on her memories of camp. “I wrote down all my memories, about 250, and just started doing it. Some paintings were so difficult to paint, others easier,” she said.
     Sugita de Queiroz said that although she has utilized many media, she especially enjoys painting watercolors. “As an art teacher, I have used all media, ranging from oils, acrylics, pastels, ink and clay. The best aspect of watercolor is its fluidity, immediate-ness, and directness — whether as an atmosphere you wish to convey or as an emotion. It’s a lot of work, but I feel a joy in painting,” she said.
     Sugita de Queiroz said that she was strongly influenced as an artist by her friend Henry Fukuhara, a painter. “I have been a watercolor painter for the last 25 years because of my wonderful friend and guru, Henry, who passed away at 96 years old. He was blind for the last five years, but lucid and painting to the end. He was my biggest influence. He truly was the greatest watercolor painter. He was very innovative, distinct and free,” she said.
     Sugita de Queiroz said she draws inspiration for her paintings from the world around her. “Everything inspires me: My love of family and nature, as well as what I see, feel, taste and experience. These past few weeks, I have been painting clouds, as it has been quite cloudy and rainy. Everything so lovely, dreary, mysterious, light and dark,” she said.
     With a focus on nature, Sugita de Queiroz’s past shows include “Seasons right here” and “Global Warming.” She has also presented other shows focusing on landscapes, seascapes, cityscapes, tree portraits and flowers. Sugita de Queiroz said that she has also been inspired by her travels. “The paintings come out different when you see a new country — whether it’s tea plantations or Mt. Fuji in Japan — and not just photos of your trip. That makes all the difference,” she said.
     Sugita de Queiroz said that in addition to her artistic work, she enjoys cooking, shopping, cleaning and taking care of her 11 grandchildren. “My life has been so wonderfully blessed so I am happy just being and living. And art is part of my life,” she said. Ultimately, Sugita de Queiroz said that she hopes that those who view her “Camp Days” art exhibit learn about a painful period in American history. “It is really a message of peace — no more wars, and liberty and justice for all,” she said.

Source: http://www.nichibei.org/2010/11/artist-shares-camp-memories-in-japanese-american-museum-of-sj-exhibit/

1 comment:

Jeannie Smith said...

How can I get a copy of "Camp Days" by Chizuko Judy Sugita? I work at the Parker Public Library on the Colorado River Indian Reservation, near the Poston Internment Camp area.I am looking for books and information to add to our collection. Email me at:
Thank you.