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Painful memories of camp and fading history the inspiration for artist's haunting collection

Steven Cabana

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Even before her imprisonment in an Arizona relocation camp at age nine, artist Chizuko Judy Sugita de Queiroz led a hard life.

When her mother died shortly after her birth, de Queiroz lived a sheltered life with an abusive aunt and brother-in-law.

It was World War II and a presidential order that changed her life forever, she told an overcrowded room of De Anza College students and instructors last Thursday.

On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 that forced her and her family to sell what they could of their business and homes.

They became one of over 12,000 Japanese- Americans to be relocated to 10 internment camps across the country.

For the next three years, her family and the rest of the Camp Poston Relocation Center inhabitants faced the harsh temperatures of the Arizona desert.

In 2003, more than sixty years after the end of World War II and her release, de Queiroz devoted eleven months to painting what would eventually become “Camp Days: 1942-1945,” a collection of 61 watercolor paintings about life at Camp Poston.

“This is what I wanted to leave for my grandchildren,” de Queiroz said. “I wanted them to know what their parents and family went through.”

She started writing a book, and found herself sketching in the margin. With encouragement from her gallery owner, she began painting.

“I had to completely separate myself in abstract,” she said.

The paintings, projected behind her, inspired emotion from the audience members, including an older couple who teared up after hearing the story behind a colorful image of a sunset over the camp.

As the brilliant orange was replaced with an abstract work of her family eating in the mess hall, de Queiroz explained that the experience forced her to leave behind the shy young girl who was babied all her life.

“As miserable and sad as I was at camp, it made me grow up,” she said. “After camp I was going to be outgoing and not be this backwards kid.” By seventh grade, she still struggled with shyness, but began to gain friends.

“I really pushed myself to participate with the few people who befriended me,” she said. She didn’t talk in depth about her camp experiences until two years before her retirement as a high school teacher for 30 years.

“Most of the time I was very lonely, [the camp] was the most depressing time in my life,” In the camp’s harsh reality, there was some happiness for a young girl.

Every week she saw movies on a firebreak around camp. She also remembers a fish pond that her father made and the art cellar that was dug out underneath their barracks, bucket by bucket.

“I never got to be around my family very much; I was really happy with the few times I spent with my dad in his cellar.”

De Queiroz, who was an avid reader before imprisonment, also took advantage of the camp library. “It was my place to go to feel safe,” she said. “I would read two to three books a day.”

During her presentation she expressed gratitude to the Quakers and Mormons who were “the only religious groups that sent books and helped start libraries.” While imprisoned, de Queiroz attended a school staffed by volunteers from around the country. “Because of my fourth grade teacher rewarding me for my art and encouraging me,” she said, “she gave me a key to continue on in camp.” After her release, her family moved to southern California.

With money from her siblings, her father started a gardening business.

Now 74, de Querioz hopes her story can inspire others.

“No matter what your circumstances in life, you help all the people you can,” she said. “You do the best you can and you’ll be rewarded.”

De Querioz was invited to De Anza as part of the Day of Remembrance celebration.

With grants provided by the De Anza Associated Student Body Senate, Director of the California History Center Tom Izu holds this annual speaking series to promote the study of history on campus as well as the community outside.

“The Japanese-American internment is an ideal lesson in looking at history and understanding its value to applying it today,” Izu said. “The other added benefit is that it didn’t happen all that long ago.” “Some of these individuals not only have stories, but they have very unique ways of expressing them.” Izu said. “De Querioz found a way to express her experience in a different way.”

De Querioz will speak at Cerritos College in Norwalk, Calif. on Thursday.

For more information on de Querioz or “Camp Days” visit

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