While the actual title – Labor Day Queen – is not all that ‘odd’ but, rather, the setting of the contest is quite interesting. Held on the Tule Lake Relocation Center in Newell, California, the Labor Day Queen contest was held for the Japanese-American internees on September 7, 1942.
Tule Lake Relocation Center opened on May 27, 1942 in the Klamath Fall Basin in Northern California to house Japanese-American internees from Sacramento (around 4,984 people) and the Washington counties of King (2,703), Placer (1,807), and Pierce as well as the Oregon counties of Yuba (476) and Hood River (425). In December 1944, it reached its peak population of over 18,700 internees.
Getting use to the military feel, sparse barracks with little creature comfort (no running water), and large mess halls used for meals, took some time. However, families began to go on with their daily routines within this confined and different setting. “Aside from the absurdity of living that way, life went on pretty much as usual,” according to one internee. The Library of Congress also described life in an internment camp:
Over time, life in the internment camps began to follow its own routine. Students were sent to school every morning, and adult internees were given jobs, usually farming or maintaining the physical plant. Each camp had a governing council, and many of the institutions of normal community life—newspapers, businesses, sports teams, concerts, places of worship—grew and thrived within the barbed wire. At the same time, however, camp life worked to erode some of the most distinctive tenets of the Japanese American community.
Beauty contests were a way of life all around the country. They were used to celebrate holidays, special events, celebrations, etc… Companies often utilized beauty contests as a promotional event. The internees at Tule Lake decided to use a beauty contest to celebrate Labor Day. The camp voted, from a list of potential candidates, the girl who would be crowned Labor Day Queen. Emily Light, a teacher who taught and lived at Tule Lake, recalls the day in her scrapbook:
Monday, September 7.
On a sizzling hot day, Tule Lake dedicated its new 102′ flag pole in the main fire break. Mr. Shirrell spoke at an outdoor meeting, and our Labor Day Parade was held. With a $5.00 limit set for decorating the floats, the Evacuees did wonders! Shig Tamaki ruled beautifully as Festival Queen–even though I had been hoping May Ohmura would be the one selected.
Patricia Fitzpatrick, ed. “Tule Lake Scrapbook.”
“Tule Lake,” The Japanese American National Museum.
“Behind the Fence: Life in the Internment Camp,” Oregon State Archives.
“Behind the Wire,” Library of Congress.