The Genki Spark will host an evening to report on our trip to Tule Lake on November 13, 2012 in Boston, MA. For more information and to register please see our EventBrite invitation. Free and open to the public, refreshments served.
“While imprisoned in America’s concentration camps, Japanese Americans were forced to make wrenching decisions: whether to obey or challenge military exclusion orders, whether to answer “yes” or “no” to the government’s demand to proclaim loyalty, whether to serve in the Army, and whether to prepare for a future in Japan or to remain in a country that stripped them of their rights and property and incarcerated them.” ~2012 Tule Lake Pilgrimage Guide book
I read the quote above as the bus made its way north from Sacramento, CA to Klamath Falls, OR. The “SAC bus” hosts – Lorna Fong, Satsuki Ina and Kiyoshi Ina, made the 6+ hour ride both fun and meaningful and set the stage for my first pilgrimage to Tule Lake. I looked forward to meeting the 55 elders attending this pilgrimage – men and women over 80 years old- who had lived this nightmare so many years ago.
Tule Lake was one of the largest concentration camps used to house up to 18,000 Japanese Americans during WWII. The War Relocation Authority, established by President Roosevelt following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, incarcerated upwards of 120,000 Japanese Americans in a series of prison camps that were built in remote locations in the US and Canada. These facilities were surrounded by barbed wire and had machine gun toting guards in guard towers. Internees lived in cramped, primitive quarters with several families living in each barrack. Life in the camps was tough with lines for meals, latrines, showers, no privacy or any idea of how long this forced incarceration would last. www.TuleLake.org
If you had as little as 1/16th Japanese blood and lived along the coast in California, Oregon and Washington State you had to obey Executive Order 9066 issued by FDR in February 1942. This order deemed all persons so described as enemy aliens and potential threats to the US. Those imprisoned were the Issei, who had left Japan, seeking a better life in the US; the Nisei, children of the Issei, born in the US and US citizens and their families including the elderly, babies and young children.
Those Issei and Nisei who lived inland, like my Dad and his family, were not subjected to this “relocation” and maintained their homes and livelihoods amidst much fear and prejudice in their communities. My Aunt remembers visiting a friend’s friend in Minidoka, a prison camp in Idaho about 60 miles from her home. She could go home while her fellow Japanese Americans could not!
As I toured the remnants of the camp I was astounded as I imagined what these people had experienced: being forced to leave lives, businesses, friends, homes, taking only what they could carry and assembling to be shipped off to an unknown destination for an unknown and uncertain future because they were Japanese and posed a threat to national security. I was deeply moved by the memorial service held adjacent to the mass grave where people’s bodies were dumped without caskets. This grave site was unmarked and later dug up to harvest gravel.
Note: there were no incidences of acts of aggression against the US by any Japanese Americans or Japanese nationals in this country during WWII. In fact, the Japanese American 100th Battalion/ 442nd Infantry Division of the US Army (my Dad was a member) was the most highly decorated unit of the Army during WWII. Many men who died had families in these camps. This is a sad part of our nation’s history. And, I learned, the law that permitted this imprisonment is still on the books in this country.
The Tule Lake Pilgrimage conducted every 2 years provides a safe, nurturing space to share stories and experiences that for years have been hidden in the minds and hearts of those imprisoned. Many of the elders shared how they had never spoken of their experiences until they attended a pilgrimage. Their children and grandchildren told stories of how they thought “camp” was a summer camp, not a prison camp. For several pilgrims in their 80’s this was their first return to the camp. Their tears spoke more poignantly than any words could have.
The courage and resilience of the people who endured this injustice is what empowered them to survive this experience with their dignity intact. It took courage and resilience to leave the camps and build new lives. It was what enabled the holocaust survivors in the prison camps in Germany the capacity to start anew and move on from the unspeakable horror they experienced. It flames the hearts of those returning from war and overcoming oppression today.
The capacity of the human spirit to bear unspoken pain and to heal and forgive is humbling. It deeply touches my soul. May we all learn from this time in our history and be courageous enough not to let this happen again.
Questions to ponder:
If you were forced to leave your home and life as you know it, what would you take with you?
If you were to journey on a pilgrimage, where would you go? What answers would you be seeking? What are the questions you would ask?
How have you been shaped by your ethnicity? How have the choices made by or forced on your parents, grandparents, great grandparents impacted you?