Hundreds journey back to long-stigmatized Tule Lake Segregation Center


Jim and Mamoru Tanimoto. photo by Martha Nakagawa

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series.

The 2012 Tule Lake Pilgrimage, held from June 30 through July 3, not only received a huge response of close to 400 attendees, but it also attracted a large number of first timers.

Former Tulean Hiroshi Kashiwagi experienced the early Tule Lake Pilgrimage back in 1975 and he noted that today, he sees more people and a more diverse group of older and younger participants.

“The 1975 pilgrimage was mainly college students with a few survivors,” said Kashiwagi, of San Francisco.

When the group visited the former concentration camp site in 1975, Kashiwagi recalled seeing remnants of a guard tower.

In comparing the early pilgrimage to today, Kashiwagi said, “In my case, the ’75 pilgrimage was more like a coming back to camp. Now, I’ve been here so many times, it’s familiar to me.”

Richard Katsuda was one of the early organizers of the Tule Lake Pilgrimage in the 1970s and this year was his first time back in several years.

“In the early days, for me, the pilgrimage was a life changer,” said Katsuda. “It clinched it for me emotionally. When I came that first time, I said, ‘We gotta do something about this. We got to do something to make amends.’ It was neat because I was younger and we’d stay up all night and do security checks and cook the food and all.”

In comparing the evolution of the pilgrimage, Katsuda said, “This weekend was amazing. The moment Barbara (Takei) asked the renunciants to stand up to be recognized, it was like whoa, man, it was like being back in the Commission (on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians) hearings. That’s the only thing I can compare this to — watching people stand up, looking around and getting that validation.”

This year’s pilgrimage had a special focus on “No-Nos” and renunciants — those who answered negatively to a so-called “loyalty questionnaire,” and those who renounced their citizenship, primarily as a form of protest.

“This is history in the making – making the ‘No-No’ and renunciant experiences valid and legitimate and even something to be applauded and referred to as patriots and heroes,” said the Southern California-based Katsuda. “It’s a … wonderful start.”

First Timers
This year’s pilgrimage had a large group of first time pilgrimage attendees.

Among them was Tom Leatherman, who’d participated in five other camp pilgrimages.

Leatherman was the former superintendent at the Manzanar National Historic Site and currently the general superintendent of the Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site, John Muir National Historic Site, Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial and Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historic Park.

“I’ve heard for many years about the Tule Lake Pilgrimage and how different it is from the other camps,” said Leatherman. “I’ve been trying to make it out here for years, and I was finally able to do it this year.

“In addition to experiencing the entire pilgrimage, I also had the opportunity to see the progress of some of the projects funded through the (National Park Services’) Japanese American Confinement Grant Program, so I was able to kill two birds with one stone by seeing the projects and talking to people working on them.”

Patty Ito Nagano’s family was imprisoned in Gila River, Ariz., but she and her husband Steve decided to attend this year’s pilgrimage because they’d heard so many positive things about it.

Ito Nagano had viewed the documentary, “The Cats of Mirikitani,” about the life of artist Jimmy Mirikitani, several times in the past, so she was pleasantly surprised to see Mirikitani and producer Linda Hattendorf in attendance.

“Unfortunately, the Japanese American community is still divided, and it just bothers me deeply that of everything else, why does it have to be like that? That breaks my heart the most,” Ito Nagano said. “I hope that there will come a day when that stigma is lifted and there’s no division.”

This was also David Watanabe’s first time at the Tule Lake Pilgrimage. Watanabe was born on Maui but raised in Honolulu so his family did not experience the mass imprisonment during the war. When he came to California 40 years ago, he heard about the camps and became curious about it.

“We were never told about the camps when I was going to school in Hawai‘i,” said Watanabe. “But after I got informed about the camps, I thought I knew enough until I heard about this Tule Lake issue, where I saw emotional pain that still exists with the older internees. That got me very curious. I wondered why after all these years, that pain is still there and I wanted to find out why. It didn’t sound right so that’s what led me to this pilgrimage.”

Neither Jack nor Jun Nakahara Dairiki were in Tule Lake, but Jack’s mother and four siblings were in Tule Lake while Jack was stranded in Hiroshima during the war.

Jun, who was imprisoned in Topaz (Central Utah) during the war, had urged her husband to attend this year’s pilgrimage. “I wanted him to see Tule Lake at least once,” said Jun.

Stephen Deguchi, 27, was attending his first Tule Lake Pilgrimage with his grand-uncle Ed Suguro, who remained at Tule Lake after the camp became a segregation center for those who deemed “disloyal” by the U.S. government after answering a so-called “loyalty questionnaire.”

“I wanted to know more about the experiences that the Nisei and Issei went through,” Deguchi said. “Before I came, I thought Tule Lake was another camp but now I understand better the historical significance and the stigma behind being at Tule Lake. It revealed a completely different perspective on my family now.”


Jim and Mamoru Tanimoto. photo by Martha Nakagawa

Tanimoto Brothers
The Tanimoto brothers — Mamoru “Mori” and James — were again able to share their experiences at Block 42, which was one of many blocks refusing to fill out the government’s poorly worded so-called “loyalty questionnaire” in 1943.

Since Block 42 had many draft-aged men, the administration decided to make an example of them and publicly arrested 35 Nisei men on Feb. 21, 1943 and hauled them off to the local county jails at Klamath Falls and Alturas. The men were held there for about seven days without charge or a hearing. They were then transferred to an old Civilian Conservation Corps camp named Camp Tulelake, 10 miles from the Tule Lake Segregation Center. Later, they were joined by an additional 100 men.

During their month-long stay, they were woken up in the middle of the night one time and told to line up outside.

“The soldiers came running through our barrack and said, ‘Get our asses out of here and go outside,’” recalled Jim. “It was dark so they put on a bright flood light. We couldn’t see until our eyes got adjusted. We could see a line of soldiers. There were seven or eight on one side of a machine gun, then another seven or eight soldiers on the other side of the machine gun. They were all loading their weapons. We were close enough to the soldiers that we could see the holes in the barrel of their guns. In my mind, I thought this is a firing squad. This is going to be the end of Block 42, but nothing happened. I think an officer or a man in charge stepped forward and said in a loud voice, ‘Nobody is going to escape as long as he’s in charge.’ He said this several times.”

The men were held there for about a month before being returned to Tule Lake. Six, however, were first sent to the Moab Citizen Isolation Center before returning to Tule Lake.

“We didn’t like the idea of being coerced,” said Mori. “Damn it, we’re American citizens. Why should our loyalty be questioned? We aren’t Gordon Hirabayashi or Min Yasui or Fred Korematsu, but we challenged the government too.”

Memorial Service
At some past pilgrimages, the group visited the local public cemetery to pay respects to some of the Tule Lake babies buried there. This year, the memorial service was held back at the camp site where adults were buried.

“They were seniors and bachelors with no next of kin,” explained Jimi Yamaichi, a former Tulean and Tule Lake Committee volunteer. “They’d put the body on the ambulance, bring them here and not even put them in a box. The foreman would grab the body and drop them in the hole and the minister would recite last rites. Then the body was covered up, as is.”

Since the exact location of where the bodies were buried could not be located, Samina Faheem Sundas, with the American Muslim Voice Foundation, suggested they symbolically spread the flowers out on the ground.

Sundas shared how she became emotional when the “No-Nos” and renunciants were publicly recognized during the pilgrimage.

“I really choked up with emotion,” said Faheem Sundas. “What you went through during World War II and after that, the Muslim community is going through that today. I felt so proud and honored. You encourage us today to say, ‘No, you may not do that to us.’ I take courage from you, from Martin Luther King Jr., from Fred Korematsu, from all who stood up and said no.”

Rev. Jay Shinseki performed a Buddhist ceremony, followed by Christian Pastor George Nishikawa.

“In our tradition, we use the word sensei to address a minister,” said Shinseki. “But I would like to suggest to you today that the Issei and Nisei and those who have gone before us are the true sensei. … They stay with us always, teaching us how to live, how to love and how to fight the good fight. Their presence and influence never wanes.”

Nishikawa was a child when he entered Tule Lake with his parents, and this was his first time back since the war. “Symbolically, I’ve been trying to walk in the foot steps of my parents and of many of my friends,” said Nishikawa. “It’s almost hard for me to catch my breath and to express what’s in my mind..… This has been a worthwhile journey, and it is something I will remember for the rest of my life, starting at age 81.”

Later, the Kawano family held a memorial service at the former Tule Lake High School site where Daisaburo Kawano had been killed on May 19, 1946.

James Kawano, Daisaburo’s son, was only 12 years old when the death occurred. “I came to my first Tule Lake Pilgrimage in 1996,” said Kawano.

“I asked my brother about getting information about the accident and when I saw a detailed description of the accident and pictures, that’s when it hit me the most. It really hit me.

“The story goes that the accident happened at 9 o’clock in the morning. At one in the afternoon, when the crew went back to work, they said, ‘Where’s Mr. Kawano? Oh, my God, where is he?’ Then they lifted up the wall, and there he was right in the center. I don’t know how long he suffered but it really hit me hard.”

Lorna Fong, whose mother is from the Kawano family, said, “There were other deaths and killings but he was the only construction accident (in the history of Tule Lake).”

‘Educational Experience’
Jim McIlwain has visited all 10 WRA camps and has been helping the Nisei veterans compile a database of Japanese American veterans.

McIlwain attended his first Tule Lake Pilgrimage in 2000, and he referred to it as “a life changer.”

McIlwain found it difficult to describe why he attended the pilgrimages but he called it “a process.”

“At the pilgrimages, you’re hearing from people who were in the camps, and this is the most seductive thing about the history of the Japanese Americans because this history is still alive,” said McIlwain. “The numbers are decreasing but it’s very rare where you can meet living people who lived through these monumental events.”

Zahra Billoo, a Pakistani American, had visited Tule Lake in 2010 as part of a Bridging Communities partnership with Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Japanese American Citizens League and National Japanese American Historical Society. She returned this year to experience the full pilgrimage.

“I have a special place in my heart for Tule Lake and the ‘No-No boys’ because when I think of myself as a civil rights activist, I think that if this were to happen again, which is not necessarily unimaginable, that this might be where I might end up because I can see myself answering ‘no’ and ‘no.’”

Karen Korematsu, the daughter of the late Fred Korematsu, said the pilgrimage was an educational experience.

“I really didn’t realize that Tule Lake had this stigma it had all these years with having so many resisters, carrying this burden and not being respected within the community as they should be,” said Korematsu. “I can certainly identify with that because my father, Fred Korematsu, was vilified from the time in 1942 when he refused to be incarcerated. And he really didn’t receive any vindication and respect until his case was overturned in 1983. Growing up in the Bay Area, we weren’t a part of the Japanese American community. We were basically ex-communicated so the experience here has been very educational, very inspiring.”

She was encouraged to see Muslim Americans taking part in the pilgrimage. “Certainly, it was the Japanese American community who first, like my father, spoke up after 9/11 when the rhetoric coming out of Washington, D.C. and our government was to possibly incarcerate the Arab and Muslim Americans and put them into American concentration camps.”

Paul Ocampo, who arrived in the U.S. from the Philippines at the age of 11, came with the Asian Law Caucus group. He noted that he attended a progressive high school in Eagle Rock, Calif., where they taught the history of the Nikkei incarceration during World War II.

He noted that visiting Tule Lake and watching “The Cats of Mirikitani” rejuvenated his committed to civil rights. “There’s still that connection,” said Ocampo. “In some ways, it’s a sobering reminder of what could happen but it also makes me appreciate more of what I have.”

Jim Wilson, a New York Times photographer, grew up in the Baltimore area and had read about the camps as a youth but he noted that nothing could compare to meeting people who had actually been incarcerated.

“It’s really been exhilarating and exciting,” said Wilson. “People have such amazing stories about what had happened to them and what they’d experienced.”

Jail Update
The Tule Lake jailhouse, one of the few structures still standing at the camp site, was built by Jimi Yamaichi and his crew. He was given the choice of either building the jail or getting fired from his construction job and having the administration hire someone else.
Yamaichi and his crew took 8-and-a-half months to build the jail, which is solid concrete and rebars.
According to Angela Sutton with the National Park Service, the cell doors to the jail were removed in 1946 after the camp closed.
“When the camp closed, the Bureau of Reclamation received the land back,” said Sutton. “… So they went in there, and all the metal they thought that the farmers could use to make equipment were cut out and auctioned off.
“We’re hoping by the next pilgrimage in 2014, we might actually get some of those cell doors back. We’ve located them in the community, and the owners seemed willing to donate them.”

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