Editor’s Note: This is the first piece of a two-part series.
TULELAKE, Calif. — Widespread interest in the history of the complex and often misunderstood Tule Lake Segregation Center is building momentum as evidenced by the level of participation at the biennial, four-day Tule Lake Pilgrimage, held this year from June 30 to July 3.
This year’s theme, “Understanding No-No and Renunciation,” attracted such a huge response that the Tule Lake Committee (TLC) was forced to place people on a waiting list and close registration proceedings after only three weeks due to the large volume of people sending in early pilgrimage registrations. The all-volunteer TLC limited attendees to 400 people in order to keep the pilgrimage manageable.
During the welcoming program, TLC volunteer Barbara Takei asked all former “No-Nos” and renunciants — those who answered negatively to a so-called “loyalty questionnaire,” and those who renounced their citizenship — to stand up so as to be recognized and honored by attendees.
“It’s a tragedy that for the last 69 years that the people who were incarcerated or segregated at this high maximum security Tule Lake center have been called disloyal people and troublemakers when actually the reason that most of them wound up at Tule Lake was because of their sense of injustice of being asked, being required by the government to proclaim their loyalty to this country that unjustly imprisoned them,” said Takei.
Tule Lake started out as one of 10 War Relocation Authority camps during the war but was converted into a segregation center in 1943, after the United States government issued a poorly worded “loyalty questionnaire.” Those who refused to answer the questionnaire or answered “no-no” to questions 27 and 28 — the two most controversial questions — or who qualified their answers to questions 27 and 28, were all sent to the Tule Lake Segregation Center.
During the afternoon discussion session, playwright Soji Kashiwagi shared how his view of the word “troublemaker” evolved into a positive image.
“I was at a JACL (Japanese American Citizens League) meeting last year when someone said the word, ‘troublemaker,’” said Kashiwagi. “It wasn’t in reference to the ‘No-Nos’ but I recognized the same tone that’s been used by members of our community against the ‘No-Nos.’ I drove home that evening feeling frustrated, and when I got home, I Googled the words, ‘Famous Troublemakers.’ Guess who I found on a site called, ‘Famous American Troublemakers?’ Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Paul Revere, and a whole list of our founding fathers.
“In fact, it was Thomas Jefferson who said, ‘If a government violates the very rights it is supposed to protect, then it is the duty of the governed to rebel. So we have our ‘No-Nos’ and renunciants, Min Yasui, Gordon Hirabayashi and Fred Korematsu. Their dissent was not disloyalty. Their dissent was and is American.”
Following this discussion, a motion was made from the floor to “reject the false premises that the Tuleans were troublemakers or disloyals and instead we define their roles as American patriots and American heroes.”
The motion passed unanimously after several people in the audience seconded it.
Takei also floated the idea of re-examining a resolution that the JACL had proposed back in the late 1980s that was originally meant as an apology to the World War II draft resisters. The wording of Resolution 7, however, refers heavily to the “No-Nos,” confusing the “No-Nos” with the draft resisters, who for the most part answered “Yes-Yes” to the two most controversial questions on the government sponsored “loyalty questionnaire.”
“The tragedy is that the stigma that is so prevalent came primarily from the JACL,” said Takei. “They apologized to the draft resisters but the organization never acknowledged the kind of vindictive, vicious treatment of those in Tule Lake, so I think this resolution needs to be resurrected to begin the recognition and healing.”
Dr. Satsuki Ina, a psychotherapist and filmmaker, put things in historical context by sharing why the stories of dissent have largely been silenced within the Nikkei community.
“There was this sense of dread and the need to assimilate after the war,” said Ina. “To be accepted, there was this intense need to ultimately present this single face of the Japanese American experience and that was the heroism of our soldiers, which was an incredible, amazing story.
But it was, to me, a trauma response. That instead of the variety, the diversity of who we were, we had to be seen as one super loyal, patriotic group, and for many of the soldiers, even that didn’t work because they’ll say they couldn’t even get a hair cut when they were on furlough or they had to cross barb wires to visit their families during break.”
Varied Reasons for Renouncing
Ina shared that in her research she has found that people renounced their U.S. citizenship for a variety of reasons, ranging from not wanting to be separated from their Issei parents who could not become U.S. citizens by law; to losing faith and hope for a future in the U.S.; to being angry at the government over their treatment; or wanting to go to Japan after losing everything in the U.S., especially if the family had property in Japan.
With Tule Lake now a part of the World War II Valor of the Pacific National Monument, there was visible participation by the National Park Service (NPS). Mike Reynolds, the new superintendent of Lava Beds and Tule Lake, dialogued with pilgrimage participants, and the NPS held a “Planning for Tule Lake’s Future” workshop, which Anna Tamura, who is with NPS’ Pacific West Region, led.
Much of the concerns brought up during the workshop paralleled those voiced when the Manzanar concentration camp site was being converted to a national park. Fostering good relations with the local community was an issue of particular concern, especially since the local Tule Lake airport is currently pushing to build an eight-foot, three-mile fence that would run through the former camp site. The fencing is meant to keep wildlife away from the crop dusting planes using the runway.
The need to forge better community relationships was obvious during the memorial service at the camp cemetery site when a small airplane continuously buzzed around on a Sunday morning, drowning out part of the memorial ceremony.
In February 1943, the U.S. War Department and the War Relocation Authority (WRA) decided to test the loyalty of all people of Japanese ancestry who were incarcerated in the WRA camps. They required all those 17 years of age and older to answer a questionnaire that became known as the “loyalty questionnaire.” Their answers would be used to decide whether they were loyal or disloyal to the United States. Two questions became the focus of concern and confusion for many people.
Question 27 asked: Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?
Question 28 asked: Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any and all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance to the Japanese Emperor or any other foreign government, power, or organization?