RABBIT RAMBLINGS: Revisiting Tule Lake

Interest in the 2012 Tule Lake Pilgrimage ran so high this year that the slots for participants were filled within three weeks. I signed up early, and was one of the lucky 400 or so to participate. People from the National Park Service, scholars and students, and any number of interested parties attended the pilgrimage. The roster had persons from New York, Texas, other faraway states and also from Japan.

I was delighted by the variety of activities that were planned, including mochitsuki. The rice was steamed and pounded in the traditional manner and we all ate some freshly made mochi that even had sweet bean paste in the centers; a treat I haven’t eaten for a long time.

Most remarkable of all were two people from the New York Times, reporter Norimitsu Onishi and photographer Jim Wilson, who interviewed participants and snapped pictures of the four-day event. On July 8, a big article entitled “At Internment Camp, Exploring Choices of the Past” appeared, with pictures, in the New York Times. I have a quibble with the title since the choices referred to were the answers to the so-called “loyalty questionnaire” that was mandatory for everyone age 17 and older. Technically, you can’t call it a choice when you are forced to answer questions, but I guess you can say that one of the ways the government sorted the population out and classified individuals into the broad categories of loyal and disloyal was based on how you answered certain questions.

Anyway, here we are, 69 years after the fact, still wrestling with the profound consequences of the loyalty thing that has bedeviled some of us Japanese Americans for all this time. Of course, the truth is that most Japanese Americans aren’t really that concerned about these issues because most did not go through that experience, and are unaware of the details because almost everybody has covered up this history and made it so obscure over the years. Nevertheless, in a historical sense, it still remains of great importance because, along with the blatant violations of constitutionality and our legal system, the facts point to our government’s persecution of a helpless minority group with a certain heartlessness for the people involved. The dilemmas we faced tore into shreds the fabric of our community.

The National Park Service’s interest in listening to the stories told by former inmates indicates that its employees have real commitment to the historic truth, and we should welcome their asking for community input in formulating their plans. The park service members who attended the pilgrimage did so voluntarily, and all participated in the many discussion groups and activities.

And there are also other groups who want to know more. Recently, I was asked by the First Congregational Church of San Jose to show our documentary, “Rabbit In the Moon,” and to lead a discussion on the camp years. I was really surprised to see a poster advertising their planned trip to the Tule Lake site in September. It turns out that one of the members of the church, Susan Price, has been interested in the incarceration for a long time. In fact, she went on one of the earliest pilgrimages to Tule Lake, the one held in 1979.

I addressed a primarily white group at this church gathering; the fact that they intend to go to Tule Lake shows that you can’t say that this story is dead and forgotten. Far from it, and we need to make sure that it is an accurate history in the remembering and the telling. Let’s not forget that it is a very profoundly American story.

Chizu Omori, of Oakland, Calif., is co-producer of the award-winning film “Rabbit in the Moon.” She can be reached at chizuomori@earthlink.net. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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