RABBIT RAMBLINGS: Telling Tule Lake’s story

I clearly remember the days back in the ‘90s when I mulled over what to do with the mass of information that I had gathered about our camp experience. I was really indebted to my wonderful friend, Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, a dedicated person who worked so tirelessly in researching our history and who also generously helped others with their research. She was so instrumental in our winning redress, that I wonder if it would have happened without her.

I was most interested in Tule Lake, the camp that was used by the government as the place where all the dissidents, protestors, and those that they claimed were disloyal were to be dumped. I came to the conclusion that Tule Lake was the place where all of the major issues and decisions about their rounding us up could be highlighted and exposed in the most dramatic way. I thought that Tule Lake’s story was the one that most needed telling.

After my sister, a filmmaker, and I decided that this was a project that we had to make, it became clear that we couldn’t tell the Tule Lake story without going into the whole history because the general public was so ignorant about the camps. We had to fit Tule Lake into its place as part of the whole government program to incarcerate us in the first place. It took us a long time to finish the documentary, and I never got back to Tule Lake, except that I did put together a first draft of a paper on the loyalty questionnaire. Forcing everyone over the age of 17 to submit to the questionnaire seemed to me the pivotal point in this whole effort to show that there were many “disloyals” within this population. I put that paper aside because the documentary took over my life for a long time. I looked through my files and reread it again recently.

I was reminded of it because of the recent meetings convened by the National Park Service because Tule Lake has been designated a part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. The NPS was in the process of making plans for setting Tule Lake up as a national monument. Now, how did Tule Lake make the cut on the designations made by of all people, President George Bush in 2008, and into a program known as the Valor in the Pacific National Monuments? Well, it seems that some groups had been working behind the scenes for a number of years to achieve this distinction, among them, The Tule Lake Committee, the Lava Beds National Monument leadership, and the NPS. Also, I’m told, there was growing national sentiment to elevate Tule Lake to this special status. Bills were introduced in the House and Senate calling for a special resource study of Tule Lake in 2007 and 2008 and this was incorporated into the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009.

It’s obviously a complicated situation, getting a site designated as a National Monument, and I can imagine how much hard work and perseverance it took on the part of the many individuals involved. Anyway, it is heartening to know that there was and is so much support for recognizing and pushing so hard toward a concrete project, emphasizing the fact that Tule Lake is of national significance.

I do remember the words of my brother when we talking about the project that Emiko and I had started. He said, “Who cares?” Well, we had to think about who cares, and then we decided that we cared, that we didn’t want to have our experience swept under a rug as a minor aberration during the war. What the government did to us ruined a great many lives, destroyed the work of a generation of immigrants and left us feeling that we were just a bit of collateral damage in the execution of a war. And we wanted to expose the damage that was done to our legal and constitutional system to as wide an audience that it was possible to reach. Let’s hope that all these issues are seriously addressed at the Tule Lake National Monument.

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

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