LET’S TALK: About the healing power of pilgrimage

A “pilgrimage” is any long journey, especially undertaken as a quest or act of devotion, according to Webster’s Dictionary. Three hundred and sixty of us traveled from all four directions this July 4th weekend to gather at the former Tule Lake Segregation Center in Northern California near the Oregon border. I made my first pilgrimage there on my 50th birthday, 20 years ago, and have been going back ever since. It is my birthplace and the place where many of us return in our quest to better understand what happened to our families, and in devotion to those who suffered years of deprivation and anxiety as prisoners of our own government during World War II. 

In my work with victims of oppression and abuse, I’ve learned that the journey to healing is often so painful that most people would rather not confront what happened to them. They would prefer to suppress and compartmentalize the suffering that was for many, unspeakable. And just as the symbolic hike to the peak of Castle Rock that many pilgrims, even some in their 80s and 90s, were determined to climb, the journey to healing can be long and arduous. 

During the four days, we listened, we talked, we laughed, we cried, we walked, we even danced. After more than 70 years, crumbling buildings, the lined remnants of toilets, the burial ground, and the graying hair, the canes and hearing aids, shout to us of the passage of time. And we, each in our own way, reach for memories and stories to piece together what was forgotten, kept secret, shamed into silence.

Daruma Psychology is all about resilience — the ability to repair and recover from difficult times. Pilgrimage is a powerful process for healing from the trauma of the incarceration. It requires traveling back to the physical place where we lived with the wreckage of family, homes, careers, relationships, dreams, and the place where we had to face the indignity of suspicion, insult, and loss of control over our every day lives. But as we listen to the stories of our dwindling number of elders, we are also reminded of the strength and determination, the gambatte! spirit of those who endured. 

Healing from trauma requires a context of trust and safety. Particularly for former Tuleans who resisted the government, said “no” or renounced their American citizenship, this sense of safety in the community of pilgrims has been an essential aspect of the healing process. For so many years, such dissidents were vilified not only by the U.S. government, but by their own people. We have witnessed profound moments of healing and repair when a renunciant is acknowledged as having courage for his or her decision. And equally profound has been the moment in which someone who has held animosity toward the so-called “No-Nos,” finally hears a personal story and apologizes for stigmatizing and stereotyping them for making choices different from their own. 

There were thousands of us who were incarcerated and the effects of the trauma continue today. The demand for government certified “loyalty,” when loyalty was never an issue for the Nikkei community, dealt a further blow beyond the incarceration itself. It divided our community, it separated us from our Japanese roots, it left us with a legacy of constantly needing to prove ourselves as 110 percent good citizens.

I spoke to a young man who tearfully expressed appreciation for the opportunity to hear the stories of former incarcerees. He said that all four of his grandparents had been held in Tule Lake, and yet there was silence and secrecy about their experience. He came to the pilgrimage because it was the only way he would ever be able to understand what they went through and ultimately, it might help him to better understand himself.

Finally, pilgrimage is about community. We were traumatized as a community and it is within community where the healing takes place — to be able to feel safe enough to speak our truths, express how we feel, and trust that we will be heard. The 2014 Tule Lake Pilgrimage provided that experience for many of us. Other pilgrimages to various camps are taking place every year. It is a journey I recommend to you all.

Satsuki Ina, Ph.D. is a licensed marriage and family therapist practicing in Sacramento and Berkeley with specialization in intergenerational trauma. Her Website is www.satsukiinatherapy.com and she can be reached by e-mail at satsukina44@gmail.com. She is also a filmmaker (“Children of the Camps” and “From a Silk Cocoon: A Japanese American Renunciation Story”). The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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