The National Park Service (NPS) has recently held hearings concerning the Tule Lake Segregation Center issue in several cities. In view of this, there are two issues which need to be addressed, and that is the Tule Lake stockade and the Tule Lake cemetery.
First, the stockade. There at Tule Lake exists the remnants of the stockade. I have heard that there are plans to get funds to rebuild this concrete structure. This sounds somewhat dramatic, but drama has differing meanings. In this case, to do so will be a tragedy. Why would this be so? To begin with, what did this stockade mean to the Issei who were imprisoned there? Let’s look at what some experienced there while imprisoned. The authorities hauled them into the prison at times not telling them for the reason nor for how long to be held. This was followed by interrogation and at times beatings. The meals were of poor quality and even to go to the bathing facilities required guards to accompany and rush them through. Also, there was no mail going out or coming in. However, a creative method was found to communicate. This was done by the prisoners and their loved ones who stood on the outer side of the barb wired fencing yelling back and forth. So what did the authorities do? They placed wooden fencing all across high enough so there was no more eye contact or verbal communication. It seems in comparison convicted prisoners in regular prisons received better treatment than this.
There is more to be read concerning the stockade issue as found in Michi Nishiura Weglyn’s book “Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America’s Concentration Camps.” Among the issues discussed on this subject was that the people of Tule Lake demanded the destruction of the stockade due to the illegalities and the cruelties practiced by the guards.
With this background what must be done first? Instead of re-building the stockade it must be completely destroyed to rubble.
And in the aftermath, a sign be placed right in the middle of the debris to read in effect, “Here Lies the rubble of the once Tule Lake Stockade a symbol of injustices, cruelties and racism committed within. May such a building never to rise.”
And so then, what must be built in direct contrast to the horrid stockade? To answer this, let’s go back to the once Tule Lake Cemetery, which at one time had 331 Issei buried there. Thereafter, when Tule Lake was closed in 1946 the entire cemetery was plowed over for a landfill, even when there were still some remains there. It is not known who authorized it nor who did the work. One begins to wonder what kind of a human being would desecrate something so sacred. Could it be the racist feelings of that era of, “Who the hell cares? They’re ‘Jap’ dead. Plow them over.” Hatred even to the dead.
A few years back in New York, the NPS held a hearing about Tule Lake and the issue of the cemetery was brought up. The NPS official at that time claimed no knowledge about the cemetery and was to get back to us upon researching it. To this day we have not heard from them.
The Japanese hold reverence and honor for their deceased. I remember this from a while back when I first visited the rice village where my parents came from. There on the grounds are the well-kept cemetery with generations of the past villagers who are buried there. I was told that annually a religious service is held there to honor their dead as it is done in most places in Japan. Then there is the annual Obon Odori where some of the reasons to hold it is to honor our ancestors of the past and thank them for the good life we are now living.
The former Tule Lakers hold a ceremony during their reunion at the plot of land where the cemetery once existed. It is indeed wonderful to do so in the tradition. However, as the years go by, it is feared that there will be less and less people who will make the pilgrimage and the sacred land will be forgotten and to return back to nature. So what must be done? It is to build on this site a permanent memorial. This can be accomplished by a dark granite stone wall engraved with all the 331 Issei names who were once buried there. And on another wall a short history of what happened to the original cemetery.
This can all be done with organizations getting together planning and fund raising for this monument in remembrance and to honor the Tule Lake Issei 331.
When this monument is completed, it will be in great contrast between this monument that will represent love and the stockade that represented hate. And finally too for the Issei 331 will now at last forever rest in peace and with meiyo, honor.
Stanley N. Kanzaki writes from New York. The views expressed in the preceding commentary are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.