The theme for the 2018 Tule Lake Pilgrimage was “Preserving Our Hallowed Ground.” It attracted more than 400 attendees, ranging in age from 7 years old to 98, coming from as far away as Alaska, Hawai‘i, the East Coast and Japan.
The pilgrimage opened with a moment of silence to remember Henry Nonaka and Jimi Yamaichi.
Nonaka was born at Tule Lake on March 18, 1943 and passed away at the last pilgrimage on July 2, 2016.
“Let’s have a moment of silence not just for Henry Nonaka but also for all the others who had passed away here,” said Barbara Takei, Tule Lake Committee chief financial officer. “There were 331 people who had died at Tule Lake.”
Yamaichi had been an active committee member and passed away a month before the pilgrimage.
“Jimi was the leader of our pilgrimages, of the Tule Lake Committee,” said Hiroshi Shimizu, committee president. “He was the person, who had the vision to preserve the Tule Lake site. He was advocating for that when no one else was, and he got it kicked off. The Tule Lake Committee has kept up the effort ever since, so this is a terrible loss for us, but we’re carrying on in his spirit.”
During the opening ceremony, the political division in the country spilled into the pilgrimage when Takei’s speech, imploring former camp prisoners to speak up, was interrupted.
“With this pilgrimage, not only do we have the passage of the Nisei generation but this is also a time when our political climate has totally changed,” said Takei. “We all used to say ‘never again.’ Well, ‘never again’ is happening today, and the people who are the survivors of this concentration camp experience, you are the moral voice. And we are asking you, at this pilgrimage, to use your moral voice.”
As Takei went on to describe the racist, xenophobic, anti-immigrant policies of the Trump administration, an audience member stood up and shouted, “B——t! B——t! This is not a political thing.”
While the attendee was led away, Takei took advantage of the teachable moment by saying, “Conflict is uncomfortable, but what is the alternative? Silence? Obedience? Acquiescence?”
The following day on June 30, interested participants joined the nation in solidarity to protest the Trump administration’s policy of separating families and detaining them at the southern border. The protest rally was held next to the former jail, where Japanese Americans had been unlawfully imprisoned during World War II.
The rally was led by Mike Ishii and a team from United to End Racism. Ishii said, “I’ve been an activist most of my adult life, so when I think about resistance and when I think about the Japanese American community, I think of Tule Lake. I think of the people, who were here, who had stood up for what was right. And they used their voices.
And as Barbara (Takei) has said, we need to use our voices now. Our country needs us to stand up and speak out. Who should lead that better than this group here.”
“The family separation policy is now morphing into a policy of indefinitely detaining families in giant tent city detention camps, scattered across the country,” said Carl Takei, a senior attorney with the ACLU. “This is terrifyingly familiar, and we want to be able to use social media to have our voices extend beyond this group … and to be heard around the country and the world.”
The committee continues to fight the expansion of an airport that had been constructed on the former Tule Lake incarceration site. The airport is used by crop dusters, and the expansion would create a three-mile long, eight-foot high barbed-wire fence around the airport perimeter.
“We’ve been fighting this since 2010,” said Barbara Takei. “And had we not resisted, there would have been a fence constructed there in 2015.
“Silence from our community would have been like giving permission to the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to do whatever they wanted, so thank you very much for your activism,” she said, adding that they were in settlement talks.
According to committee member Ken Nomiyama, Phase II of the jail program is finished, which means that reconstruction and the preservation of the jail can begin.
“When we see you again at the next pilgrimage, the jail may be complete,” said Nomiyama. “We might be able to walk through it in a way that it appeared in 1944 when the prisoners were kept there. That’s the plan.”
In addition, the committee and the National Park Service are also working on plans for a Visitors’ Center, preserving a warehouse, and rebuilding/preserving a guard tower.
“These are things that will require a lot of planning and feedback from all of you,” said Nomiyama. “We’re also asking for donations as we embark on these projects.”
Tomochika Uyama, the new consul general of Japan in San Francisco, continued the tradition of his predecessors and participated in the pilgrimage.
“We all have to reflect upon, time and again, the meaning of what happened to the Japanese American people during the war,” said Uyama. “As consul general of Japan, I would like to express my gratitude to the generations, who have endured those experiences here, as well as their families and friends, who keep this pilgrimage alive … We share the responsibility of spreading the message to our future generations.”
This year, Joanne Doi with the Maryknoll Sisters gave the Christian talk. She noted that the hikers had just returned from climbing Castle Rock, which has a Christian cross at the peak, “which marks a place of suffering and hope here.”
Doi gave thanks to the attendees, especially to the younger generation. “God be with our following generations to keep up the good fight, the good struggle,” said Doi.
The Buddhist ceremony was overseen by the Rev. Jay Shinseki from the Watsonville and Monterey temples and the Rev. Grace Hatano from the Buddhist Church of Sacramento.
Shinseki noted that the area where the memorial service was being held was sacred ground. “This is ground that is to be revered and is to be respected because it represents lives interrupted,” said Shinseki. “It represents strength and resilience. It represents our past. Not far from here, there is a burial site where over 300 internees were buried, who had died during their time here at Tule Lake. And these graves had been desecrated. This land needs to be remembered.”
For Hatano, this was her first time back to Tule Lake since the war. Because she was a child during the camp years, she said she had not suffered like her parents.
“I did not know how I was going to feel,” said Hatano. “I do have mixed feelings. I feel much sadness being here, especially when we think of those families who lost loved ones due to hardship, illness or for other reasons while incarcerated here at Tule Lake.”
Past pilgrimages have included a tour of the Lava Beds National Monument, with a brief introduction to the 1872-73 Modoc War, but this year, descendants of the Modoc warriors shared their stories with the attendees. Cheewa James, Taylor Tupper and Rayson Tupper shared stories passed down to them from their ancestors. James and the Tuppers are related through the Hot Creek Band of the Modoc Tribe.
James has been a National Park Service ranger/historian at the Lava Beds National Monument, is an award-winning television producer and personality, writer and great-granddaughter of a Modoc warrior.
James noted that when the Modocs foresaw that war was inevitable with the U.S. Army, which was getting pressure from white settlers wanting the Modoc land, the Modocs began to fortify the lava beds.
“They picked the lava beds because they knew how bad it was,” said James. “They were what I consider to be America’s first guerrilla warfare fighters. They used the land against their enemies. This is what a lot people don’t know.”
James said the Modocs started to build wooden lookout stations among the lava rocks and also created a path of rocks so that if they ever needed to move through the darkness, they could touch the rocks as guides.
When James was a ranger at Lava Beds, she said a geologist visited her and told her he thought he found the rock path that had been used as an escape route out of the lava beds by the men, women and children during the middle of the night, after the U.S. Army thought they had the Modocs surrounded. The Army had troops on the east and west side of the lava beds; the north side opened into Tule Lake; and the south side was considered no man’s land due to the harsh terrain.
“The military thought they had them,” said James. “… But when they had to evacuate the stronghold, they felt the rocks to get out.”
Among Tupper’s ancestors was Anna Mae Copperfield, who, along with her grandmother, had been sent out to gather bullets and guns of fallen U.S. Army soldiers and bring them back to the Modoc warriors.
“She told us we had to be those warriors today,” recalled Tupper. “That we can’t allow ourselves or the next generation to forget what we’ve done and what occurred.”
“We have two worthy stories that America needs to know and needs to be preserved,” said James. “It needs to be carried through the centuries so something like this never happens again, whether it’s war or incarceration.”
Different Group Involvement
Karen Korematsu, founder of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute and daughter of the late civil rights icon, said she was shocked by the June 26 Supreme Court ruling, which upheld President Trump’s travel ban but at the same time overturned the 1944 Korematsu decision, where the Supreme Court found him guilty of violating the forced relocation orders.
“I got a text message that I couldn’t believe from my press consultant in D.C. that said Korematsu had been overruled,” said Korematsu. “I thought, ‘What?!’ I was just kind of stunned. I thought how can that be? But the travel ban was upheld. And I didn’t know how to react. I was just stunned. It was like somebody had just socked me in the stomach.”
Korematsu did not think her father would be happy with this outcome. “This is not a victory. There is no point of celebration, absolutely no point of celebration,” she said.
“…All the Supreme Court did was to replace one injustice for another. …The Supreme Court, the majority at least, have not learned the lessons of history. They keep making the same mistakes, and as an educator, I’m determined more than ever that this generation understands and has moral principles to uphold our civil liberties and the constitution.”
This year, both Gary Mayeda, national Japanese American Citizens League president, and David Inoue, JACL executive director, participated in the pilgrimage.
Inoue is a Shin-Nisei with a Japanese father and Chinese American mother. “My father immigrated here in the 1960s, and I think that actually gives me a different perspective on what happened because I don’t have any ties to either one side or the other,” said Inoue. “I feel like I can lift up both sides.
“You don’t have to take away from one side to support the other. This is a situation where our government did something so egregiously wrong to us that there was really no place for any sort of fair dialogue. You had to take sides, and it was forced upon us.”
Inoue said he was participating in as many pilgrimages as possible in order to learn what had happened. “There’s an emotional aspect to doing a pilgrimage versus reading about it, so I’m really trying to attend them and experience the different pilgrimages.”
Inoue was noncommittal about his civil rights organization apologizing to the Tuleans, but Mayeda said that “it wouldn’t be a bad idea.”
“I think it’s a good way to extend the olive branch to recognize what we did was hurtful to the community, whether right or wrong, the hurt is there, and that’s something we need to acknowledge,” said Mayeda.
Mayeda had 11 family members at the 2018 pilgrimage, which included three surviving Tuleans.
“It might surprise the JACL membership that I’m a descendant of a ‘no-no,’ and on my mother’s side, I’m a descendant of someone who was on the other side of the ocean during the war, so I bring together a lot of different factions,” said Mayeda.
“David Inoue and myself, we’re constantly putting out statements in regards to the (Trump) Administration to never do things like this again, which pretty much aligns with the Tule Lake Committee’s thoughts and mindset so a big part of my job is to try to help heal the community and also to educate our internal membership that is also divided in what we think,” said Mayeda. “So I need to try to bring that all together to say that it’s not a matter of right or wrong but it’s what the government did to us that fractured our community.”
The 2018 pilgrimage also included Ann Burroughs, executive director of the Japanese American National Museum, and 14 of the museum’s docents/supporters.
Richard Murakami was largely responsible for getting the Little Tokyo museum’s group together.
“The program is so good, and the committee is so well prepared that every time I come, I learn something new,” said Murakami, a third time Tule Lake Pilgrimage attendee.
“Another reason I come is because I really appreciate the fact that we get many, many young people. To me, that’s important because those are the people, who are going to keep our stories alive.”
Murakami was especially touched during his intergenerational discussion session, which included a 6-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy. Murakami had been a 10-year-old when he entered camp.
Murakami noted that the girl could not verbally describe her experience so she drew a picture.
“She expressed herself by her artwork,” said Murakami. “I asked her for the artwork and I asked her to sign it. At least she was listening and learned something, and that really made me feel good. To me, for the young people like that to learn these things — I really appreciate that part.”
This was Burroughs’ first pilgrimage to Tule Lake. She has participated in the Manzanar Pilgrimage twice and was this year’s keynote speaker and also attended the Heart Mountain Pilgrimage.
“My reason for coming was twofold,” said Burroughs. “First, for professional reasons, this was enormously important for me to learn as much as I can possibly can … It has given me just an extraordinary perspective that I wouldn’t otherwise have, had I gotten it from reading or studying or even just from talking to people who had experienced it.
She pointed out that each camp had a powerful story to tell but for her personally, the former jail at Tule Lake moved her.
“On a personal level, it resonated with my own experience when I was imprisoned in South Africa,” said Burroughs. “It was certainly difficult to go into the jail, but I felt it was a very important thing to do. I think that jail is, in a way, symbolic of that entire period. Even though Tule Lake was alone in having a jail or stockades, it nevertheless reinforces the notion of separation of a community that is already shunned and excluded. It also feels to me, such an important symbol of where we are in this country at the moment.”
Burroughs said she is looking forward to working with the Tuleans “to think about how JANM can help tell the Tule Lake story.”
Clement Hanami with JANM drove to the pilgrimage to help display artifacts from the Allen Hendershott Eaton Collection. In 2015, a private party attempted to auction off the Eaton collection but was prevented when there was an outcry from the Japanese American community and supporters.
The pilgrimage was topped off with a performance by the Tule Lake Taiko, an ad hoc group of taiko players and musicians who gather together every two years at the pilgrimage.
The pilgrimage also included a performance of Soji Kashiwagi’s play “Garage Door Opener,” where siblings “begin to uncover items from their past that they knew nothing about, and in the process, begin to gain a better understanding of their parents and themselves by the items their mom and dad left behind.” The performance concluded with a dialogue about the after effects of the concentration camp experience on future generations.