JACL apologizes to Tule Lake incarcerees

The new generation of JACL leaders and members should be congratulated for acknowledging and understanding the need for voting in favor of the resolution offering a sincere apology to Tule Lake incarcerees. The National Council of the JACL took the action on Aug. 3, 2019, at their national convention in Salt Lake City, Utah.

In adopting the apology resolution, the National Council of the JACL resolved that in the spirit of reconciliation, forgiveness, and community unity, a sincere apology is offered to those imprisoned in the Tule Lake Segregation Center for non-violent acts of resistance and dissent, who suffered shame and stigma during and after the war due to the JACL’s attitudes and treatment towards individuals unfairly labeled “disloyal”; and The JACL National Council also resolved that all chapters understand the issues of imprisonment, mistreatment and resistance of Tule Lake resisters; to update the JACL Curriculum Guide and teaching materials; and to recognize Tule Lake resisters at an appropriate public ceremony during the 2020-2021 biennial.

Past attempts of apology resolutions were blocked by past JACL leaders and Nisei veterans who long maintained animosity towards Tule Lake resisters, for physical attacks by extremists against JACL leaders, and exemption from the draft, while Nisei veterans made major sacrifices. These issues were brought up again by a minority of JACL delegates in opposition, but many delegates spoke in favor of the resolution and it was overwhelmingly passed. The co-sponsors of the resolution were the Pacific Northwest District Council and the Northern California-Western Nevada-Pacific District Council. The key leaders of the committee effectively shepherding the resolution were National JACL Board Member Haruka Roudenbush and Stan Shikuma of the Seattle chapter.

This is a historic moment in the history between the JACL and Tule Lake resisters, that extends back 76 years. In 1943, the War Relocation Authority, with the concurrence of the JACL, administered and summarily sent all persons who resisted the “loyalty questionnaire” in any way — i.e. refusing to answer, answering in the negative, answering with a qualified yes — to the Tule Lake Segregation Center that was converted into a high security prison. Tule Lake resisters totaled 12,000 inmates and the majority were innocent women and children victims. Unlike in other camps where security was lax, they were treated like enemy alien prisoners and under the threat of imminent prisoner exchanges and deportation to Japan after the war. Even after the war, the JACL with their super patriotism position, long denigrated Tule Lake resisters. As a result, Tule Lake resisters were stigmatized and slurred as the “No-Nos” by the Japanese American community to this day.

Tule Lake resisters, family and descendants can take comfort from this recognition and apology by the JACL. This apology was long past due, as 76 years of stigmatizing has been hurtful and wrong. We are thankful to the new generation of JACL leaders and members, to try to stop the stigmatizing, admit past wrongs and divisions, and hopefully achieve reconciliation and unity to the Japanese American community. Then this can be considered a victory for Tule Lake Resisters and the JACL.

Yukio Kawaratani is a former Tule Lake inmate and long-time JACL member. The views expressed in the preceding commentary are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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