By MARTHA NAKAGAWA, Rafu Contributor
The 2018 Tule Lake Pilgrimage, whose theme was “Preserving Our Hallowed Ground,” attracted more than 400 attendees, who ranged in age from 7 to 98 and came from as far away as Alaska, Hawaii, 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 2016 pilgrimage on July 2.
“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 (TLC) chief financial officer. “There were 331 people who had died at Tule Lake.”
Yamaichi, an active TLC member, had passed away a month before the pilgrimage.
“Jimi was the leader of our pilgrimages, of the Tule Lake Committee,” said Hiroshi Shimizu, TLC 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 policies of the Trump Administration as racist, xenophobic, and anti-immigrant, an audience member stood up and shouted, “Bulls–t! Bulls–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 in solidarity with others across the nation to protest the Trump Administration’s policy of separating families at the southern border and detaining children without their parents. The rally was held next to the former camp jail, where Tule Lake detainees labeled as “troublemakers” were confined without due process.
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 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?”
Carl Takei, social media committee member and a senior attorney with the ACLU, encouraged attendees to follow the pilgrimage activities on Twitter at #savetulelake.
“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 Takei. “This is terrifyingly familiar, and we want to be able to use social media to have our voices extend beyond this group of about 500 people and to be heard around the country and the world.”
The TLC continues to fight the expansion of an airport that had been constructed on the former Tule Lake camp 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.”
Takei thanked the Tule Lake Social Media Committee, headed by Nancy Ukai and including Ishii, Shimizu, Satsuki Ina, Lorna Fong, Kimiko Marr, Carl Takei, Evan Johnson, Konrad Aderer, Stan Shikuma, Frank Abe and Hana Moriyama.
Special thanks were also given to the family of Mae Watanabe.
“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,” said Takei, who added that settlement talks are under way.
According to Ken Nomiyama, TLC committee member, Phase II of the jail program is finished, which means that reconstruction and 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 the way that it appeared in 1944 when the prisoners were kept there. That’s the plan.”
In addition, the TLC and the National Park Service are 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, kept up the tradition of his predecessors and participated in the pilgrimage, although Yoshiro Tasaka, the former liaison between the consul general’s office and the Nikkei community, was no longer working there.
Uyama recognized the contributions of Yamaichi, who helped build the jail where the memorial service took place, and thanked him and all who had contributed to preserving the site so that people such as himself could learn from history.
“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 of 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. We gather here with deep gratitude in our hearts to honor those who fought for justice here at the Tule Lake Segregation Center. They leave a legacy of a fuller and richer life, of which we are all benefactors today. God bless this hallowed ground forever, to honor our forebears imprisoned at this civil rights site of protest and sorrow, to be a resource of wisdom, hope and courage, to carry forward their and our dreams for a better world.”
The Buddhist ceremony was overseen by Rev. Jay Shinseki from the Watsonville and Monterey temples and Rev. Grace Hatano from the Sacramento temple.
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. 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.
“It represents an ongoing battle of resistance against bigotry, hatred and ignorance. It also represents so much pain and suffering. We conduct this memorial service to heal, help us heal. And true healing occurs by embracing the truth of what had occurred here at Tule Lake. True healing occurs when we share with one another the stories and the experiences of Tule Lake. True healing occurs when we resist the attempts to repeat the injustices anywhere in the world.”
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. As we think about them, trying to set aside the harshness of the existence, it is important to be grateful that we survived, that we were able to come back here and appreciate the lives we are living now.”
First of three parts.
Photos by MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo