On June 2, the Los Angeles-based Manzanar Committee announced its opposition to a proposed perimeter fence at the Tulelake Municipal Airport, operated by Modoc County.
The proposed fence would enclose the perimeter of the airport, which was part of the Tule Lake Segregation Center during World War II.
According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) documents, “the purpose of this fence is to minimize the potential for aircraft-wildlife strikes (primarily deer), and minimize the potential for pedestrians and vehicles to inadvertently encroach on the airport’s runway (pedestrian-vehicle deviations).”
The site in question is now part of the Tule Lake Segregation Center National Historic Landmark (World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument – Tule Lake Unit), which is located approximately 1,100 feet from the airport.
The FAA, in consultation with the California State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) and interested parties, will determine whether the perimeter fence project would affect the Tule Lake Segregation Center National Historic Landmark, and whether the Tulelake Municipal Airport property retains sufficient historic integrity to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
The Tule Lake Committee, sponsors of the annual Tule Lake Pilgrimage, is leading the way in advocating for the preservation of the Tule Lake site. According to their statement, “The current proposal to erect an eight-foot-high, 16,000-foot-long fence through the center of the former concentration camp site will effectively divide the site in half and make it inaccessible to Japanese Americans and other interested parties who want to visit the site.”
“Many visitors to the site typically seek the location of the barrack where their family was assigned,” the statement continued. “They want to traverse the site to experience the dimension and magnitude of the place, to gain a sense of the distances family members walked in their daily routine to eat meals, attend school, to do laundry and use the latrines. They want to summon up the ghosts of the place, to revive long-suppressed memories and to mourn personal and collective loss.”
“Presence of a three-mile-long fence in the very center of the Tule Lake site will impede such reflection. Rather than being able to traverse the site, visitors would be confronted by a massive, intimidating fence built to let them know they are trespassers who are unwelcome and being warned away.”
Having sponsored the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage for 43 years, and having worked with the National Park Service and the California SHPO on the creation of the Manzanar National Historic Site, the Manzanar Committee has a unique perspective on this issue.
“The Manzanar Committee has sponsored the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage since 1969, at the site of the former Manzanar concentration camp in California’s Owens Valley, which became the Manzanar National Historic Site in 1992,” said Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey. “Over 1,300 people participated in an interfaith ceremony, toured the site, and visited the Interpretive Center this past April during the 43rd annual Manzanar Pilgrimage.
“Over the years, we have learned just how important seeing the site is to be able to comprehend and understand the conditions and characteristics of the Manzanar concentration camp. Being able to interact with the actual physical landscape, experience the climate first-hand, and see the remnants of the buildings unfettered is absolutely essential to a serious appreciation of what life was like during incarceration at Manzanar, as well as the other American concentration camps, and other confinement sites throughout the United States.
“This is precisely why the National Park Service and its volunteers conduct walking tours at Manzanar whenever possible, and this is always an integral component of our annual pilgrimage.”
Embrey stressed, “Constructing an imposing physical barrier, such as a eight-foot-high fence, would negatively impact the Tule Lake site. The Manzanar Committee strongly opposes the construction of the proposed perimeter fence, and we offer our unswerving support of the efforts of the Tule Lake Committee in preserving the Tule Lake Segregation Center.”
The Manzanar Committee is dedicated to educating and raising public awareness about the incarceration and violation of civil rights of persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II and to the continuing struggle of all peoples when constitutional rights are in danger. In addition to sponsoring the pilgrimage and other educational programs, the committee has also played a key role in the establishment and continued development of the Manzanar National Historic Site.