By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
Telling the story of Tule Lake Segregation Center is going to be a long and complicated process, and the National Park Service is taking it one step at a time.
NPS staff members recently visited Southern California as part of a series of meetings to get public input on the development of the Tule Lake Unit of the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument.
Following meetings in Washington and Oregon, Superintendent Mike Reynolds and Project Manager Anna Tamura participated in discussions on July 24 at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Little Tokyo, July 25 at CSU Dominguez Hills, July 26 at the San Diego History Center, and July 27 at the JACCC.
In September, meetings will be held in Sacramento, Berkeley, San Francisco and San Jose, along with two virtual (online) meetings.
Based on meetings held a year ago, including one with community representatives at the Japanese American National Museum, a short-term plan has been developed. The focus is now on a long-term plan covering the next 20 years.
Located just south of the Oregon-California border, Tule Lake is unique among the 10 War Relocation Authority camps established during World War II to incarcerate Japanese Americans because it was later turned into a high-security segregation center for those labeled “disloyal” because of their answers to a government questionnaire.
Due to unrest over living and working conditions, the Army was called in and martial law was declared at one point. A stockade was set up for “troublemakers.” Many inmates protested their confinement by renouncing their U.S. citizenship, and some were shipped to Japan. The camp was open until March 1946, long after the other WRA camps had closed.
“We’re at the ground floor for developing Tule Lake into a national park unit … It is a national park, so your federal taxes are paying for us to be standing here and for any development that will occur at Tule Lake in the future,” Tamura explained.
“We also want to hear from the public about your concerns about Tule Lake, your ideas about Tule Lake. I did the planning for Minidoka [Idaho]. We did that over the course of about three years. We held about 50 public meetings. Through those public meetings we heard so many ideas about what should occur at Minidoka, and many of those were written into the plan …
“Tule Lake’s history is based upon divisiveness imposed by the government, segregating people it deemed loyal and disloyal, and the effects of that segregation are still felt today. A lot of people still have hard feelings, and for many people they don’t want to talk about it … but we are making this effort so that we can gather people’s ideas and concerns to develop a plan.”
Pointing to Manzanar National Historic Site as an example, Tamura said, “Things like the perimeter fence, the guard tower, the visitor center, the road that you can drive around — all of those things were components of their plan. They heard those things from the public …
“We were given the 37 acres at the segregation center as well as Castle Rock and Camp Tule Lake. Now is our opportunity to figure out what do we do with these historic buildings, with this landscape, and what stories will be told.”
The meetings have covered a variety of details, including parking, visitor facilities, trails, staffing, and maintenance.
“We take every single comment very seriously,” Tamura emphasized. “We review it, we code it, we analyze them … We’ll develop alternatives for how Tule Lake could be managed. Then we’ll identify which of those different ways … is the best way and we will write that up into our draft plan, and then we’ll come back to you again for another round, similar to what we’re doing now, of public meetings.”
At the first JACCC meeting, the attendees were divided into four groups, each facilitated by an NPS staff member. A random sample of comments:
• Tule Lake was different from the other camps; life there was much harsher. The stockade was a jail within a jail.
• Many individuals who answered “no-no” on the loyalty questionnaire or renounced their citizenship did so to keep their families together.
• Some Nisei don’t mention that they were at Tule Lake because of the stigma associated with that camp. The experience has impacted their lives ever since.
• Oral histories should be a priority because of the advanced age of the internees. Efforts should be made to capture a broad range of stories, many of which have not been shared even with family members.
• Educating the younger generations is important because even within the Japanese American community there is a lack of knowledge about why people were sent to Tule Lake and what happened there.
Donald Hata, emeritus professor of history at CSUDH and self-described “political prisoner” at Gila River in Arizona, commented after the meeting, “I’m glad to see that there are so many new faces here. That was a select group [last year], by invite only … But here I see a cross-section. And unlike the redress movement, where you found the Nisei refusing to talk — they were so uptight yet — look how many older Nisei are here spilling their guts … I think this is refreshing.”
Now that Nisei are speaking up more, Hata said, the Tule Lake story can be told. “It’s such a complicated story, but at least it’s exposed in its complexity instead of what I call the JACL master narrative. It’s so linear, ‘us patriots vs. them troublemakers’ …
“Tule Lake is a real challenge … We’re going to need good, professional historians; no simple, easy one-liners. There are so many conflicting threads. It’s going to be like ‘Tale of Genji,’ all these multifaceted themes and sub-themes, each one an independent short story but all contributing to this total saga.”
Tamura remarked, “We are hearing new stories that we have never heard before. People are opening up about their experiences and sharing. This series of meetings is really a landmark in the history of Tule Lake, where we’re opening up this national dialogue and engaging the public …
“People are very concerned about what stories are going to be told because Tule Lake’s history is so contested and complex. People who were there are traumatized and there’s a lot of misperceptions about what occurred at Tule Lake, so they want to make sure that when the history of Tule Lake is told by the National Park Service, that it’s accurate and honest and tells the full story.”
Among the recurring suggestions — recreating barracks, preserving the camp jail, and including Castle Rock, the area’s most prominent natural feature, in the tours. The relevance of Tule Lake to civil rights issues today also came up.
Summing up after the eighth of 17 meetings, Reynolds said, “We’ve had excellent turnout. I think we’ve talked to between 250 and 300 people so far. The comments have been across the board very diverse and interesting, very helpful for us …
“Every meeting has some of the same things come up — boundary adjustments, building a barrack, having a re-creation of some portion of the site that helps tell the story, having some sort of a visitor contact station, and having the site open so that people can visit it …
“A lot of time and energy is spent explaining different aspects of this very complicated, controversial, polarizing story, and it’s certainly going to be a challenge to try to write that … But that’s clearly a goal, telling what happened at Tule Lake and having the American people understand and respect and learn from that.”
Reynolds recalled that about 18 of the 25 people who attended a meeting in Oregon were incarcerees. “Some people have come out in their 90s … The Hood River meeting to me is particularly touching because a lot of those folks said in the meeting, ‘We haven’t talked about this since then’ … That was a farming community, which is a completely different community from, say, here in L.A., where it was much more urban and sort of more vocal and bold.”