2014 Tule Lake Pilgrimage Continues to Focus on Uncovering Stories of Dissent, Healing

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Genki Spark members pay tribute to longtime Tule Lake Committee member and taiko drummer Molly Kitajima, who passed away earlier this year. (Photo by Martha Nakagawa)

Genki Spark members pay tribute to longtime Tule Lake Committee member and taiko drummer Molly Kitajima, who passed away earlier this year. (Photo by Martha Nakagawa)

By MARTHA NAKAGAWA

Each successive Tule Lake Pilgrimage appears to be attracting more interest, and the 2014 pilgrimage was no different.

Tule Lake Committee (TLC) Chair Hiroshi Shimizu noted that this year they had to close registration even earlier than the 2012 pilgrimage (Tule Lake Pilgrimages are held every other year). “We set a record,” he said. “We filled up in two weeks.”

Because the four-day pilgrimage is organized by the all-volunteer TLC, the committee limits attendees to around 400 since any more beyond that becomes difficult to manage.

During the welcoming program, Barbara Takei, longtime TLC volunteer and program moderator, asked for a show of hands of first-timers and close to three-fourths of the audience raised their hands.

“It’s amazing, given the fact that we closed registration in two weeks,” said Takei.

The audience included a diverse mixture of ethnicities and generations, including several former Tuleans who were in their 90s.

Attendees this year also included civil rights icon Minnijean Brown-Trickey, one of the “Little Rock Nine” who made international headlines during the 1950s when she and eight other African Americans desegregated Little Rock Central High.

Takei also recognized the Nikkei community’s civil rights fighters. “These people are our own Minnijean Brown-Trickeys,” said Takei. “They are the people who resisted and challenged the misuse of authority by the government and are our civil rights heroes.”

Former Tuleans who were specifically recognized included: brothers Mamoru Mori and James Tanimoto, Block 42 men who refused to register for the loyalty questionnaire; Hiroshi Kashiwagi, Tule Lake’s poet laureate, writer, playwright and renunciant; Bill Nishimura, renunciant; and Jimi Yamaichi, Tule Lake draft resister.

“The government imposed a loyal-disloyal framework on us, and it is really up to us to reject it,” said Takei. “It was false construction. It was propaganda. And it is really up to all of us to begin to educate people in our own community and outside the community. Of course, non-Japanese Americans, really, they get it. They understand the propaganda, but our own people have internalized the racism, and that is what we need to work on. We need to take pride in our stories of dissent.”

The TLC also held a tribute to two Tule Lake Pilgrimage mainstays — Molly Enta Kitajima and Jimmy Mirikitani — both of whom had passed away since the 2012 pilgrimage.

Kitajima, who had been a TLC volunteer for close to two decades, was a Canadian native whose father, Yamazo Enta, had been arrested and jailed at the start of World War II for being a leader within the Japanese Canadian community.

She was also part of Tule Lake Taiko, a loose-knit group of taiko players, who came together at the pilgrimage to perform.

“It was very sad planning the pilgrimage without her,” said Takei.

East Coast-based Genki Spark members performed a taiko piece titled “Nakama no Uta (Friendship Song),” that Kitajima had taught Genki Spark two years ago.

“We have been playing this song in Boston and throughout the East Coast as a way to acknowledge our elders and to honor the spirit and fight that was within Molly,” said Karen Young. “Molly started playing taiko at the age of 64 and was truly an inspiration to us.”

Mirikitani’s life has been documented by Linda Hattendorf and Masa Yoshikawa in the award-winning documentary “The Cats of Mirikitani,” which follows Hattendorf befriending Mirikitani, a homeless artist on the streets of New York, and her decision to invite him to her apartment for shelter after terrorists attacked the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001. Viewers, then, learn the traumas of the Tule Lake camp and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima that continued to haunt Mirikitani.

“It feels good to be back here,” said Hattendorf. “It feels like Jimmy is standing here with us. Jimmy Mirikitani, artist and activist, changed lives, including mine. He was 21 years old when he was sent here and 25 when he left, and he was very, very angry.

“But for him to be able to come back and be surrounded by a loving community that wanted to hear his story was such a healing experience for him. I want to thank the committee for making it possible.”

Yoshikawa traveled to Mirikitani’s ancestral prefecture of Hiroshima to participate in a retrospective of Mirikitani’s art at the Hatsukaichi Art Gallery, which opened on Aug. 1 and runs through the 31st.

“Jimmy is having an exhibit in his hometown with over 70 pieces of his artwork, including those he did during the 1950s,” said Yoshikawa. “So Jimmy lives on.”

A special tribute was also given to Yuri Mary Nakahara Kochiyama, civil rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee. A memorial was held for Kochiyama in Oakland on Aug. 3. A Los Angeles memorial will be held on Aug. 31, and a New York tribute on Sept. 27 in Harlem.

CEMETERY

An interfaith Buddhist and Christian ceremony was held at the former Tule Lake cemetery site, where attendees were given a chance to pay their respects to those who had been incarcerated at the camp.

The ceremony this year was not disrupted by buzzing airplanes flying over the site from the nearby airport, thanks largely to the efforts of the National Park Service staff.

During the ceremony, Masato Watanabe, consul general of Japan in San Francisco, offered a wreath. The Japanese consul general from San Francisco has been attending the Tule Lake Pilgrimage regularly since 2009.

Watanabe, who was appointed to the position in November 2013, thanked the Japanese American community for bridging the gap between Japan and the United States.

“It is important for the people in Japan to always remember the contributions which Japanese Americans have made to the United States, as well as in U.S.-Japan relations in the postwar era,” said Watanabe. “I think Japanese Americans have been in the forefront in helping Japan whenever Japan is in desperate need, such as during the postwar recovery period and also immediately after the 2011 tsunami.

“I was born and raised in Sendai in Tohoku. Therefore, I feel so strongly about this, and today, I would like to express both my appreciation and condolences to the people who passed away here.”

Rev. Jay Shinseki, who is related to the Tanimoto brothers, offered the Buddhist message and encouraged audience members to remember those who paved the way for everyone else.

“People like my Uncle Mori and his brother Jim, they tell their stories because it’s important that you all learn and hear it so it doesn’t happen again,” said Shinseki. “We also have annual events like the Obon and the pilgrimage to remind us of our past to celebrate our tradition.

“Gatherings like this remind us where we’ve been, where we are going and what work we have ahead of us.”

Rev. Saburo Masada shared about how his mother converted the family to Christianity at the Jerome War Relocation Authority camp after Christians helped his family deal with the passing away of his father due to pneumonia, exacerbated by the snow and lack of heat. A potbelly stove arrived in their barrack after his father’s death.

“After returning to Fresno from camp in 1945, I began to learn what Christians believed,” said Masada. “One thing I was taught early on, which I had to unlearn a number of years later, was that the injustice of the camps should be seen as a ‘blessing in disguise.’ After all, wasn’t in the camp that our family started to go to a Christian church? Weren’t students able to attend universities on the East Coast and find jobs and careers in other states? Didn’t the Issei enjoy a time of leisure?

“But in 1965, 20 years after coming out of the camps, I was in our living room in Ogden, Utah, where I was serving as a pastor, watching Walter Cronkite on TV, narrating, probably one of the first documentaries on the concentration camps, titled ‘The Nisei: The Pride and the Shame,’ with Mine Okubo, who authored ‘Citizen 13360.’

“As I watched the incarcerees at Tanforan Detention Assembly Center trying to clean out their horse stalls and the stench of manure from their living quarters, I began to feel my blood starting to boil. I found myself saying in disbelief, ‘How could this happen in America? How could this happen in America?’

“For the first time, I was able to feel my anger of what happened to us. From that day on, I would no longer say that our camp experience was a ‘blessing in disguise,’ white-washing the tragic injustice.

“I realized it was imperative to keep the crime of injustice, separate from the courage, faith and determination, which enabled people to survive and triumph over tragedy and injustice.

“We must never blur the line between injustice and survival, and rationalize the injustice. We must continue to fight injustice, each in our own way.”

TOURS

Among the different tours offered this year, attendees were able to visit the Favell Museum in Klamath Falls, Ore., to view “The Art of Survival.”

The exhibit included artifacts made by Tuleans such as a vase carved from a wooden post by Mitsuye Endo and fine-art photographs by Hiroshi Watanabe.

Curator Madeleine Blake, in sharing the process of organizing the exhibit, said, “I learned things about my culture that just devastated me, and I had to learn about humanity. And why am I on this pilgrimage? Because I need some healing, too.”

Stan Yogi, former Northern California ACLU staff member and author of several books, provided the text for this traveling exhibit.

Another tour, which included a visit to the former Tule Lake camp site, also made a stop at Camp Tulelake, the former Civilian Conservation Corps camp, where Mamoru Mori and James Tanimoto shared their experience of being imprisoned at the site during the war.

The Tanimoto brothers were among the Block 42 men who were hauled off to a local jail without charge for about a week and then transferred to Camp Tulelake for refusing to register for the controversial loyalty questionnaire. Their older brother, Masashi, was sent to the Moab Citizen Isolation Center in Utah for allegedly being one of the leaders of the protesters.

Despite the WRA’s threats of a fine, jail time and strong-arm tactics, the Tanimoto brothers remained steadfast in their refusal to register for the loyalty questionnaire, which they felt was unnecessary as U.S. citizens.

JAIL RESTORATION

Tule Lake had a jail within a jail for those deemed "troublemakers."

Tule Lake had a jail within a jail for those deemed “troublemakers.”

Weather and time have deteriorated the Tule Lake jail, and the Tule Lake Committee is currently raising funds to restore this structure. The National Park Service awarded a Japanese American Confinement Site program grant to preserve the building but the TLC must raise a required match of $500,000 by Dec. 31, 2014. To donate, go to www.tulelake.org or write to the Tule Lake Committee, PO Box 170141, San Francisco, CA 94117.

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