Manzanar Committee Calls on Modoc County Not to Build Fence at Tulelake Airport

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Tulelake Airport in Modoc County. (Photo by Martha Nakagawa)

On Sept. 27, the Manzanar Committee reiterated its opposition to Modoc County’s proposed construction of a perimeter fence at the Tulelake Municipal Airport, which would deny access to much of the site of the former Tule Lake Segregation Center.

As noted in the organization’s original statement in July 2012, the fence would irreparably damage the historic fabric of the Tule Lake site, now the Tule Lake Unit of World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.

“We strongly oppose the proposed construction of a fence at the Tulelake Municipal Airport in Modoc County,” said Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey. “This fence will degrade an essential and unique cultural, social, and historical landmark, and negatively impact our government’s efforts to preserve the site of the former Tule Lake Segregation Center.”

Embrey noted that the Manzanar Committee, and in particular, its former long-time leader, Sue Kunitomi Embrey, was instrumental in the creation and development of the Manzanar National Historic Site in California’s Owens Valley.

“My mother, Sue Kunitomi Embrey, led pilgrimages to Manzanar for more than three decades, from 1969 to 2004, the year the Manzanar National Historic Site opened,” he said. “She testified before numerous government agencies, and in 1991, helped lead the efforts within Congress to designate the Manzanar as a national historic site.

“In her testimony before the Senate committee, she said, ‘Democracy is a fragile concept, only as good and strong as the people who practice it. Let us tell the world we are a people, strong and resolute, acknowledging the errors of the past in order not to repeat them in the future. This is the legacy we believe the Manzanar historic site can leave for future generations.’

“Erecting a fence at the Tulelake Airport will severely damage one of America’s most important national historic sites, negatively impacting future efforts to both preserve and interpret what happened at one of America’s concentration camps. One of the most important considerations the National Park Service took into account was how the site at Manzanar was largely untouched. No buildings had been erected, nor were any other significant alterations made since the camp closed in 1945.

“The NPS took full advantage of the opportunity and has recreated many of the features of the War Relocation Authority camp, greatly enhancing people’s understanding of what happened to tens of thousands of innocent people when their basic constitutional rights were denied simply because of their ancestry.”

Embrey also pointed to the economic benefits that the Manzanar National Historic Site has had on nearby communities as something that Modoc County residents and government officials should look closely at.

“It is clear the development of the Manzanar National Historic Site has been a boon to the economy of the Owens Valley, boosting tourism, economic development, and jobs by creating yet another significant attraction for the area,” he emphasized. “Every year, tens of thousands of people visit Manzanar, traveling from all over the world, and those numbers just keep growing. In fact, Manzanar set a new annual visitation record last year, and is on pace to break that record for the third consecutive year. Moreover, this past April, more than 2,000 people joined us on our annual pilgrimage. You can just imagine the economic impact on all the towns in the Owens Valley.”

Given the current political climate, historic sites like Manzanar and Tule Lake play a critical role in shaping our future, Embrey added. “It might be ironic or counter-intuitive that we, the families of innocent Americans incarcerated simply because of their ancestry, would be so passionate about preserving these sites. But we strongly believe that it is essential for all Americans to understand our past in order to preserve our future as a democratic and just nation.

“As such, we must reiterate our opposition to the proposed fence for the Tulelake Airport. The proposed fence would severely damage the historic fabric of the site of the former Tule Lake Segregation Center, and would significantly harm efforts to preserve the site.

“We call on Modoc County officials to work cooperatively with former inmates of the Tule Lake Segregation Center, the Tule Lake Committee, and the National Park Service to find a resolution to this issue that does not harm the historic fabric of the Tule Lake site.”

For more information on the Tule Lake Committee’s preservation efforts, visit www.tulelake.org.

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