SENIOR MOMENTS: Hotbed of Discontent

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By Phil Shigekuni
(First published in The Rafu Shimpo on July 30, 2011.)

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Have you ever wondered why Tule Lake was chosen by President Bush in 2008 as a World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument?  He made this designation despite the protests and disruptions — to say nothing of the “disloyalty” of many of its residents who renounced their citizenship and expatriated to Japan.

Marion and I are members  of the JA Historical Society of Southern California. Under the leadership of Iku Kiriyama, JAHSSC has sponsored many interesting and sometimes provocative programs, one of which was a panel discussion last year dealing with the Tule Lake Segregation Center. Being a long-time member of JACL and a student of the incarceration, I have had a chance to learn about the critical decisions that had to be made by the JACL leadership, early 1942.

Mike Masaoka and the other JACL leaders were in their early 20s. Taking into account the intense racial hatred directed toward JAs after Pearl Harbor, in my opinion, Masaoka’s decision to cooperate with the internment to “prove our loyalty” was the prudent way to go.

Those who answered “no, no” to Questions 27 and 28 on the infamous loyalty questionnaire were sent to Tule Lake.  It comes as no surprise that Tule Lake, filled with angry people, became a hotbed of discontent.  And it is not surprising that many, in despair and anger, chose to renounce their citizenship and expatriate to Japan.

JACL denounced these renunciants. It took the courageous work of Wayne Collins of the ACLU, and a few others,  to win back their citizenship. The Supreme Court decided these people had made decisions to give up their citizenship under great duress and restored it to them.

Nancy Gohata, a long-time friend of mine, was a member of a family whose parents answered “no, no” and were sent from Manzanar to spend the war years in Tule Lake. Nancy was young, and does not remember much about Tule Lake. This critical issue split extended families. The families of some of Nancy’s cousins answered “yes, yes” and were allowed to stay at Manzanar. In the early ’70s, Nancy joined our San Fernando Valley JACL Chapter. She said her father was very disappointed.

Nancy went with Marion and me to the Tule panel mentioned above.  On the way home I said to her that it seems to me there is a certain estrangement between those JAs who went to Tule Lake and those who answered “yes, yes” and remained in the “relocation centers.” Nancy has talked about this issue with her extended family and she says there is no estrangement. When I mentioned Tule Lake to another woman who went the camps, her immediate response was, “Oh, yeah, that’s where they sent the disloyals.”

I have read moving articles in the Rafu Shimpo by people such as Soji Kashiwagi citing the need for reconciliation. Martha Nakagawa of the Rafu was one of the panelists at the program mentioned above. She has been a strong advocate for further community dialogue on this issue.

Karl Nobuyuki was JACL national director in 1978 when he and Jerry Enomoto, who was director of California prisons, participated in the dedication of a monument at Tule Lake. I think it would be helpful if JACL would officially come to terms with its position regarding the renunciants, particularly in regard to its unwillingness to help them regain their citizenship.

What do you think?

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Phil Shigekuni can be reached by email. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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