SENIOR MOMENTS: The Tule Lake Legacy

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By PHIL SHIGEKUNI

Earlier this year I wrote in a column an awakening I had about how our community has, for the past 70 or so years, stigmatized those who were incarcerated in Tule Lake. It has struck me how a group of people in our community has been ostracized for having the courage to stand up to our government’s oppression. How very tragic it was that our government’s actions in forcing individuals and families to make life-transforming decisions during the war would irreparably alienate a segment of our community.

I refer, of course, to the infamous loyalty oath, specifically, Questions 27 and 28 which forced a yes or no answer to questions as to whether a person would be willing to fight for this country and whether that person would forswear allegiance to other governments. A “no” answer to either one or both of these questions was a ticket to Tule Lake. “No” answers to these questions, in many cases, had little to do with loyalty.

To this day I hear heart-rending stories of how families were torn apart when parents made different decisions in answering the questionnaire, forever splitting the family. I have a dear friend whose parents were separated in this way. Her parents expatriated to Japan, and got divorced. She and her mother returned to the U.S., and her father remained in Japan.

Just last week, at a JACL meeting I attended, a woman revealed that for many years her parents concealed from her the fact that she was born in Tule Lake. Shortly before that a Sansei man told me he was born shortly after his parents had left Tule Lake. His mother had told him the family was interned in Manzanar and did not tell him of their fateful answers on the questionnaire sending them to Tule Lake from Manzanar.

And just recently I discovered the parents of close in-laws of my wife Marion were in Tule Lake. After knowing him for many years, we are now finding out Marion’s brother-in-law was born there.

Marion’s sisters-in-law, now deceased, were decent, gentle people. They were asked why they answered as they did and subjected themselves to the harsh treatment in Tule Lake and the disapproval of their fellow JAs. They said they were angered and insulted by having to answer such questions after being put into camp.

Next year marks the 25th anniversary of the signing of the redress bill. I see that the JA National Museum is having a commemorative conference in Seattle, and National JACL is also making special observance of the event at its conference in Washington, D.C.

The redress bill took the form of an official apology by the government, signed by the president, for the injustice of our incarceration.

This injustice had its effect on the way JACL treated dissident JAs in Tule Lake. JACL not only cut itself off from them but when thousands, out of anger and frustration, renounced their citizenship and later chose to regain it, JACL refused any assistance.

Twenty-five years ago our government apologized to loyal Japanese Americans. As a long-time JACL member, I believe that 2013 is an opportune time for JACL to apologize. Japanese Americans who stood up to injustice need vindication. Their descendants, rather that suffering under the stigma of disloyalty, would be able to see their forebears as courageous Americans standing up to an oppressive government.

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Phil Shigekuni writes from San Fernando Valley and can be contacted at [email protected] The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

An intergenerational discussion at this year’s Tule Lake Pilgrimage. (Photo by Kenny Ina)

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