Open Letter: Reappropriate Opposes Fence Construction at Historic Tule Lake WWII Camp Site

A quote from a survivor of the Topaz camp on why he returns to the camp site to reconnect with incarceration camp history, as reproduced at the Japanese American National Museum. (Photo credit: Reappropriate)

Last week, I blogged about how a proposed perimeter fence around the Tulelake Municipal Airport was threatening the Tule Lake WWII incarceration camp site. The deadline for public feedback on the proposed fence project is October 10th.

To get involved, please sign this Change.org petition or head on over to my original post to learn about how you can send a letter directly to the Modoc County Road Commissioner, asking them to halt the planned fence construction. You can also send a letter automatically via 18MillionRising’s #SaveTuleLake letter-writing campaign.

After the jump, you will find the full letter I sent to Modoc County Road Commissioner Mitch Crosby today; or, you can download it as a .pdf.

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Proposed Airport Fence at Tule Lake Will Cut Off Access to WW2-era Incarceration Camp History

A quote from Toru Saito, a survivor of the Topaz camp, on why he returns to the camp site to reconnect with incarceration camp history, as reproduced at the Japanese American National Museum. (Photo credit: Reappropriate)

During World War II, 120,000 Japanese and Japanese American civilians — many American citizens by birth — were forcibly imprisoned in hastily-erected American concentration camps (JACL’s Power of Words) located in some of the harshest, most austere, and most isolated parts of the Midwest and West Coast. Enacted through Executive Order 9066, Japanese Americans living on the West Coast were targeted based purely on suspicion that they were disloyal to the US government and posed an existential threat to national security: those suspicions were later shown to be entirely unfounded and predicated primarily on racist stereotypes. WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans remains a major blemish on American history as one of the most prominent violations of American citizens’ constitutional rights, and the government’s rationale for the camps continues to be used to justify anti-Muslim efforts today.

One of the largest and most prominent of the WWII incarceration camps is Tule Lake, a site located in Northern California and currently designated as National Historic Landmark. At its peak, nearly 19,000 Japanese American citizens were forcibly imprisoned at Tule Lake overseen by unusually stringent military guard: the camp had particularly high fences topped with barbed wire and over twenty-five armed guard towers. Tule Lake also became known as a site of particular Japanese American unrest and resistance, and those deemed to be “disloyal” at other camps were removed to Tule Lake for segregation from the rest of the Japanese American community. On November 4, 1943, Tule Lake incarcerees staged one of the few open uprisings against the camps, and on May 24, 1944, Shoichi James Okamoto was shot and killed by a camp guard, who was later fined a dollar for the shooting — a fine for unauthorized use of government property: the bullet. When Tule Lake closed in 1946, thousands of Japanese Americans were once again displaced, with no homes to return to and nowhere else to go.

To remember the painful history of WWII incarceration camps requires that we commemorate the Tule Lake incarceration camp as a site of significant Japanese American WWII-era political and civil resistance. Indeed, the Japanese American community has worked tirelessly to preserve incarceration camp sites across the West Coast and the Midwest, helping to found museums and education centers to teach incarceration history and ensure that the memory of World War II-era camps do not fade with time. Camp survivors also stage annual pilgrimages to camp sites in order to remember this painful episode in our nation’s history.

That is why the Japanese American community is outraged this week at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)’s proposed plans to erect an 8-foot tall perimeter fence around the Tulelake Municipal Airport, which would cut through the Tule Lake incarceration camp site and render two-thirds of the Tule Lake camp land inaccessible to camp survivors and students of history.

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Why I Will Join Thousands of Women as we March on Saturday

When I first heard about a planned march to amass the nation’s women to highlight women’s rights and in protest against the Trump administration on the day after his inauguration, I was initially hesitant. In originally billing the event as the “Million Women March” and advertising it as the first street protest of its kind, organizers overlooked the original “Million Woman March” successfully organized by Black feminists two decades ago. When this appropriation of Black feminist history was pointed out by feminists of colour, event organizers were dismissive of (and even hostile to) the critique. Instead, (White feminist) event organizers and early supporters offered the same familiar, callous, and white-washing refrain: that feminists of colour were being divisive in raising the spectre of race, and that we should put aside racial differences to provide a united feminist front in opposition to the misogyny of Trump.

Never mind, of course, that we were being asked to rally in unity under the banner of White feminism, which too often overlooks and deprioritizes women of colour and other marginalized women through its uncritical universalization of the lived experiences of Whit straight abled cis-women. Over the years, I have been lectured at countless times by White feminists who resent and reject my brand of non-white feminism; I had no interest in voluntarily exposing myself to that kind of toxic and intolerant space yet again.

But then, something about the event changed. In response to criticism, event founders re-named the march the “Women’s March on Washington” and invited prominent feminists of colour to organize the event. The Women’s March began to embrace a more intersectional framework for its feminism. Organizers acknowledged the March’s relationship to Black feminist history and took steps to acknowledge and commemorate the earlier work of Black feminists. White feminists were reminded that even within feminist spaces, they should do the work of being better white allies to feminists of colour; and that there is never a time when they can or should stop reflecting (and respecting) more and “whitesplaining” less. When some early White feminist supporters spoke against the efforts to make the event more inclusive of women of colour, they were actually told they were wrong!

With these developments, my fears were (somewhat) assuaged. It seemed increasingly clear that while White feminism still has a long way to go, the Women’s March on Washington (and its many satellite events in local cities) was taking steps to be a safe(r) space for feminists of colour and other marginalized feminists.

And so, I have made the (cautious) decision: I will march on Saturday in the Women’s March in New York City.

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Congress Passes Bill To Provide Reparations to Guam World War II Survivors

The remnants of a World War II bunker on a beach in Guam. (Photo credit: ABC / Ben Bohane)
The remnants of a World War II bunker on a beach in Guam. (Photo credit: ABC / Ben Bohane)

Seventy five years after Imperial Japanese Army forces invaded the US-held territory of Guam on December 8, 1941 — leading to the rape, abuse, and killing of many of the island’s residents during the four years of its occupation by Japan — the US federal government is poised to provide reparations to Guam’s World War II survivors. Last week, Congress quietly included a measure to provide reparations to the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which establishes military spending for the upcoming fiscal year.

The spending bill was passed by the House in May with bipartisan support, with the vast majority of Republicans and 40 Democrats voting in favour. It was introduced by Senator John McCain and passed the Senate with 92 votes last Thursday. The Act is now headed to the White House, where President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law.

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900+ Asian American Studies Scholars Issue Collective Statement Decrying Trump’s Proposed Muslim Registry

collective-statement-aas-muslim-registry

Over 900 Asian American Studies scholars from across the United States issued a joint statement today decrying President-Elect Donald Trump’s proposal to create a national registry of Muslims and Muslim Americans.

Trump has repeatedly said that as president he would institute aggressive measures to limit immigration of Muslims into the country and to place Muslims currently within the United States’ borders under close scrutiny. He has promised to halt the entry of Syrian refugees and to also ban immigration from a number of countries — including Pakistan and the Philippines — with large Muslim populations. He is quoted as suggesting the creation of a national database of Muslim and Muslim Americans — a proposal that is likely unconstitutional — and he staffed his White House transition team with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the architect of the highly controversial NSEERS registry system which was used to monitor the movement of Muslim immigrants under George W. Bush and the first half of the Obama administration.

Earlier this month, Trump surrogate Carl Higbie went on Fox News to defend Trump’s alarming proposals to register Muslims and Muslims Americans. In an appearance on The Kelly File, Higbie suggested that Trump’s proposal for a national Muslim registry has legal precedent: Japanese American incarceration during World War II (for a note on language, see JACL’s Power of Words handbook).

It should come as no surprise that Asian American Studies scholars have something to say about that dubious line of reasoning.

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