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 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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Former Japanese American Internee Answers Questions in “Ask Me Anything” Feature on Reddit

George Takei will be performing alongside a star-studded cast of Asian American Broadway and TV actors in the upcoming musical, "Allegiance", which tells about life in an internment camp.

A Japanese American woman, now a grandmother, was interned at Tule Lake during WWII. Recently, on Reddit, she was featured on their “I Am A…” schedule. For hours, she answered user-submitted questions, which were translated and typed up by the woman’s daughter and granddaughter.

Through the course of the interview, the granddaughter learned that her grandmother was a “no-no boy”, having answered ‘no’ to two loyalty questions distributed to internees a year prior to the end of internment. Those questions were:

  • “Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty wherever ordered?”
  • “Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, to any other foreign government, power or organization?”

Having been born a United States citizen, the IAmA internee featured on Reddit spent a great deal of time agonizing over her answers before choosing to answer “no”. In so doing, she renounced her American citizenship and became statesless; after internment, she eventually regained her citizenship. She writes (with her granddaughter adding comments in the brackets):

We renounced our citizenship about a year before we left [the internment camps] to stay with our parents. One of the questions was “Did we have any loyalty to the Japanese Emperor?”. Many people didn’t like that question. We were born in America. Why would we have any loyalty to the Japanese Emperor?

(She’s referring to the loyalty questions. She didn’t talk about it this time, but she usually tells me that after the questionare came out, they had meetings every night to try to figure out what to answer. At the time there were rumors going around that everyone would be shipped back to Japan. If they said they weren’t loyal, they would be alienated in Japan (as well as the United States). If they answered yes, she would probably be able to stick with her parents.)

I also learned through this post about the internment camp stockades, basically a jail built to hold unruly interns. It’s described here:

She didn’t know much about them at all. I personally had never heard of it until I went to the pilgrimage. I was like 14 at the time so I don’t remember much, but here’s what I do remember. I remember that it was built to only hold somewhere around 30 people and something like 100 people ended up there. It was built using really nice concrete, so it’s the only building that remains standing. Someone was really nice and donated a cover that was built over it so it would be preserved. We got to go inside and it was really dark and creepy and there were poems on the wall (and graffiti from taggers). It’s not surprising though. If people would go through and dig up a cemetery, graffiti on a wall is nothing.

The full feature is quite fascinating. This link contains the cleaned up version of both questions and answers (minus Reddit user comments).

While we’re on the topic, check out the website for Allegiance, an upcoming musical starring George Takei and the incredible, incredible Lea Salonga, which follows a story set in Japanese American internment camps. The show opens at the Old Globe in San Diego Sept 7-19.