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Perspective and Thoughts on the 2018 Tule Lake Pilgrimage


I have never attended a Tule Lake Pilgrimage, however, I was incarcerated at Amache, one of the other ten U.S. concentration camps of WWII. So, Amache was my primary focus of interest. As early as 1994, I attended an Amache Reunion in Las Vegas. Since 2008, I have volunteered with the Denver University Anthropology Department's Summer graduates study and Archaeological Field Survey of the Amache site, led by Dr. Bonnie Clark. She accepted volunteers inviting former internees and family members. My grandson Dante Hilton-Ono and I volunteered in 2008 and in 2014, my grandson Chava Valdez-Ono I volunteered.

Because of my background experiences, I was invited by Richard Murakami to read what the JANM volunteers wrote about their 2018 pilgrimage experience and to write my reactions and thoughts based on my perspective.

A photo of my grandson, Chava Valdez-Ono attending the Amache July, 2018 Denver University Field School session, standing in front of an information kiosk describing his great-grandfather and Japanese namesake, Sam Masami Ono’s creation of an archaeological point of interest.

My earliest knowledge of Tule Lake was based on its bad reputation. The camp was often considered, the worst camp out of the ten US concentration camps because of all the negative publicity at the time of angry internee uprisings and demonstrations against forced removal and incarceration. There were also reported violent incidences between the “rebels” and the “loyal/cooperative” Japanese Americans, in essence, the Issei/Kibei versus the Nisei. Tule Lake was eventually re-designated as the segregation prison camp where the disloyal from the other nine camps were sent.

Like for many, that’s what I heard about Tule Lake during the post-war years. Now, it is nice to learn that the negative reputation and impressions of Tule Lake were eventually corrected and repaired by the passing of time and revealed truths. Wendy Hirota addressed this nicely in her comments: “This was a bad rap that is not deserved. In fact, today Tule Lake is heralded for holding the brave and honest resistors of America’s Japanese prisoners. They protested the unlawful incarceration and didn’t just accept what was dictated for the majority of their race. These impassioned inmates suffered consequences of ostracization by their own and through segregation and family separation, and for many, deportation from the US.”

The following are my thoughts and reactions to the personal comments generously offered by the attendees to the 2018 pilgrimage to Tule Lake:

They almost unanimously expressed how well organized the Tule Lake Pilgrimage Committee was and were impressed with the variety of programs presented. Yae Aihara regaled the special red-tag treatment given to the senior attendeesShe said “the age-old Japanese trait of respect for elders was very evident and we toshiyoris (elders) really appreciated it.”

All who attended the pilgrimage appreciated the Oregon Institute of Technology accommodations and cafeteria. June Aoki complimented the meals as “super.” While Ben Furuta was impressed by the “share out” on the first evening in which they spoke and listened to each other and learned from their interactions. Likewise, Evan Kodani felt that the workshops helped people share their stories. For the younger attendees it was good to hear and learn from elders. Evan hopes that spirit of open sharing continues.

There were some minor concerns expressed that perhaps there was too much of a good thing. Nathan Gluck, who had attended a Tule Lake Pilgrimage before and has visited six other concentration camps, regretted missing some programs because of a packed schedule. Barbara Mikami Keimi enjoyed the intergenerational discussion group, but she was disappointed in not having more time to talk with others. Masako Koga Murakami was surprised to learn she was the only one who had been in this camp amongst the attendees of their intergenerational workshop group. She wanted to learn more but ended up being the person with the information. Also Masako feels Tule Lake should be honored as a symbol for a brave stance for justice. Like Wendy Hirota, Masako says, the “true” Tule Lake story must be told and kept alive for a more accurate American history.

As mentioned earlier, Tule Lake was the notorious concentration camp and its inmates deserve more positive recognition. The prisoners here deserve praise for their brave outspokenness and courage for acting-out their anger at the US government for the unlawful violation of their civil rights. Like Wendy Hirota, Masako says, the “true” Tule Lake story must be told and kept alive for a more accurate American history.

Richard Murakami in his essay, My Experience with Nikkei Children at the 2018 Tule Lake Pilgrimage and Lisa Nakamura’s Connecting Across Generations About Incarceration: A Young Girl Uses Art to Show What She Learned about Richard Murakami’s Story both presented their impressions of the 2018 Tule Lake Pilgrimage. Both spoke about the participation of Lisa’s daughter, eight-year-old Akina who managed to illustrate the incarceration story as told my Richard during one of the intergenerational sharing workshops.

Richard told his family story and so moved Lisa Nakamura’s daughter Akina who listened intently and was drawing pictures while soaking-in his moving story. Richard observed this and later asked Akina’s mother, Lisa Nakamura if he could see the drawing. Richard considers this experience the high-point of his attendance at the 2018 Tule Lake Pilgrimage. He now has an Akina original, personally signed by her.

Dr. Lisa Nakamura, a clinical psychologist who works with children, was the perfect witness to what transpired at the intergenerational workshop between Richard and her daughter, Akina. Lisa describes how her daughter seemed to be fidgeting while she listened to Mr. Murakami’s emotionally descriptive story about how he only recently learned from his brother, Dan, how the incarceration had impacted his mother so strongly. Dan took his mother to Tule Lake after a visit to Oregon in 1972 and she broke out in tears and cried incessantly. Dan told Richard about this just before the Tule Lake Pilgrimage.

What resonated most for me about Lisa’s comments was that after saying, “setting a stage for enabling a connection between a former inmate and a young child is not easy,” was this following statement, “Children who listen and reflect a former inmate’s story can potentially play an invaluable role. They breathe hope for aging former inmates that the next generation can carry their stories and its lessons forward.” I think Richard was moved by this, as was I.

I can imagine if Dr. Lisa Nakamura and Dr. Satsuki Ina, her colleague in the child psychotherapy profession, could interview and research the impact of children and their parents being separated at the border, it would parallel some of the separations that took place during the various WWII Japanese family break-ups over the loyalty oaths.

My family experienced a separation that I believe served as such an example.

Richard who was instrumental in organizing the JANM volunteers 2018 Tule Lake Pilgrimage was responsible for encouraging everyone to write their impressions of their visit. He was also the one to invited me to read and write my reactions to their comments. He along with the comments by the other attendees strongly convinced and influenced my decision to attend the 2020 Tule Lake Pilgrimage. We should honor and recognize the importance of Tule Lake as one of the more historically significant venues for the outspoken stance for justice it and its occupants represented. Tule Lake should stand-out amongst the ten concentration camps for voicing its legitimate concerns against justice denied!


© 2018 Gary T. Ono

California concentration camps pilgrimages Tule Lake concentration camp United States World War II camps
About this series

In the summer months, many people take pilgrimages to the sites of where there were Japanese American concentration camps during World War II. Sansei initially started visits to these locations in the late 1960s. At that time, Japanese American youth had grown up knowing little about the World War II experiences of their family members. With a hunger to know more, these initial pilgrimages served as a direct connection to the experiences of parents or grandparents. Now, these pilgrimages teach younger generations not just of Japanese ancestry about a dark time in American history and provide a chance to engage with individuals who were incarcerated at the camps.

This series documents the perspectives of several people of varying age who attended a pilgrimage to the Tule Lake concentration camp in the summer of 2018. Some of these people like Richard Murakami had been incarcerated as a youth while others like Lisa Nakamura took her young children to experience the pilgrimage for the first time.

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About the Author

Gary T. Ono, is a Sansei transplant from San Francisco, California who now resides in the Little Tokyo area of Los Angeles. He is a volunteer photographer for the nearby Japanese American National Museum. In 2001, he was awarded a California Civil Liberties Public Education Program grant to produce a video documentary, Calling Tokyo: Japanese American Radio Broadcasters of World War II. This story about what his father did during the war sparked his interest in his Japanese American and family history, which richly fills his senior moments.

Updated May 2013

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