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The Tule Lake Issues

By Stanley Kansaki

For The North American Post

The National Park Service (NPS) has recently held hearings concerning the Tule Lake Segregation Center issue in several cities. In view of this, there are two issues which need to be addressed and that is about the Tule Lake stockade and the Tule Lake cemetery.

First the stockade. There at Tule Lake exists the remnants of the stockade.  I have heard that there are plans to get funds to re-build this concrete structure. This sounds somewhat dramatic but drama has different meanings. In this case to do so will be a tragedy. Why would this be so? To begin with what did this stockade mean to the Issei who were imprisoned there? Let’s look at what some experienced there while imprisoned. The authorities hauled them into the prison at times not telling them for the reason nor for  how long they would be held. This was followed by interrogation and at times beatings.

The meals were of poor quality and even to go to the bathing facilities required guards to accompany and rush them through. Also, there was no mail going out or coming in. However, a creative method was found to communicate. This was done by the prisoner’s loved ones who stood on the outer side of the barb wired fence and yelled their messages back and forth. So what did the authorities do? They placed wooden boards all around the barb wired fence high enough so there was no more eye contact or verbal communication. It seems in comparison convicted prisoners in regular prisons received better treatment than this.

There is more to be read concerning the stockade issue as found in Michi Nishiura Weglyn’s book “YEARS OF INFAMY: The Untold Story of America’s Concentration Camps.” Among the issues discussed on this subject was that the people of Tule Lake demanded the destruction of the stockade due to the illegalities and the cruelties practiced by the guards.

With this background what must be done first? Instead of re-building the stockade it must be completely destroyed to rubble. And in the aftermath a sign be placed right in the middle of the rubble to read in effect, “Here lies the rubble of the once Tule Lake Stockade a symbol of injustices, cruelties and racism committed within. May such structures never to rise.”

And so then what must be built in direct contrast to the horrid stockade? To answer this let’s go back to the Tule Lake Cemetery which at one time had 331 Issei buried there. When Tule Lake was closed in 1946, the entire cemetery was plowed over for a land fill even when there were still some remains left buried. It is not known who authorized it nor who did the work. One begins to wonder what kind of a human being would desecrate something that is so sacred. Could it be the racist feelings of that era of, “Who the hell cares? They’re ‘Jap’ dead. Plow them over.” Hatred even for the dead.

A few years back in New York the NPS held a hearing about Tule Lake and the issue of the cemetery was brought up. The NPS official at that time claimed no knowledge about the cemetery and was to get back to us upon researching it.  To this day we have not heard from them.

The Japanese hold reverence and honor for their deceased. I remember this from a while back when I first visited the rice village in Japan where my parents came from. There on the grounds are the well-kept cemetery with generations of the past villagers who are buried there. I was told that  annually a religious service is held to honor their dead as it is done in most places in Japan. Then there is the annual Obon Odori where one of the reasons to hold it is to honor our ancestors of the past and to thank them for the good life we are now living.

The former Tule Lakers hold a ceremony during their annual reunion at the plot of land where the cemetery once existed. It is indeed wonderful to do so in the tradition. However, as the years go by it is feared that there will be less and less people who will make the pilgrimage and the sacred land will be forgotten and will return back to nature. So what must be done? It is to build on this site a permanent memorial. This can be accomplished by a dark granite stone wall engraved with all the 331 Issei names who were once buried there. And on another wall, a short history of what happened to the original cemetery. This can all be done with organizations getting together planning and fundraising for this monument in remembrance and in honor of the Tule Lake Issei 331.

When this monument is completed, it will be a great contrast between this monument that will represent love and the stockade that represented hate. The monument will remain forevermore for people arriving singly or in groups for years to come to lay flowers and to offer prayers. And finally, too for the 331 Issei who will at last forever rest in peace and with meiyo, honor.

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The North American Post is a community newspaper that celebrates Japanese culture in the Greater Seattle area. Founded by 1st generation Japanese-Americans in 1902, the publication is one of the oldest minority-owned newspapers in the region. Today, with bilingual articles in English and Japanese, the publication connects readers with diverse cultural backgrounds to Seattle’s Japanese community. Our articles include local news, event calendars, restaurant reviews, Japanese cooking recipes, community interviews, and more.