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This Year’s Pilgrimage

Here a few reflections on this year’s Tule Lake Pilgrimage, from the 2014 United to End Racism (UER) team1:


At the opening plenary, after Jan2 taught all the participants how to do a mini-session, the leaders of the pilgrimage warmly welcomed the UER delegation. They asked us all to stand, thanked us for our work, and let people know that we would be organizing the Intergenerational Discussion Groups.

This was the first time we had been so publicly acknowledged. It helped us appreciate how our years of relationship building had strengthened our connection to many leaders of the pilgrimage. They are coming to better understand and appreciate our work and to trust us more. The participants are more eager to share their thoughts and reflections with us. All this makes what we do at the pilgrimage even more possible.


Various forms of intergenerational discussions have been part of the pilgrimage since its beginning. Until the UER team began organizing them, however, they were a hidden part of the program. Also, we have been told that earlier discussion groups left participants with headaches and feeling sunk. There were also conflicts in the groups between families who had taken different approaches to the loyalty questionnaire.3

Now the calls we make to the elders beforehand mean that we have a good sense of how each of them is doing, how to set things up so that they are able to use a group’s attention, and what they may want to talk about during the one-way time they receive. Each group is also put together with great care to make sure that facilitators and elders are well matched, that family members have a chance to be together and hear from one another, and that inter-family politics during the war don’t lead to unnecessary conflict.

Every year more families tell us how they get to hear stories they have never heard before, how children get to see their parents and grandparents cry in a safe and supportive space, how groups laugh and laugh together and people reach for each other. People don’t leave with headaches anymore! They leave connected and hopeful, with faces that are open and bright.

Another thing we noticed this year is that the oldest generation (today’s Nisei generation4) of elders is aging rapidly. They are in their eighties and nineties. At the 2012 pilgrimage there were fifty elders and in 2014 there were only thirty-five. Also, with elders who were younger during their time in the camps, the discussion in the intergenerational groups changes a little. The elders who were younger talk less about what they experienced during the camps and more about their experience after they left the camps. Most families left with nothing to return to. The adults worked at any jobs they could get, often as houseboys or farmworkers. The young people found that former neighborhood or school friends were no longer friendly and instead called them names and threw rocks at them.


The UER team members have learned to work together. We have a relaxed unity, even when we are spread out across a room or in very different parts of the pilgrimage. We have used the discharge process to fight through our internalized oppression so that we can keep working better and better together and loving each other more.

Many of us have opened up to more of our own feelings about the incarceration. We feel more and are able to keep thinking more at the same time. We are more quickly making deeper connections with other pilgrimage leaders and participants. We are more present and less preoccupied with a set of tasks.

Jan Yoshiwara, Lois Yoshishige,
Sue Yoshiwara, Mike Ishii, Betsy
Hasegawa, Karen Young, Mary Ruth
Gross, Alix Mariko Webb
Reprinted from the e-mail discussion
list for RC Community members

1 The Tule Lake Pilgrimage is a biannual pilgrimage to the site of the Tule Lake Camp, one of the ten concentration camps in which the U.S. government interned Japanese Americans during World War II. United to End Racism (a project of the RC Communities) has sent a team of Co-Counselors to the last four pilgrimages. For more background on this project, see the article on page 62 of this
2 Jan Yoshiwara, the International Liberation Reference Person for Japanese-Heritage People and the overall leader of the UER team
3 In 1943, all incarcerated Japanese Americans over seventeen years of age were asked to fill out a “loyalty questionnaire.” It asked two crucial questions: (1) whether they would be completely obedient to serving in U.S. combat duty, and (2) whether they would swear allegiance to the United States and renounce the Japanese emperor or any other foreign government. Any heads of households, and often their whole families, who answered inadequately (with anything other than a simple “yes”), or refused to answer a question, were proclaimed “disloyal” and put on trains to Tule Lake. They were often referred to as “no-no” families.
4 Nisei generation means generation of Japanese Americans born in the United States or Canada to parents who emigrated from Japan.

Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00