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A Brutal History

One elder at this year’s Tule Lake Pilgrimage* had many stories to tell about how badly the incarcerated people had been treated. He had been coming on the pilgrimage for decades, but only this year did he feel he could tell the following story.

He said that in the stockade there were two barracks, one for women and one for men and that before deportation each prisoner was strip-searched. He said that one day he went down to the trains where they were loading people for deportation and saw there some young girls (ages thirteen or fourteen) “wailing hysterically, inconsolably.” He asked their mothers what was wrong, and they told him that the white male soldiers in the barracks had been strip-searching all the female prisoners and molesting the children. He went to investigate and overheard the soldiers bragging to one another about who had molested the most girls.

When the elder told this story at the site of the camp to a group of twenty-five people, everyone gasped. Then after about five seconds, their faces became like masks, showing no emotion. They just stared stonily, straight ahead. I realized that many of the ways that I had struggled to feel emotion in my own life were rooted in a survival strategy adopted in my culture.

I think it’s important that this form of racism, sexism and male domination, and predation on children be exposed fully before the survivors have all passed on. It’s part of revealing the full extent of the hurts my people experienced during their imprisonment. Before I began volunteering at the pilgrimage, I had never heard about these sexual-violence atrocities or the torture and other violence and coercion that went on at the camps. My people have remained stoic about these experiences, struggling under the weight of undischarged trauma and often just blaming and attacking one another.

Tule Lake is in a desolately beautiful place, but the history of this place is full of suffering. The war by the U.S. government on the Indigenous Modoc people; their forced removal from the land; the genocidal, racist policies of the Bureau of Indian Affairs under Dillon Meyers, who ran the Japanese American concentration camps; the horrible events of Tule Lake Segregation Center; the desecration of the Japanese American cemetery at Tule Lake; the old housing on the site of the camp now used for Mexican migrant farm workers. Genocide, racism, sexism, classism—all intersecting here. The suffering is everywhere; it is palpable and it is profound.

It’s good that the United to End Racism team is here, thinking about the complexities of this and about all of the people connected: the Japanese-heritage survivors and their families, the Japanese community, the Parks Department workers, the townspeople, and so many others. It’s good that we put our minds toward healing the hurts in every way that we can figure out.

I am proud to be with my people at this place. When I am here, I am in solidarity with people everywhere. Something gets righted.

Mike Ishii
Sunnyside, New York, USA
Reprinted from the e-mail discussion
list for RC Community members 


* See  articles in PT177 on page 62 "United to End Racism at Tule Lake" and

  page 65 "This Year's Pilgrimage".

 


Last modified: 2020-07-02 14:27:35+00