By David Inoue, JACL Executive Director
Earlier this month, I attended the Tule Lake Pilgrimage as one of three that I am able to attend this year. Previously, I went to Jerome-Rohwer, which is especially important in the discussion today over the detention of children as the government investigates the possibility of placing a new concentration camp for children overlapping several acres of the Rohwer site. I will be finishing the month at Heart Mountain.
The pilgrimages are vitally important to our community in healing the deep and persevering wounds of incarceration. There is perhaps no place where this is more true than at Tule Lake.
For those incarcerated at Tule Lake, there are the scars of the injustices inflicted by our government that are common to many who experienced incarceration, but also the ostracism many experienced from others in the Japanese American community and charges of disloyalty.
Hindsight is so often clearer, and the revelations of the depths of deception from our government make what happened all the more disturbing. What there can be no doubt about is the difficult situation everyone was placed in during the war. Decisions needed to be made on how to respond to what was happening to our community, and unfortunately, that often meant choosing a side, sometimes splitting families apart.
I often think through the “What If” scenarios. I was raised in the Anabaptist pacifist tradition and have thought myself a conscientious objector. Yet, I have never experienced the draft or been forced to put this claim to the test. How would I really respond if forced into service?
If anything, it does imbue within me a great sense of respect for those who are willing to go to battle and do something my own personal conscience would not allow me to do. It also means I will fight that we should never need to ask anyone to make the sacrifice of taking another’s life in the name of our country. It is from this perspective that I approach the divisions within our community.
JACL is responsible for ensuring that the story of Japanese Americans continues to be remembered and is brought to relevance to today’s concerns. The theme of resistance, for those who were sent to Tule Lake, is especially relevant today and was especially poignant at the pilgrimage, which I attended the weekend before the Fourth of July.
Following a memorial service to those who died at Tule Lake and those lost since, all pilgrimage attendees gathered in front of the prison building in protest of the inhumane family separation policy of our government for migrant families. This also coincided with the nationwide protests going on that day.
It is powerful when we as a Japanese American community can speak together of the injustice that was done upon our community during the war. It is even more important when we can bring that moral authority to the challenges of today whether it is the Muslim ban, family separation or the denial of service from a business.
When we say “Never Again,” we must also mean that we will never again be divided, and we will stand together as Japanese Americans against injustice.
One of the special aspects of this year’s JACL National Convention in Philadelphia will be the concurrent film festival. Among the films to be shown are “Resistance at Tule Lake” and “And Then They Came for Us,” two films that highlight the idea of resistance — past and present — that is a part of our convention theme.
It is my hope that we can also find some reconciliation within our community and embrace the fullness of our Japanese American experience during the war and bring that full experience to bear against the injustices we see today.
David Inoue is Executive Director of the JACL. He is based in the organization’s Washington, D.C., office.