Camp Pilgrimages and the 4th of July
by Jenni "Emiko" Kuida


Top 10 Reasons To Attend Camp Pilgrimages

10. To see firsthand that this was NOT Summer Camp.
9. To symbolically experience the dust, wind and heat.
8. To take photographs and oral histories about the camps.
7. To learn more about the history of our people.
6. To remember the struggles and determination of our Issei relatives.
5. To show respect for those who never left camp.
4. To share with non-JAs a part of American history they probably didn’t learn in school.
3. To stimulate family discussions and documentation of YOUR family’s story.
2. To understand how racism and immigrant-bashing relates in today’s world.
1. To educate ourselves about the causes of E.O. 9066 so that it never happens again.

Although most eligible Japanese Americans have received their redress checks, it’s still not over for some. Regardless, many people want to move forward and put the past behind them. Others may say that Japanese American internment isn’t relevant for them because their families were not interned in the camps.

But it is important that those of us in the younger generations support the efforts of people who fought for redress, people who continue to educate and vigilantly work towards preserving that part of our nation’s history. They do that in spite of people like Lillian Baker and the Americans for Historical Accuracy who are mobilizing to "whitewash" history by saying that camps were for our own protection. Or they may even tell you that the camps didn’t happen.

***

I went on my first of three Manzanar Pilgrimages in 1992 during the LA community’s 50 Year Remembrance of Japanese American Internment events. That year, over 2,000 people attended the pilgrimage.

It was a pivotal experience for me as a Sansei who knew very little about the camps. As a result, it encouraged me to explore my Japanese American heritage, ask questions about my family’s history, and to become involved in the community.

Later that year, I also attended the Gila River Pilgrimage and Reunion in Arizona with my family. My dad and his family were interned at Gila River. Although no barracks or buildings exist today, feeling the desert heat, seeing foundations, concrete steps, fishponds, perfume bottles, cookware, rusted barbed wire, and simply being in the middle of the desert made it very real to me.

My boyfriend and I are excited about going on the Tule Lake Pilgrimage this Fourth of July Weekend. Over 200 people are expected to attend. We’re driving from LA to Sacramento, then taking the 8-hour bus ride to Tule Lake. Other buses will be leaving from the Bay Area as well.

While most Americans will celebrate our nation’s "independence" with fireworks and barbecues this Thursday, we’ll be traveling to Tule Lake: A place where as many as 28,000 internees spent several Fourth of Julys imprisoned in a high-security concentration camp.

Many misconceptions about Tule Lake exist and some consider this the camp for the "disloyals." This is a result of the loyalty oath questionnaire that the War Relocation Authority used to determine the "disloyalty" of the internees in 1943. The two infamous loyalty questions are as follows:

Loyalty Question No. 27. Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty wherever ordered?

Loyalty Question No. 28. Will we swear unqualified allegiance to the USA and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, to any other foreign government, power or organization?

Internees who qualified their answers or responded "no-no" on the loyalty questions were sent to Tule Lake. Questions framed to determine the "disloyalty" of 100,000 people was a lose-lose situation. These were hardworking people who had lost everything and had their rights completely stripped away from them. If you put yourself in the shoes of the internees, how would you respond today?

***

The Tule Lake Committee, National Coalition for Redress and Reparations (NCRR) in San Francisco and the Sansei Legacy Project are sponsoring this weekend’s pilgrimage. The Committee has designed the pilgrimage around 4 days of exploring emotions and sharing stories through inter-generational group discussions and oral history sessions.

Included in the weekend are Camp Tours, a cultural program of Asian American writers and performing artists, a Tule Lake slide show and an Interfaith Memorial Service for those who did not live to see redress. I’m looking forward to learning more about Tule Luke.

It’s important to see the connections between the past and how it threatens to repeat in the future. The Alien Land Laws of 1913 and the Asian Exclusion Act of 1924 against "aliens ineligible for citizenship," focused on Issei immigrants. Such laws were precursors to Executive Order 9066 which affected thousands of American-born children.

In 1994, we saw scapegoating and targeting of undocumented immigrants through Proposition 187. Now, we face proposed federal legislation attempting to cut benefits and deny public services to legal residents, including thousands of American-born children. This November, we will see the anti-affirmative action California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI) on the ballot, which threatens the rights of qualified women and people of color.

***

So, back to the "Top 10 Reasons to Attend Camp Pilgrimages" List. Sansei, Yonsei and Hapa-sei, let’s take it upon ourselves to learn about our history and apply them to the present. We can read books like Michi Weglyn’s "Years of Infamy" and Mine Okubo’s "Citizen 13360"... We can write letters in support of Ross Hopkins of the National Park Service, and support the Manzanar Committee so that in the future, we can stop at the Manzanar Interpretive Center on our way to Lake Crowley and Mammoth... We can take part in pilgrimages and camp reunions for the 10 reasons listed above.

I encourage former internees to talk to your kids and grandkids about your experiences as part of your own healing process. I challenge us younger folks to continue these legacies started for us and to ensure that the past isn’t repeated.

As you watch the fireworks this 4th of July, I hope you’ll take a moment to remember your roots.

Upcoming Pilgrimages and Reunions:

7/4-7/7 Tule Lake Pilgrimage
8/16-8/17 Crystal City Reunion
9/6-9/8 Jerome Camp Reunion III - Torrance Marriott
10/3-10/6 Topaz Mini Cruise to Vancouver
10/7-10/9 Manzanar High School Reunion - Las Vegas California Club
1997 Gila River Reunion



Originally published in The Rafu Shimpo, July 2, 1996

Updated: 11/10/02

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