Tule Lake is one of 10 War Relocation Authority (WRA) Centers where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during the second World War. Very little of the physical camp remains, but the Tule Lake Committee conducts a biennial Pilgrimage to the area. This year was the 20th Pilgrimage by the Committee. Approximately 350 participants boarded buses at departure points in the California Bay Area, Oregon and Washington for the event, which was held on the Fourth of July weekend.
The Pilgrimage includes discussion groups, educational workshops, and film screenings, which are held on campus at Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls. This is also where participants stay. Off campus activities on the second day are an opportunity to hike up Castle Rock, a memorial service for those who died at Tule Lake and tours of the site. There is a Cultural Program at the Ross Ragland Theater in downtown Klamath Falls on the last night. Besides the structured activities there is time at meals and between sessions to hear the stories of the other pilgrims.
I’d heard about the Pilgrimage about six years ago, from a friend I met on a taiko trip to Japan. It sounded like an incredible experience, and I was really interested in going, but between the every other year schedule for the Pilgrimage and other things happening in my life, I wasn’t able to go until this year.
Unlike many of the pilgrims, I don’t have a direct link to Tule Lake or the camp experience on the Japanese side of my family. The Japanese is on my mother’s side, and they were in Hawaii, where the Japanese were not put in camps en masse. To the best of my knowledge, (which, as someone who I chatted with over the weekend pointed out, might not be the whole of it) my mother’s family was not in a camp and no members were even temporarily detained. My mother was a very small child during the war, and I never thought to ask either of my (now deceased) grandparents. On my father’s (the Euromix) side, I just recently learned that my great-grandfather was a guard at one of the camps in Arkansas. Go figure.
So one might ask why I went. Although I’ve never made a huge point of identifying as a JA, it is part of my heritage. Part that I don’t know much about. The incarceration only got passing mention in any of the history classes I ever had, and even in the JA community there were many years where the camp experience was hardly spoken of. However it is something that should not be forgotten, so events like this Pilgrimage are very important for keeping the stories alive. The people who have first hand experiences to share are not getting any younger, so I wanted to go for that amazing opportunity to listen.
Which is what, starting on the bus ride up and continuing through the entire weekend. Incredible stories, and shared with such graciousness. I feel so fortunate to have been able to go.