Resistance at Tule Lake

The WWII incarceration of 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans is not a universally known chapter of our country’s history. Perhaps still not even well known. And even to many of those who have some knowledge of it, the storyline runs that the incarcerees were cooperative, and went peacefully and willingly. Often invoked is the Japanese phrase “shikata ga nai” – “it can’t be helped” or “nothing can be done about it” – that one must accept circumstances beyond one’s control, along with “gaman” – that one must endure with patience and dignity.

Although I had some basic knowledge of the incarceration (also/formerly known as internment), until I went on the Tule Lake Pilgrimage in 2014 I did not know that Tule Lake had been designated as the segregation center for those who had answered the United States government’s loyalty questionnaire “incorrectly” and so were considered “dis-loyal”. As the movie Resistance at Tule Lake documents, there were incarcerees who did not go along with, and in fact pushed back against being illegally imprisoned.

The incarceration is a complex and multi-faceted story, and this film is an important testament to more of the experiences that were had during that time. The film is now available on iTunes and DVD, but I got to see it as part of a Day of Remembrance event put on by the Sonoma County Chapter of the JACL. After the film, there was a panel discussion moderated by Gaye LeBaron, with Henry Kaku and James Okamura generously sharing the experiences of their families who were incarcerated at Tule Lake. The hall at Enmanji Temple was filled to capacity, and, especially in these times when some history seems to be repeating itself, it was encouraging to see the interest in hearing and keeping the stories of resistance alive.

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