Tule Lake Pilgrimage

July 3-6, 2008

I wasn't an internee at Tule Lake, but this didn't matter to the others present – in fact, some were themselves only marginally connected to Tule Lake because they and/or their families had initially been "assigned" there, but for some reason were transferred early on to one or another of the other nine concentration camps – there was often a poignant interchange when someone found out that not only had they or their family been transferred to Heart Mountain or Amache, but so was the person they were talking to – mostly everyone was so much younger then, that they didn't remember the others from having been at the same camp back then...

Without putting too much hocus-pocus stuff on it, there were a couple of incidents that happened that at least gives one pause....one family, because of their own internal conflicts, was literally torn apart when Tule Lake was closed down and the last internees were "released" – the father, mother, and older brother opted to return to Japan because they had nothing left here to return to, and the younger son, who'd been inducted into the army, chose to stay – there was much acrimony and hurt with this breakup, which the younger son carried with him for some 60 years – in his words, he harbored a deep hatred for his brother, and for his mother, who he felt abandoned him during that deeply painful period of his life. Without either knowing the other was attending this weekend, the two brothers came together and in a heart-warming serendipitous happening, reunited at the pilgrimage. The daughter of one of the brothers was also there, and witnessed the healing of this 60-year old heartbreak. All she had known of her uncle was whatever hate-filled sentiment her father had shared over the years with her family – well, nary a dry eye around...
In another reuniting, two sisters who'd not seen each other since leaving Tule Lake 60 years ago, met at the pilgrimage – theirs wasn't a hate-wracked parting of ways, but it was still painful at the time, and their reunion was as poignant and memorable...

Question: What did I bring away with me from the pilgrimage…? A little sorrow for not having talked with Gr/ma Ann and Gr/pa Nagai in a formal way when they were still alive about our family’s experiences at camp. It would have been difficult because of the pain they still harbored for their experiences til the very end, but not having done so was a true loss. Deep disappointment that when Gr/ma Ann moved out of her home to Janet’s when she needed care that we somehow lost all of the family photo albums, including a treasury of albums from camp. A real loss, that - really…! Gratefulness to Gr/ma Ann and Gr/pa Nagai for how they shielded us from any negative feelings they harbored from the experience behind barbed wire. They must have had a deep reservoir of such pain, and when I think on it a bit, there had to have been times when it leaked out in something they said, the way they said something, or in a look on their face. Still, through all this I didn’t pick up any negative attitude about the country, the government, the military, or anything else connected with the internment, unless you consider the over-the-top 200% American philosophy that was a mainstay in our home - me thinks an over-compensation and manifestation of the deeper roots. I think the biggest thing that occurred to me during the pilgrimage, or more recurred to me as a result of being there, was that family is so very important, and my sentiments and valuing of family now have their roots in all those formative experiences during and after the war...


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