Many Californians are familiar with Manzanar, the Owens Valley site of the World War II camp -- now a national monument -- where thousands of Japanese Americans from the western United States were interned because of officials’ fear they might secretly aid the enemy war effort.
Few, however, have heard of Tule Lake, a camp in northern Shasta County just a few miles south of the Oregon border that housed mostly families. As many as 18,700 Japanese Americans were interned at one time at Tule Lake. Now, a small number of former internees and their offspring are attempting to establish a memorial there. They need and deserve help in their effort.
Of the 10 World War II internment camps, only Manzanar and Minidoka in Idaho have been formally designated preservation sites. It’s not likely Congress will invest in Tule Lake as it has Manzanar, which is better known and right on busy U.S. 395. However, it would take little more than a plaque for the Department of the Interior to make Tule Lake a national historic site and preserve what little is left.
The Tule Lake Committee (www.tule lake.org) is establishing a small educational center on a tiny piece of federal land. But there is considerable local resistance to creating a memorial at the camp site, just as there was at Manzanar. Farmers and other landowners have been reluctant to allow surviving buildings to be restored or a museum established because many believe the internment was justified.
“But we won’t stop working to make sure Tule Lake and its stories don’t die,” says 80-year-old Jimi Yamaichi of San Jose, who was 24 when released from the camp in 1946.
About 25 buildings survive at Tule Lake, including the jail Yamaichi helped build, its walls still carrying scratched appeals for help.
The story of Tule Lake is a significant part of California history. Perhaps the state Department of Parks and Recreation, which preserves state historic monuments, can provide some support -- even advice or consultation -- to the Tule Lake Committee.
It’s important to preserve the dark side of history and vow that it never be allowed to happen again.