On Feb. 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which led to the forcible relocation of more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent — at least 70,000 of whom were American citizens — to internment camps.
Of the 10 detention centers in which Japanese-Americans were imprisoned, Tule Lake on the southern Oregon border was in many ways the most notorious. It was where the U.S. government kept those who had answered “no” to one of two questions on a loyalty questionnaire all internees filled out in 1943. Question number 27 asked whether men would be willing to serve in the U.S. armed forces. Question number 28 asked whether the internee would forswear loyalty to the Japanese emperor.
Satsuki Ina was born in the Tule Lake camp. “Think Out Loud” spoke to her in 2016 at the biannual gathering of internees and their families known as the Tule Lake Pilgrimage.
“This [questionnaire] posed a huge crisis for many people. The elders … were first generation immigrants who were not allowed to own land, or to become citizens … so they were afraid that they were going to be deported [no matter how they answered], and they didn’t want to split up the family. Because their children were born in America and they were American citizens.”
Many people who simply refused to answer the questionnaire at all as protest of their treatment were also sent to Tule Lake and deemed disloyal to the U.S. government.
Ina’s parents did not speak about their experiences in Tule Lake when she was growing up. “Even people in our own community looked down on people who said no/no,” said Ina. “Anybody that was associated with Tule Lake was viewed as someone who could make the whole community look bad.”
Ina did not really begin learning about internment until 1988, when President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, a formal apology and reparation that acknowledged internment was motivated by “racial prejudice, war hysteria and the failure of political leadership.”
Ina’s father kept a haiku poetry journal while he was incarcerated that she had translated after he died. That is how she learned everything she knows about his experiences during the war. “It was a constant poetry of pain,” she said.
“Think Out Loud” asked Ina what she would say to her father if he were still alive.
“I would want him to know that I’m respectful for the decisions he made and that I don’t feel any shame. I’m really grateful for what he was willing to endure on our behalf.”
Ina, who is a practicing psychotherapist, says many Japanese-Americans still suffer from the trauma of internment. “We know that trauma can be passed on intergenerationally,” says Ina. “The way it gets manifested for us is that we have to constantly prove that were worthy of being here, of even participating in this process.”
Ina says that much of the rhetoric of the 2016 election feels very familiar to people taking part in the Tule Lake Pilgrimage. “The ranting and fear mongering about a specific targeted group is exactly what was happening even before Pearl Harbor.”