by James To
On July 24, I attended a public meeting in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo, sponsored by the National Park Service, to provide feedback on the development of the Tule Lake Unit of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.
At the meeting, NPS staff updated the community on the status of Tule Lake, but the main focus was to solicit community input towards the development of a General Management Plan (GMP) that will guide management of Tule Lake for the next twenty years.
The audience, made up of community members, former incarcerees (from Tule Lake and other camps), broke into three small groups, facilitated by a National Park Staff member, and was tasked with discussing several questions regarding the development of Tule Lake:
- What do you value most about the Tule Lake?
- What do you think are the important issues facing the unit and should be addressed in the GMP?
- Imagine you are visiting the Tule Lake twenty years from now. Describe what you would like to experience or not experience.
- Do you think that the purpose and significance statements and interpretive themes capture the essence of the Tule Lake?
There were conversations around the physical boundaries, historical significance, personal stories, and needed structures, as well as assessment of existing structures, and access to the site (roads, walking trails, accessibility for those with physical challenges, and interpretation).
Other concerns included:
- Where did the incarcerees come from (what camps and at what time)?
- Where did they go after leaving Tule Lake?
- The impact on individuals and families: What did they do?
- What was different at Tule Lake vs. other concentration camps?
- How was the physical environment similar or different to other camps (guard towers, barbed wire, machine guns facing in, search lights, soldiers and the existence of tanks on site)?
Also brought up in the discussions was that having the proper historical perspective and understanding of the incarceration is necessary, and that in order to tell Tule Lake’s story accurately, there must be a focus upon the periods before, during and after World War II, not to mention the fact that the impact on the incarcerees after camp is necessary to understand the impact that this had on civil liberties, social structures, economic impact, psychological affects and political well-being of the community.
The gathering of oral histories, artifacts and development of replica structures and restoring existing buildings were also discussed. On-site resources, as well as the possibility of virtual resources, were discussed as part of the purpose and mission of Tule Lake, to educate and remind the community of the events that were influenced by the incarceration.
Also mentioned was the need for community input on an ongoing basis, above and beyond what the Tule Lake Committee has done for many years, to provide community oversight, advice and input for the development of the Tule Lake.
Another concern was not identifying (at this time) advocates at the local, state and federal levels to champion Tule Lake. The importance of a legislative voice at the local level, as well as a national vision, is important to the viability and vision of the plan and mission—to convey the importance of Tule Lake, and why the story is important to be preserved and told to the future generations and the community-at-large—legislators at local, state and federal levels are needed to advocate on behalf of Tule Lake, the Tule Lake Committee, and community towards the recognition of “historical site” status.
While more work is necessary to establish Tule Lake, the effort to protect, preserve and archive the site is important—the community and the National Park Service must continue that work. The work of the Tule Lake Committee has taken a principal role in creating public awareness of Tule Lake, and assure that we do not forget the time and freedoms lost in camp. As community members, we need to support this effort by adding our voices.
If you wish to provide feedback to the National Park Service for the General Management Plan, there are several public meetings. You can also check their web site at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=535&projectID=46412&documentID=53828.
Written comments are also welcomed, but must be submitted by October 11, 2013.
James To, a member of the Manzanar Committee, writes from Monterey Park, California.
The views expressed in this story are those of the author, and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.
LEAD PHOTO: One of the small group discussions during the National Park Service’s
July 24, 2013 General Management Plan scoping meeting in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. Manzanar Committee member James To, the author of this story, is seated at right (blue shirt). Photo: Gann Matsuda/Manzanar Committee.
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Last year I completed a tour of all ten concentration camp sites. Tule Lake is badly in need of preservation and restoration efforts. But so is Topaz, Minidoka, Heart Mountain, Amache, Gila River Butte Camp and Rohwer. It’s already too late for Gila River Canal Camp and Jerome. There are still many artifacts at some sites that need to be preserved. For example at Amache and Gila River Butte camp, many construction scraps can still be found at spots that would have been under the buildings. Hurry!
Instead of each site having a preservation group, one organization should take all of them under it’s wing and “just do it;”