LOS ANGELES — Being part of the Manzanar Committee, and having served on the Manzanar National Historic Site Advisory Commission from 1994-2002, I have had the opportunity to meet and work with most of the National Park Service (NPS) employees who have served on staff at Manzanar since it became a unit of the NPS back in 1992.
Since that time, something I’ve said over and over is that the general public, the people of the Owens Valley, and in particular, the Japanese American community, have been extremely fortunate to have such amazing, dedicated, quality people working at Manzanar.
On July 24, I had the opportunity to meet some of the NPS staff working at the Tule Lake Unit of the World War II Valor In The Pacific National Monument, including Superintendent Mike Reynolds and Anna Tamura, Planning Lead for the Tule Lake Unit, Pacific West Region, who is working to develop the General Management Plan (GMP) for Tule Lake (see National Park Service Is “At The Ground Floor” In Planning For Tule Lake).
Although a meeting that lasted just a little over two hours is barely enough to base any sort of judgement on, an educated guess is that the Tule Lake staff is following in the footsteps of their colleagues at Manzanar, in terms of dedication and quality.
Indeed, I was impressed by my interaction with both Reynolds and Tamura, so much so that I asked them what inspired them to, in Reynolds’ case, work at Tule Lake, and in Tamura’s case, get in on the ground floor of the site’s development, and helping determine its long term future.
In Reynolds’ case, he got his start in the Japanese American Incarceration experience at Manzanar National Historic Site.
“My experience at Manzanar was from 2000 to 2004,” he said. “I was actually working at Manzanar and Death Valley National Park. Manzanar was fairly new in its development, at the time, and my role was in administration, but sort of watching the development there and, hopefully, learning from that.”
As much as he learned about the Japanese American Incarceration experience during his time at Manzanar, Reynolds said that his own experiences at a very distant unit of the National Park Service might be equally applicable to his work at Tule Lake.
“I didn’t know a whole lot about [the Japanese American Incarceration experience] prior to working at Manzanar, other than bits and pieces of it,” said Reynolds. “My last four years in American Samoa, working with the Samoan culture, and developing a very new National Park there, I’m finding is very applicable to this job.”
“My experience there was trying to work with the local, indigenous culture, and blend that with the bureaucracy that is the National Park Service, and develop a National Park that is effective in telling the Samoan story,” added Reynolds. “In this case, the principles are the same. We’re taking a complex, rich story that involves Japanese American culture, and the local agricultural culture of Northern California, and trying to tell that story to the American people who may not be aware of it.”
Tamura’s quest for knowledge about her own family’s stories serve as her inspiration, and builds passion into her work.
“I’m like an investigator, or an archeologist, because my family never talked about it,” she lamented. “My grandparents never said one word to me. It’s only in the past ten years, when I’ve actually been working on Tule Lake, that I’ve heard little snippets of our family’s history. It’s essentially gone—they never talked about it. It’s through this process that I can now re-create what their experiences could’ve been.”
“I had an uncle who was a renunciant, and why was that,” she asked. “That was buried for so long.”
Like Reynolds, Tamura was also involved at Manzanar before her work at Tule Lake, having worked on the team that developed their Cultural Landscape Report, published in 2006.
“I’ve been working on the camps for a long time,” said Tamura. “At every single [public] meeting [the Tule Lake GMP scoping sessions], I hear something new, so I’m learning a lot at each meeting.”
Tamura noted that there have been several stories told by Tule Lake survivors that stand out in her mind.
“There was a man who was talking about his own experiences at Tule Lake, and how he was essentially thinking that the United States was a place where he wanted to be, and he considered himself to be a loyal American citizen before World War II,” she said. “But then, he was incarcerated.”
“He was upset that he was unjustly incarcerated, and he answered the [loyalty] questionnaire, and then he was put in the jail,” she added. “It sounded like he may have been tortured. Those kinds of stories—they need to be part of the history.”
“We were at Hood River [Oregon], which was notorious for having the most racism [near Tule Lake]. We went there because all of that [Japanese American] community was sent to Tule Lake. People in that meeting talked about what it was like, and how Japanese American names were scratched off of memorials, and what it was like to be at Tule Lake, and then return. It was intense.”
Gann Matsuda, who writes from Culver City, California, is the Manzanar Committee’s Director, Communications and Social Media/Web Editor.
Unattributed 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 a public meeting on July 24, 2013, in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo, where the National Park Service solicited community feedback regarding the development of the Tule Lake Unit of the World War II Valor In The Pacific National Monument. NPS staff member Anna Tamura, who is featured in this story, is shown here, top left. Photo: Gann Matsuda/Manzanar Committee.
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