“Inside the fence; outside the fence. What is community, what is home?”
The park ranger kept coming back to these themes as she sought to teach us to find our own lessons during a tour of the Tule Lake Segregation Center, considered the harshest of the archipelago of incarceration/concentration “internment camps” for people of Japanese ancestry residing primarily on the West Coast during WWII. At Tule Lake, racism, fear, and opportunism lead to the construction of a prison, on a dry lakebed from scratch, for over 18,000 uncharged, innocent citizens and residents, forced to be there on short notice often via a journey that included horse stalls and guarded by a battalion at a time when one might have thought such material and human resources were essential to the war effort.
Tule Lake is in far Northeastern California; it is not so easy to get to and the center is not well-preserved. Yet enough structures remain to serve as a focus for powerful storytelling tours and pilgrimages (here’s George Takei, last month, at 3:37 he specifically talks about hysteria, racism, and opportunistic politics). My visiting Tule Lake with a Japanese relative was a personal quest to understand our intersecting histories, but I could not stop thinking about Trumpism’s approach to Muslim people and people of Mexican ancestry.
Language and Concepts Matter: The Tule Lake Segregation Center tour described the experience both inside the fence, that is, from the perspective of the innocent-American-citizen-and-resident-prisoners, and outside the fence, meaning literally the local townspeople, and metaphorically, the rest of American society at the time. Two short films capture, without irony, the outside-the-fence-propaganda with sanitized pictures of the inside-the-fence reality. In “Japanese Relocation” the narrator makes no distinction between Japanese militarists in Japan and people of Japanese ancestry in the US. The propaganda words “evacuation” and “relocation” provide the excuse for the actual racism, hysteria, and desire to confiscate Japanese American land, property, and businesses, literally depriving them of liberty and the pursuit of happiness if not quite totally depriving them of life. In “Challenge to Democracy” the narrator states “the people are not under suspicion, they are not prisoners, they are not internees, they are merely dislocated people”; the virtues of the people and the supposedly-thriving cultural life of the “camp community” are displayed. Walking around the dry, hot, dusty landscape listening to the ranger sharing stories, and researching things online, I tried to listen and imagine what the victims of this injustice might have felt some 73 years ago. But I also thought about what is now discussed daily in the USA, where Trumpism conflates Muslims worldwide, Muslim American citizens, and Muslim residents disgustingly with terrorism.
Proposals Matter: Part of the infamy of Tule Lake has to do with poorly worded loyalty questions, questions #27 and #28, recalled via a Remembrance Project. Old idea, old bad social science, can’t happen here again, right? Gingrich, a key contributor to Trumpism, proposed a loyalty test. Nehlen wants to have a debate about deporting all Muslims. Trump has proposed bans and entrance tests for Muslims entering the US, and increased surveillance and scrutiny for Muslim communities within the US and it seems to be resonating with some. This toxic set of proposals is in addition to his hateful rhetoric towards Mexican citizens, Mexican immigrants, and Mexican Americans and his gleeful promises to build the wall.
I know the dKos Community will continue to work and donate and advocate. Hopefully on November 9 we will awaken to President-elect Hillary Clinton, a Senate Majority of at least +1 without counting Vice-President Elect Tim Kaine’s vote, a clear path forward for the Supreme Court, and at least a better situation in the House. But even if this deep electoral success occurs, our national discourse has been degraded in part by our national media’s false equivalence: The Overton Window, the “window of discourse”, now includes language and ideas that were tragically implemented at Tule Lake. Perhaps our response to Trumpism’s proposed treatment of people of Muslim faith and culture (and of Mexican ancestry) can be illuminated by the experiences of persons of Japanese ancestry at the Tule Lake Segregation Center — George Takei’s musical Allegiance and Setsuko Winchester’s Freedom From Fear Project, Donald Trump: Be Prepared are current artistic expressions. Perhaps the emerging political opportunity structure can be leveraged so we can repudiate linguistically and conceptually anything that divides people into “inside the fence” and “outside the fence.” Perhaps we can find more ways to challenge the normalization of “othering.” Perhaps we can re-state brightly an inclusive notion of community and a place everyone can call home?