George Takei Fights County for Closing Off Former Japanese Concentration Camp From His Childhood

A coalition, which aims to preserve the historical integrity of the site of a World War II concentration camp in California where Japanese Americans were incarcerated, has been battling a planned airport fence that would also shut the area from visitors.

The facility of Tulelake camp, formerly known as Tule Lake Segregation Center, once held 12,000 inmates who resisted the forced imprisonment during the Japanese internment.

When the war broke in 1942, around 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast of the United States were imprisoned in 10 remote camps.

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The following year, the government sent internees of Japanese descent to the Tule Lake Segregation Center for refusing to accept the U.S. government’s denial of their civil liberties. When asked if they would they swear allegiance to the U.S. or serve in the military, they refused, and thus were branded as disloyal.

At present, the center of Tule Lake is now the site of Tulelake Municipal Airport, which is used as an airport for crop dusting planes.

Local officials in Modoc County have sought funding from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for a new 8 feet (2.4 m) tall and 3 miles (4.8 km) long fence around the area back in 2012, reportedly to keep animals off the runway.

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However, the Tule Lake Committee and related groups have opposed the airport fence due to fears of possible desecration of the physical and spiritual integrity of the camp. The fence would also reportedly impede visitors from physically revisiting an important part of history.

In their petition, the Stop the Fence at Tulelake Airport organization explained, “A fence will prevent all Americans from experiencing the dimension and magnitude of the concentration camp where people experienced mass exclusion and racial hatred.”

They point out that being excluded from the area would affect former internees and their descendants, who have been regularly making pilgrimages to the site.

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Those who make the pilgrimage want to be able to walk throughout the camp without any restrictions.

“They want to traverse the site to experience the dimension and magnitude of the place, to gain a sense of the distances family members walked in their daily routine to eat meals, attend school, to do laundry and use the latrines. They want to summon up the ghosts of the place, to revive long-suppressed memories and to mourn personal and collective loss.”

Actor/activist George Takei, who as a child was held in the very same concentration camp with his family, has expressed his support of the petition.

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“We must not permit this history to be erased and minimized by destroying the integrity of the site or making it inaccessible to future generations,” he was quoted as saying.

The campaign, which aims to reach 100,000 online signatures, has so far collected over 36,000 signatures.

In consultations conducted last year, the group has suggested moving the Tulelake airport to a nearby location, noting that while moving a historic site is impossible, transferring a small airport is doable.

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Its most recent update earlier this month urges supporters to respond to Modoc County’s request for comments on the fence proposal, by letter or email, with a deadline set on Tuesday, October 10, 2017, at 5 PM.

“Modoc County recently sent out notices requesting public ‘COMMENT’ on the airport fence they sought to construct over the past decade, to close off the airport that occupies two-thirds of the concentration camp site. In July 2014, the Tule Lake Committee filed a lawsuit seeking Modoc County’s compliance with environmental laws, and for the past three years, was engaged in discussions about the airport with Modoc County, including settling the lawsuit. However, Modoc County’s recent Notices of Public Scoping and requests for comment, indicate the County has unilaterally abandoned settlement discussions and begun planning to build the fence.”

The public notices are posted at: www.co.modoc.ca.us/departments/airports

Community members and organizations are urged to send their comments via email: [email protected]
Email subject line:

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“Tulelake Municipal Airport Perimeter Fence Project”

or mail:

Mitch Crosby, Modoc County Road Commissioner
202 West 4th Street
Alturas, CA 96101

Feature image via Wikimedia Commons/ Tedder (CC BY 3.0)

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