Japanese American members of pro-Japan group known as the Hoshi Dan honoring brethren who are being purged from Tule Lake and sent to Santa Fe concentration camp before being deported to Japan. (Courtesy of Tule Lake Committee)
NEW YORK — Over 110,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated by the U.S. government from 1942 to 1946, a dark chapter of American history that has taken on renewed relevance in the current political climate.
Resistance at Tule Lake tells the long-suppressed story of 12,000 who defied the government by refusing to swear unconditional loyalty to the U.S. Though this was an act of protest and family survival, they were branded as “disloyals” by the government and packed into the newly designated Tule Lake Segregation Center.
The film, directed by Japanese American filmmaker Konrad Aderer, is having its national broadcast premiere on the WORLD channel as part of May’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month programming.
For over seven decades, the story of Tule Lake has remained hidden from the public narrative and school history books, and a taboo subject within the Japanese American community, due to widely shared feelings of shame and family trauma.
The dominant narrative of World War II internment has been that the incarcerees behaved as a “model minority,” cooperating without protest and proving their patriotism by enlisting in the Army. Resistance at Tule Lake overturns that myth by telling the story of the overcrowded, highly militarized concentration camp where the government corralled “troublemakers” who dared to protest their confinement.
Tule Lake Segregation Center, located in Northern California, just two miles from the Oregon border, became a virtual pressure cooker where the simmering conflicts between the Caucasian administration and the Japanese American incarcerees exploded into organized resistance and violent suppression. Faced with the uncertainty of the war and the rampant anti-Japanese climate that awaited them outside of camp, more than 5,000 renounced their “worthless” U.S. citizenship.
Brought to visceral life with emotionally wrenching interviews, never-before-seen archival images, and stunning color footage taken inside the camp, the story of Tule Lake unravels racially codified standards of “loyalty” and illuminates today’s most urgent discussions of nationality and citizenship.
Barbara Takei of the Tule Lake Committee gives guided tour of the jail at Tule Lake Segregation Center. Video still from film, 2014
“Resistance at Tule Lake’s” national broadcast premiere is on Sunday, May 6, on the WORLD channel at 7 p.m. EST/4 p.m. PST. The feature-length documentary premiered last year at CAAMFest in San Francisco and continues to screen at festivals, schools and community organizations throughout the country, selling out tickets at a majority of their showings. Many audience members have come forward sharing their own long-hidden experiences of wartime incarceration, including relatives of some of the people referred to in the film.
The film has also sparked intense reactions on how these stories are relevant today under the current U.S. treatment of immigrant families as well as Muslim communities. College screenings have prompted powerful sharing from out-of-status students. Aderer says, “There has been a real sense of being encouraged to engage more with what’s happening today… The DREAMer movement is how the most vulnerable are putting themselves on the line on principle and for survival, as Tule Lake resisters did then.”
Japanese American members of pro-Japan group known as the Hoshi Dan stand in mass gathering, with bugles. Photographer: R.H. Ross, March 18, 1945. (Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration)
Aderer is a documentary filmmaker and television journalist based in New York City. His independent documentaries have focused on resistance arising in immigrant communities targeted by “national security” detention and profiling. His feature documentary “Enemy Alien” (2011), on the fight to free a post-9/11 detainee, was honored with a Courage in Media Award from Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR). Aderer has received grants from the Center for Asian American Media, New York State Council of the Arts, National Park Service, and others. His maternal grandparents were incarcerated at the Topaz concentration camp in Utah.
Visit WORLD online (http://worldchannel.org/programs/episode/resistance-tule-lake/) to check your local listings, or the “Resistance at Tule Lake” website at www.ResistanceatTuleLake.com for upcoming feature-length screening schedules, updates and more.
WORLD will celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month every day during the month of May with a special PBS collection of stories that explores the history, traditions and culture of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the U.S., in conjunction with a social media campaign for people to share their own stories online using hashtag #MyAPALife.