Resistance At Tule Lake

Kurt Ikeda
(click above to view larger image)
Photo courtesy Kurt Ikeda

by Kurt Ikeda

When I was a child,
I was just a little too Japanese.
My L’s and R’s
Came out as
Reft and Light
As in whenever I left my Japanese at home.
It would make me feel all right.

When I was in Math Class
I sat between two kids: a white boy and a Yonsei; we looked alike
Like a line between the divide signs
He couldn’t discern the difference between the dots
the Yonsei and I.
We looked alike.
But I didn’t sound like the others.

When I was bullied,
My teacher said that my sentences sounded funny.
Like how my English would flow together like brush strokes of Japanese-calligraphy
I woulda left the room but it wasn’t right.
I was a model minority student.

You see I was good at math
Because that was the only homework that my mother could help me with.
The numbers just didn’t add up.
The Yonsei kid was laughing at me.
If I subtracted the accent we were the same underneath.

My father told me that I am more than the sum of my parts.
But at that point I felt more like a divide line between two points, two nations and my heart

The Yonsei told me that I was fresh off a boat.
So I resisted the urge to speak.
Because in school I was suppose to raise the American
and submerge the Japanese.

We’ve heard this story before.

Divided between Loyalty and Resistance
Too many Stories
Too Late
Stories that were never told
Questions that should not have been asked
At last we can take a moment
To look back at our collective pasts

Japanese American History is riddled with Land Mines
So make sure you mind lands.
On the point of our pens.
The point is that
Marking Yes or No
On two questions
Shouldn’t have been a mark of loyalty.
Shouldn’t have been the narrative of American.
Shouldn’t have divided our families.

Generations later we still try to do the math.
So we subtracted the parts of that made us other.
Memories fading faster
Cultural genocide disaster
My language
My kotoba
Baa-chan I wish I asked her
Jii-chan I wish he told me
Know history
To know me
No History
There’s no me

The Tule Lake resistance is still relevant
We defended the civil liberties of the immigrants
It’s time to dig up some skeletons
Here’s is my Shin-Nikkei Testament.

Resisters we are charged with the following:
Marching while being Black
Traveling while being Latino
Praying while being Muslim
Living while being Native
Resisting while being a citizen, Japanese and American.

Resisters, the senate silenced our voices.
We had appeared to oppose an unfair rule
We were warned
We weren’t given an explanation
Nevertheless, we persisted
Nevertheless, we resisted

First they came for the courageous
Then they came for the loyal.
Then they came for the people who were bound to no native soil.
A New Hope
Tule Lake
Where we set up the resistance.

We need
To Resist
It lives on the Senate floor
Elizabeth Warren fighting for the rights of all

We need
To Resist
It lived 70 years before
50 Native American Fighters versus 1,000 U.S. troops or more

We need
To Resist
It lived in World War II Germany through a white rose
That arose to face fascist tyranny
We need
To resist

Civil Rights isn’t history
Civil Rights is a verb

Reparations didn’t finish our story
There’s still redress to be served.

Our generations
Yonsei and Shin-Nikkei
The new hope—The force has awakened
The pains of discrimination—we inherited
The hate of a nation—we inherited
Detention, relocation, unconvicted convicts—we inherited

Redress and reparations
Red Cards for Green cards
These “Aliens”, my students—I inherited
My Great-Grandfather’s name—Enemy Alien—I inherited

I inherit things from a family of collectors
My great-grandfather collected tuna can tops while we was incarcerated Tuna Canyon, California
My grandfather collected years waiting for his father at Crystal City, Texas.
Tule Lake
We collected your stories today.
We are the 442nd and the Resisters of today.

Because yesterday
My grandfather would have had his 82th birthday.
His father promised him the biggest gift that he could buy.
He never came home.
His father was the line of the divide sign.
Walking the rope between two nations.
It’s a shame that he was born on February 19th.
On his birthday we received an executive order in place of his father.


An educator by profession and a poet by passion, Kurt Ikeda is a high school English teacher at Camino Nueva Charter Academy – Daizell Lance Campus. A native of Hawai’i who was raised in Torrance, California, he preaches social justice to his students and puts it into practice as Board Secretary of the Japanese American Citizens League-Pacific Southwest District, as Co-President of the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the JACL and most recently, as a member of the Manzanar Committee.

Ikeda earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Applied Linguistics at the University of California, Los Angeles, and his Master of Arts degree in Urban Education, Policy and Administration from Loyola Marymount University. His poetry, which can be found at can be found at http://socialjusticesaying.tumblr.com, is rooted in the incarceration story of his grandfather, informed by the Asian American experience and inspired by his work with high school youth.

The views expressed in this poem are those of the author, and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.


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3 Responses to Resistance At Tule Lake

  1. Chris Uchibori says:

    ⛩ Domo Arigats and Mahalo for sharing your beautiful discriptive prose.

    Chris Y. Uchibori

  2. earnie masumoto says:

    Hi.
    Thanks for the insights.

    Your poem is not limited to a Tule Lake Camp experience for it applies to the feelings felt at all of those prisons.

    After the war, the pauperized Js and JAs could only afford to relocate to the poorest neighborhoods occupied by Blacks on the West side of LA and Chicanos on the East.

    I assimilated into the Chicano culture in Mara Villa and we discriminated against the majority Whites back then – they were not hip or street. The Chicano youth often beat up the on the Whites and forced them to move away to where it was safe like Montebello (White ghetto). The JAs were accepted by the Chicanos and a few joined their gangs.

    To the indigenous Chicanos the illegal immigrant Mexicans were Mojados or Wet Backs and were discriminated against though they looked alike. The Chicanos spoke Spanglish or Pocho while the Mojados spoke no English and were discriminated against because of that.

    There were a few Shin Issei that ran with us and it was amusing to hear their pronunciation of Pocho or even English. I met a few from the West side and found their pronunciation of Black Jive also amusing and so did they but they couldn’t help it or try to improve their pronunciation. Poverty made strange bed fellows then.

    While running with the Brothers on the West side, the one that relocated from the big cities in the East were down on and would “cap” on those that came from the South and city dudes called them farmers as if they were inferior – discrimination and or persecution?

    Today, the targets are just different.

    I was born in the Topaz Prison to parents that were pauperized.

  3. earnie masumoto says:

    Hi again.

    A bit about a resistor that was sent to Tule Lake for being an activist.

    Kiyoshi Okamoto

    He taught Frank Emi about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and chaired the Fair Play Committee when it took on the draft issue. He tried to have the camp director removed for incompetence, and a week later was handcuffed and shipped to the Tule Lake Segregation Center. He was brought back to stand trial in Wyoming with the other leaders for conspiracy to counsel draft evasion. He is also credited with being the first Nisei to call for redress for the camps after the war.
    http://www.pbs.org/itvs/conscience/the_story/characters/okamoto_kiyoshi.html

    Excerpt from Kiyoshi’s writings in Heart Mountain during the war:

    “Loyalty towards a Country or a Nation is a matter of the sentiment. It is nurtured from knowledge of justice received. It is a covenant of faith between the party of the People on the one hand and the Party of the Government on the other.

    Under this understanding, the People maintain the inviolability of our Instruments of Government. For this service, the Government assumes the responsibilities of justice, freedom, liberty and security to its Inhabitants.

    Under such an interpretation, the President terminated the agreement when he caused to be evacuated 112,000 People without due process of law. In so doing, he violated the very fundamentals of our democratic form of government. He disregarded the guarantees of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. He caused us into Citizens without a Country. By these acts, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights become of doubtful value as Instruments guaranteeing Life, Liberty, Justice, Freedom and Security.

    With these conditions, understanding must be had at this time between true patriotism and loyalty on the one hand and from regimented concept of misguided interpretations on the other.

    We believe the first duty of every true and loyal Citizen is the protection of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The cornerstones of these Instruments of our Government are justice, Liberty Security, Freedom and the protection of Human Rights. These are flagrantly violated in the various procedures of our evacuation, deportation and detention.

    We believe the issue forced upon us is sufficiently vital as to warrant a decided attitude…not only for our benefit but, as a safeguard to our hitherto free and democratic form of government. It is vital as an issue of National defense of Democracy is to exist. (If we are loyal and patriotic citizens, we must keep an eagle eye on ten cent leaders who are unable to see beyond the 12-16-19 dollars paid them by the W.R.A..)

    Thus, to be drafted or not to be drafted or, to be loyal or not to be loyal as Citizens with suspended Rights are not the questions at issue. To us, the fundamentals of Democracy are at stake. In the preservation of the ideals and principles of freedom, justice and democratic practices as guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights within our own home front [be]lie any hope to validate and justify the breaches made upon the guarantees of justice, freedom, and democratic practices by the Roosevelt Administration.

    THEREBY< AS TRUE AND LOYAL CITIZENS OF THIS NATION, WE ASK A FIRST CLARIFICATION OF OUR STATUS AND RIGHTS AS FORCED

    RESIDENTS OF THIS CONCENTRATION CAMP UNDER THREAT OF MILITARY FORCE AND BARBED WIRE ENTANGLEMENTS BEFORE COMMITTING OURSELVES TO AFFAIRS THAT WERE ABROGATED BY THE PRESIDENT’S PROCLAMATION FOR OUR EVACUATION.

    The procedures and methods of our evacuation, pauperization, our deportation and our detention and denial of freedom by military threat…all these in defiance to us without due process of law as mandated by the Constitution and Bill of Rights…profess no respect for individual or national rights as those intended for Citizens of this Nation.

    Neither Congress, nor the President nor the Judiciary have as yet, made acceptable pronouncement to validate the acts of wholesale pauperization, evacuation, deportation and concentration of 112,000 Human Beings from their rightful homes and heritages.

    We have not as yet received hearing nor trial through acceptable channels to vindicate our right to clear conscience, freedom, justice, liberty and security. Our legal status in these concentration camps has not been clarified. We are herded within barbed wire fences and guarded against freedom by soldier’s bullets and bayonets. We exist as Citizens without a Country. In truth, all the guarantees of Humane and National Rights are denied us.

    “COMMON SENSE AND JUSTICE DICTATE THAT A CITIZEN UNDER SUSPICION SHOULD HAVE THE FULLEST HEARING POSSIBLE, PLUS THE OPPORTUNITY TO PRESENT EVERY REASONABLE DEFENSE.”

    These have been denied us. The sanctity of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights have been flaunted aside by the President’s order to 112,000 innocent Minority from the Pacific Coast areas.

    Under these conditions, what are we? Are we American Citizens? Are we Enemy Aliens? Or, are we…what?

    This absence of clarification of our status and rights is the keystone of our indecision towards any proper orientation of attitude towards the draft.

    If we are Enemy Aliens then, we owe no obligation to bear arms for a Country that is not ours.

    If we are nothing but Oriental Monkeys as have been attributed us in the past, then propositions and offers of compensation should be advanced for the ruination of health, the uncertainties of fertilizing foreign battlefields with our carcass or, to compensate those losses to dependents and loved ones.

    If we are Americans by right of birth and Constitutional grant then, why our wholesale pauperization, why our evacuation, why the denial to us of the due process of law; why the deportation into another State by threat of military force, why the concentration within barbed wire fences and guarded by military intimidations; why the detention and why the denial to us of justice, freedom and the Bill of Rights?

    True, we have been given a Hearing Board as means toward due process of law. Out of it, we are told that we are free Americans through the leave clearance, but, it is it true in fact? Certainly, the WRA is urging us to relocate but…under their terms only. Then too, what are the military guards doing in their observation towers and guarding the entrances and exits through the barbed wire fences?….”

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