Jim Tanimoto and many other once-successful farm owners were about to become field workers for the U.S. government.
The guard towers and rows of barracks have long since been torn down or moved. Our guide on the pilgrimage points out the few remaining buildings, and the huge swaths of farmland once worked by Tule Lake prisoners. Over 1,000 Japanese-Americans worked in the fields, most earning just $12 a month, a quarter of what farmworkers made at the time.
…The stated purpose of these farms was to feed the incarcerated, but camp administrators took produce, grain and hay grown by these imprisoned Japanese American workers, and sold it on the open market – over 2 million pounds of it from Tule Lake alone.
…By 1960, the number of Japanese-American farmers dropped to a quarter of their prewar presence. With lost farms, homes and businesses, it’s estimated that wartime incarceration cost Japanese-Americans up to $4 billion in today’s values. Some of those losses were compensated in 1988, when President Ronald Reagan signed redress legislation offering a formal apology and giving $20,000 to each survivor.
The non-economic losses – to Japanese-Americans, to California, to the whole country – are impossible to measure. Especially now, Takei said, we must remember “how easily people — because of fear and anger — lose sight of our important national values of justice and rule of law.” She drew parallels with Muslim Americans, refugees and immigrants, “as though demonizing other people is going to solve our problems.”
All we have to do, she said, is look at the World War II incarceration of Japanese -Americans to see that’s not true.