An Exploration of Tulelake
The early spring of 2017 marked the 75th anniversary of Executive Order #9066, which led to the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese American citizens and immigrants. We were inspired to visit the internment camp in Tulelake to reflect on history and what it has to offer us in the present, and simply to take pictures.
When we got there, the site was closed for the winter, so we took a few shots and decided to explore. We began to uncover other aspects of the area’s history, bringing to light a running thread of displacement, expulsion, and government exploitation, repeated through time. Not only has the land seen the largest, harshest, and most controversial of the internment camps, it has also seen the decimation and exile of the Modoc people, and a fluctuating population of migrant workers, displaced in their own way by economic and political forces. Even the land itself has been altered through the diversion of water to farmland, a practice that still creates controversy in the area. We decided there was a story here that needed to be heard.
The lands formerly belonging to the Modoc, and even some of the lands that once hosted the internment camp, were sold off cheaply to homesteaders. Most of them failed, and the area is still one of the poorer regions of California. It is as if the land wants the harsh emptiness and the howling wind. History settles over it like a layer of dust, coating it all in a lingering disquietude, tangible even in the face of its own erasure. The remnants of the past have not been built over and on top of as would have happened in a more populated area, but it is almost more telling that they were largely dismantled and ripped away. There is little left to commemorate the suffering of thousands aside from lonely metal placards, mounted on small piles of jagged lava rock in a stark and barren landscape.
In this little known corner of the world, buried in our backyard, momentous points in history lie latent. Especially in our current political climate, rife with inflammatory statements about marginalized groups and wherein racism is coming out into the light, there are important lessons here for us to learn. The dehumanization of the “other” is a dangerous concept, easily used for exploitation. To observe and learn about what has happened on this land is not only valuable as a grave warning of the dangers of racism, xenophobia, and oppression, but an inspiring example of resistance, perseverance, and the indomitable human spirit.