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The Disputed Second Life of an American Internment Camp

In Northern California, a debate is raging about a plan to build a fence around the small airport sitting on a site where people of Japanese ancestry, most of whom were American citizens, were forcibly interned.
Satsuki Ina with her mother, Shizuko Ina, and her brother Kiyoshi Ina, at the Tule Lake Segregation Center
Satsuki Ina with her mother, Shizuko Ina, and her brother Kiyoshi Ina, at the Tule Lake Segregation CenterCourtesy of Satsuki Ina

The Tulelake Municipal Airport is a single runway and one small hangar—just over half a square mile in all. Flat land stretches around the airport for miles: Lush green farmland unfurls north toward the Oregon border—about 13 miles away—dotted with homesteads that tend to the surrounding land. Brown loamy soil yawns out to the east, and 50 miles to the west, Mount Shasta’s snowy cap is just visible on a clear day.

At just over 8,800 residents, Modoc County, which is home to the airport, is one of the most sparsely populated counties in the United States. But it wasn’t always this way. The airport lies directly on top of the piece of land where nearly 30,000 people of Japanese ancestry, including American citizens, lived when they were unjustly incarcerated between 1942 and 1946, at the Tule Lake Segregation Center. In the years since, some have come to call it by what many scholars say is a more accurate name: the Tule Lake Concentration Camp.