Sometimes people with fresh eyes see things unseen by others familiar with their surroundings.
For Cathlin Goulding, visiting the Tulelake Basin has been an eye-opening experience.
“I really didn’t understand the significance of the place,” says Goulding.
She recently spent two weeks touring the region and collecting more than 60 hours of taped interviews while meeting with more than 30 people as part of her ongoing research on the Tule Lake Detention-Segregation Center.
“The history of the place has made itself known in ways I didn’t expect,” she says, noting some of the 1,036 barracks that housed upwards of 18,700 Japanese-Americans on 7,400 acres near Newell are still being used at farms and ranches around the Tulelake Basin.
Goulding, 33, who grew up in Southern California, is currently living in Brooklyn, New York, where she’s working on her doctorate at Teachers College, Columbia University. The title for her thesis is, “This Must Be the Place: Designing Places of Exception as Places of Learning.”
Her interest in Tule Lake and other World War II segregation centers exists because her mother, Kim Goulding, was born at the detention center in Jerome, Ark. Goulding’s grandparents, Tsugio and Mitzuko Ojiri, were sent there from their home in Los Angeles’ Korea Town.
Encouraged by a friend, Goulding attended the 2014 Tulelake Pilgrimage, an every-other year gathering headquartered in Klamath Falls with field trips to Tulelake Basin sites. During the pilgrimages, surviving Tule Lakers, accompanied by their families, remember the friendships and hardships of camp life. They also discuss the legacy of Tule Lake, which was the largest of 10 camps where 120,000 Japanese-Americans, most of them U.S. citizens, were incarcerated following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.
“I really didn’t know much about the different levels,” she says of issues involving Tule Lake, including those who attempted to renounce their American citizenship, draft resistors, the lawyer who worked on behalf of detainees and camp politics.
“It was very shocking to learn the details,” Goulding says of delving to the experiences of people held at the camps. “As much as I had experienced anger when I heard about my mother and grandparents, I was surprised by what I learned. It’s dismay and anger and frustration on their behalf.”
Her dissertation will be shaped around such issues as detainment, torture and citizenship. It will draw parallels with the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, a U.S. military prison in Cuba established to “detain extraordinary dangerous persons,” interrogate detainees and prosecute detainees for war crimes.
“In all modern governments it’s been a part of state’s power,” Goulding says of governments imprisoning and isolating its own citizens.
She sees parallels between Tule Lake and Guantanamo, especially involving the controversial issue of imprisoning people without due process.
Her goal is to prepare a 300-plus page study that can be shaped into book form.
“The worry is your work will become so esoteric that only a handful of people will read it,” says Goulding, who hopes it will be readable for a wide range of people, including educators.
She started her dissertation in 2010, plans to complete her interviews in September, and has targeted February 2016 for completing a first draft.
“I guess I’m going to sit in a chair upright for two months,” Goulding says of the challenge of transcribing her ever-expanding hours of recorded interviews. “I have no idea how I’m going to transcribe all this.”
Since her Klamath Basin visit, she’s met with Stan Turner, author of “The Years of Harvest,” considered an authoritative study of Tulelake Basin history, and is in the Seattle area this weekend interviewing others.
“Every day I get a new name” of someone to interview. “I’m nervous I’m missing something.”
She says the history of the Tule Lake Detention-Segregation Center is complex and only partly understood.
“From what I’ve learned, Tule Lake is the story that is still being written. There are some certainties. There is a lot in the documents, but there’s a lot that’s untold,” Goulding says. “I learn things all the time.”