This photo shows the restored guard tower at Camp Amache in Granada,
Colorado, taken on May 6, 2021. In one of the more shameful moments in
American history, the federal government removed approximately 120,000
Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals from their homes on the west
coast between 1942 and 1945 and imprisoned 10,000 over that timespan in
far southeast Colorado, at a concentration camp it euphemistically named
the Granada Relocation Center. The inmates called it Amache. (Hyoung
Chang/The Denver Post via AP)
This photo shows the foundation of barracks at Camp Amache in
Granada, Colorado, taken on May 6, 2021. In one of the more shameful
moments in American history, the federal government removed
approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals from
their homes on the west coast between 1942 and 1945 and imprisoned
10,000 over that timespan in far southeast Colorado, at a concentration
camp it euphemistically named the Granada Relocation Center. The inmates
called it Amache. (Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via AP)
Sites in the western U.S. associated with the relocation of Japanese
Americans during World War II. (Image from "Confinement and Ethnicity,"
National Park Service, 1999)
Asian Reporter web extra, June 5, 2021
Japanese Americans carry trauma from World War II
By Justin Wingerter
The Denver Post
GRANADA, Colo. (AP) ó Fifteen miles from the Kansas border, Prowers
County Road 23Ĺ comes to a dusty end, surrounded by sagebrush and
prickly pear cacti and dead junipers. A place this newspaper called,
eight decades ago, "as bleak a spot as one can find on the western
In one of the more shameful moments in American history, the federal
government removed approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese
nationals from their homes on the west coast between 1942 and 1945 and
imprisoned 10,000 over that timespan in far southeast Colorado, at a
concentration camp it euphemistically named the Granada Relocation
The inmates called it Amache.
"No charges were levelled against us. No trial, no hearings,"
recalled Bob Fuchigami, who was 11 years old when he was imprisoned
there. "We were loyal, patriotic, law-abiding citizens."
The story of Amache is one of despair, desolation, and ó for 121
inmates ó death. But itís also a story about what came next, about a
generation who rebuilt their lives and even thrived, all the while
keeping quiet about the trauma they carried. Itís a story of bigotry and
hate worth revisiting as the U.S. witnesses a new spike in anti-Asian
violence and Colorado congressmen move to make Amache part of the
National Park Service, preserving the site for generations to come.
"You try to make sense of what is being done to you and part of your
thought process is to return to the idea that you deserved it somehow,
even though you know you didnít," said Calvin Hada, an Amache descendant
and president of the Nikkeijin Kai, or Japanese-American Club, of
"They were not saboteurs or fifth columnists or spies. They were just
people trying to make a living."
Eyeballs and grit
In 2004, while cleaning out his late grandmotherís possessions, Mitch
Homma came across a trove of documents he had never seen or heard of:
arrest warrants, letters, photographs of Amache. They revealed that
three generations of his prominent Japanese-American family were locked
up for being Japanese, nine people in all. His grandfather and the
campís dentist, Kyushiro Homma, died there of a heart attack after
losing 30 pounds.
"My father and his siblings, they didnít talk about Amache," Homma
said. "My grandmother certainly didnít talk about it."
Hommaís father, Hisao, returned to Amache for the first time in 2008,
telling stories of his childhood that Homma had never heard. When Hisao
entered a nursing home in his later years, more stories came out.
"I probably learned more about Amache in those last three years than
I did my whole life growing up," Homma said.
In Japan, Hommaís family had been members of the samurai class,
nobles who lived by a code that said to never surrender. With
imprisonment at Amache came embarrassment and shame.
"In Japanese culture, weíre very sensitive to shame," Hada said. "A
friend once told me that the Japanese are as sensitive to shame as an
eyeball is to grit."
Hada was raised in a middle-class Lakewood home with no inkling of
Amache or his grandmotherís time there. One day, his father dropped a
book on his desk and said, "You should read this." It was Nisei: The
Quiet Americans, a history of Japanese Americans in the west by Bill
Hosokawa. Hada read nearly all of it in one sitting, his first lesson on
Kirsten Leongís introduction to Amache was similar to Hommaís,
cleaning out her late grandmotherís belongings in 2011. She found a
photo, flipped it over, and saw on the back, "In Amache concentration
camp." She had been repeatedly told that none of her family had been
imprisoned during World War II. But four great-grandparents and two
great-uncles were at Amache.
"Our familyís experience of not talking about it was really similar
to a lot of people in our community," Leong said.
"If you look back at our family pictures from the 1950s, they look
like ĎLeave It to Beaver,í they look like ĎFather Knows Best,í" she
said. "It was always about trying to be as American as possible and
playing up how American you are, because they got locked up for looking
different and not being American enough."
Even the most famous inmate didnít tell his daughter until she was a
junior in high school.
Fred Korematsu refused to be imprisoned and challenged the
constitutionality of President Franklin D. Rooseveltís Executive Order
9066, which created the concentration camps ó 10 overall in remote parts
of the country. In Korematsu v. United States, the Supreme Court
upheld the executive order, a ruling it has since condemned. (Korematsu
was imprisoned in Utah.)
"Culturally, the Japanese keep everything inside," his daughter Karen
Korematsu, who first learned of her fatherís defiance during a high
school class presentation, said in an interview. "Theyíre not ones to be
boisterous and loud and to complain. Itís a part of their culture."
Robin Lawrentz, president of the Japan-America Society of Southern
Colorado, said he knows several people who only recently learned their
family was placed in Amache or the other camps.
"One of them was born at an internment camp in Arkansas and didnít
know that until much later," he said. "Those older generations were less
likely to make it known."
But itís a story that must be known now, said Korematsu, whose
Korematsu Institute works with K-12 teachers to educate children about
Americaís concentration camps. She believes ignorance of Asian
Americansí experiences is partly to blame for a worrisome uptick in
Thirty-two percent of Asian-American adults told Pew Research Center
pollsters in April that they have feared physical threats and attacks, a
higher percentage than any other racial group, and 81% said violence
against the Asian-American community is increasing.
"The Amache story is not over," Fuchigami told a congressional
subcommittee in April from his home in Evergreen. "Asians in America,
including some of the most vulnerable, are still discriminated against,
treated as invisible, and suffer from hate crimes to this day."
The stories they told
Amache was constructed on land that once belonged to the Southern
Cheyenne tribe, which was stripped of its land and relocated by the
federal government. The smallest of the 10 concentration camps and
lesser known than Californiaís high-security Tule Lake or Arizonaís Gila
River camp, Amacheís construction required 1,000 workers, several
months, and $4.5 million (about $74 million in todayís dollars).
It provided a brief boon for the nearby towns of Granada and Lamar,
but the governmentís purchase of private land angered locals.
After a journey of several days, Japanese Americans usually arrived
at night and stumbled into one of 348 barracks. The barracks were
divided into six apartments no bigger than 24 feet wide and 20 feet
long, empty except for a coal-burning stove, military cots, and a single
lightbulb dangling from the ceiling. Bathrooms were communal and had no
doors, so many women waited until nighttime to use them. Days were spent
working in the fields or a silkscreen shop.
As a kid, Mike Honda would ask his mother about dreams in which he
was at a camp. His mother would explain over the dinner table that they
had been imprisoned at a place called Amache. His father and
grandfather, free-thinking and defiant, discussed internment, too.
"It upset (my father) because he felt like he was an American and his
rights were being curtailed. His father was even more upset because all
the things he had been able to accrue (were lost): a gas station, a
pickup truck, his guns, and his radio, things like that," recalled
Honda, who went on to become an eight-term California congressman.
His grandfather went so far as to push his truck into the Sacramento
River to ensure the government didnít take it.
As a twentysomething, Honda spoke to a junior high class about the
camps. Afterward, the parents of one Japanese-American student invited
Honda to their home.
"I thought I was in trouble but I went and they asked me to sit down
with them, to tell their story more fully with their children. They
brought out a box of photos and they shared the story with their kids,
with me there adding to it and validating what had happened," Honda
recalled. "I think that was the first time I realized there were parents
who did not talk about it."
Hondaís father left Amache to work for the Military Intelligence
Service, one of the few pathways inmates had to get out. About 950
Amache inmates volunteered for the U.S. Army to escape and 31 died
fighting in Europe with the 442nd Regiment, a highly decorated combat
unit. Marcia Yonemotoís uncle died fighting in France as his family was
locked up in Amache.
"I asked my mother, ĎHow did you feel about that? I mean, here you
are, your family is jailed in the United States for being Japanese and
your brother gets killed defending the U.S. in Europe. Did you think
that was unfair?í" said Yonemoto, a University of Colorado-Boulder
history professor. "And she said, ĎOh, yeah.í She was maybe 13 at the
time but she remembered feeling it was not right."
Fuchigami, who was a preteen in Amache, later served in the Korean
War. Hisao Homma joined the Marines, in part because his family had lost
everything and couldnít afford to send him to college. One of Leongís
uncles also worked for the Military Intelligence Service. The father of
Derek Okubo, executive director of Denverís Agency for Human Rights,
left Amache, enlisted in the Army, and was sent to occupied Japan.
A wrong atop a wrong
This year, Coloradans in congress have introduced two bills meant to
turn Amache into a national historic site, a designation three other
former camps have. That would bring National Park Service funding and
resources to a place that has, for 25 years, been maintained by Granada
High School teacher John Hopper and his students. A guard tower, water
tower, mess hall, and barrack have been restored at the site. Concrete
foundations, along with the original roads, remain intact.
"Preserving and protecting the Amache site presents a valuable
opportunity to better our country, our state, our history, and most
importantly, our future in the spirit of justice, equity, and
inclusion," Colorado governor Jared Polis wrote in supporting the quest
for a designation.
Midori Takeuchi, Japanís consul general in Denver, also supports the
designation. She said the legislation in congress "would provide an
educational chance for future generations to learn the history of
Japanese Americans, and hand their stories and lessons down to
Amacheís namesake was the daughter of a Cheyenne sub-chief murdered
in 1864 at the Sand Creek Massacre, 35 miles northwest of Camp Amache as
the crow flies.
It wasnít until the 2000s that Sand Creek became a national historic
site, thanks to a push from Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a former U.S.
senator from Colorado and member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe. Growing
up in California in the 1930s and í40s, Campbell knew some of the
Japanese Americans who were forced to sell their belongings for cheap
before being loaded onto trains and busses and sent away.
"I wish like hell that I would have included language for
(preserving) Amache when I introduced my Sand Creek bill," he said.
Okubo, whose father and grandparents were at Amache, said itís a
history that cannot be forgotten.
"Itís one of the biggest stains and darkest periods in our nationís
history," he said. "When youíre talking about this country thatís
supposed to represent freedom and equality and equity ó what they did
was counter to every one of those values. Itís important to remember the
history for the full purpose of not allowing it to happen again to any
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