It’s official: Amache National Historic Site ensures federal protection for former Japanese American incarceration camp

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TO AMACHE — A sign along U.S. Highway 50 just west of Granada, Colorado, points the way to the Amache Japanese American Relocation Center. Mike Sweeney, Special to The Colorado Sun

Interior secretary closes the deal that will provide oversight for ‘a complete and honest’ account of the nation’s history

By Kevin Simpson
The Colorado Sun

Nearly two years after legislation designated the site of Colorado’s Granada War Relocation Center — also known as Camp Amache — part of the National Park System, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland on Feb. 15 formally closed the deal that creates Amache National Historic Site, ensuring federal protection for the grounds where more than 10,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II.

Details surrounding Granada’s official acquisition and donation of the land were recently finalized to clear the way for the National Park Service to assume management of the site, which sits on nearly one square mile just outside of the southeastern Colorado town.

Amache opened in 1942 and closed in 1945. It was the smallest of 10 such inland incarceration camps constructed in response to fear that Japanese immigrants — about two-thirds of those at Amache were American citizens — posed a security threat to the United States after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Almost immediately, Amache became one of Colorado’s largest towns, at one point holding more than 7,300 people transported mostly from the West Coast.

Six other national park sites also commemorate the mass incarceration. As was the case for the signing of the enabling legislation, the Feb. 15 announcement came just days ahead of the Feb. 19 Day of Remembrance marking the signing of the original presidential order that created the camps.

“As a nation, we must face the wrongs of our past in order to build a more just and equitable future,” Haaland said. “The Interior Department has the tremendous honor of stewarding America’s public lands and natural and cultural resources to tell a complete and honest story of our nation’s history.”

Mitch Homma, an Amache descendant who also serves as a director for the Amache Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to education around the mass incarceration, said that Haaland called him to give him a heads up about the impending announcement. That prompted him to think about all the people over decades whose work ultimately led to this moment.

“We are standing on the shoulders of some giants, all the Amachians, including my dad, who thought that this would never happen, that there’s not enough people that cared,” he said. “And we did it. And people do care.”

Derek Okubo, whose father was part of the first 1968 effort by the Denver Central Optimists to preserve the site, also found himself reflecting on the long road to recognition.

“I first think of my father and his colleagues who started the preservation efforts over 40 years ago,” he said. “They have all left us, but this announcement fulfills a part of their hopes and dreams. The other part of their dream is that the citizens of this country never allow this to happen again and we live up to the values we are supposed to represent in this country.”

Both Homma and Okubo credited people like John Hopper, a teacher and school administrator in Granada who in 1993 launched the Amache Preservation Society, a history program that grew to encompass student participation in caretaking of the grounds as well as interpretation.

Hopper and his organization will continue to work in partnership with the Park Service at the site, while a separate museum, which includes a trove of artifacts from the era, will remain in APS hands.

The Feb. 15 announcement marked another step closer to improving the incarceration site with federal assistance.

“Just another hoop, I guess you’d say,” Hopper said from Granada, “but it’s nice. The site is now official, and it’s a good deal. They’ve got some good plans drawn up, and I appreciate that.”

Julia Shizuyo Popham, a fourth-generation Japanese American, has studied and written about the art produced by the incarcerees. She, too, was also on hand for the official announcement.

“Today is an incredibly special day,” she said, “for both preserving Amache and the history there, as well as for thinking more broadly about how the history of Japanese American World War II incarceration shapes our present moments and challenges us to think about how to create a better future

“So it’s about Amache, and it’s also bigger than Amache.”

Eric Leonard, superintendent of the High Plains Group of parks in southeast Colorado and New Mexico, noted that the region now will have three national park sites — Amache, the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site and Bent’s Old Fort — that form “a triangle of American history, more or less an hour away from each other.”

“As Amache is officially established as a unit of the National Park System today, site manager Chris Mather and I are excited to be in a room with Amache partners including survivors and descendants as we talk about the future of this brand new park,” Leonard said in a text that also acknowledged the groundwork done by other organizations to preserve the site and story of Amache. “(They) are what brought us to this day and we are eager to continue to build on that foundation.”

Officials met all day Feb. 15 with other stakeholders, including survivors and descendants, at the NPS offices in Lakewood to further discuss plans for the site.

The Colorado Sun is a nonprofit reader-supported news outlet. To learn more and subscribe to free newsletters, go to coloradosun.com.

One response to “It’s official: Amache National Historic Site ensures federal protection for former Japanese American incarceration camp”

  1. Richard Haratani Avatar

    Thank you for this !
    My parents’ families were both imprisoned in Amache.
    Amy Ada Haratani nee Yamasaki just passed 3/1/24 at 97.
    She wore a commemorative Amache hat at her 96th birthday party….

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