On the 80th anniversary, the families of Camp Amache remember and are honored by Sect. Inside Deb Haaland

All that remains of the original camp is windswept prairie grass and old building foundations.

“It’s a part of American history that for many years people wanted to sweep under the rug,” said Derek Okubo of Denver, whose father, Henry, was incarcerated on these grounds 80 years ago. years.

It was February 19, 1942shortly after the United States entered World War II, when more than 120,000 people of Japanese descent were confined to so-called relocation camps on a directive from the President of the United States, Executive Order 9066.

Many were US citizens. Some 7,000 people have been forced from their homes on the West Coast and ordered to move to the Granada Resettlement Center on the southeastern plains of Colorado. This place, better known as Camp Amache, is now in the process of being officially designated a national historic site.

Okubo and his sister, Stacey Okubo Davis, were among families, local community members and government officials – including US Senator Michael Bennett, US Congressman Joe Neguse and US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland – who all gathered at the site on Saturday to commemorate the camp’s anniversary and upcoming inclusion in the National Park Service.

“If we really want to grow as a country, we have to face our demons and we have to be willing to feel things we don’t want to feel and think things we don’t want to think about,” Okubo said. “It’s one of those tools that helps us do that, for us to heal as a nation.”

Okubo and Davis say they visited the site with their father, Henry, when he was still alive, and he would have been happy to see the site nationally recognized.

“It was important to him because he wanted people to learn,” Davis said. “So we don’t repeat the same mistake. So coming here with him in mind has been a very moving experience for us. And then to be able to go to the site where his barracks was, where he lived with his family, it was really very significant.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Derek Okubo speaks to visitors at Camp Amache National Historic Site Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022. More than 7,000 Japanese Americans, including Okubo’s father, were forcibly detained at the camp during World War II.

US Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said some don’t know what happened here.

“It’s our whole story. If you’re American, it’s part of your story,” Haaland said. “Whether you’re Japanese-American, whether you live in Colorado, whether you live across the country in another state, that’s our whole story and we should all know that.”

As Haaland, the first Native American to serve as Secretary of the Interior, toured the camp and spoke with families, she recognized how Amache’s descendants shared an experience of generational trauma similar to her own ancestors. She said the pain of their families is one of the reasons the site is part of the National Park Service.

“Our job at the Home Office is to get the stories up,” she said, “so people learn.”

Okubo said Henry first returned to Granada in 1982 to discuss with local officials the construction of a memorial at the site.

But the first meeting ended in a shouting match.

“There was still a lot of mistrust, a lot of prejudice, a lot of suspicion, a lot of shame and pain,” he said, noting that there had been vandalism at the site.

Then, in the 1990s, a local high school teacher, John Hopper, created a history project about Amache and got his students involved.

“The older he got, the more people supported him,” Hopper said. “School kids are doing a lot of heavy work, but the community is behind us.”

The vandalism ceased and city leaders worked to help preserve the site.

“This is an example where young people have changed the world,” Okubo said. “Absolutely changed the world.”

I’ve always believed that great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments – they face them with honesty and in the process learn from them and grow stronger from them. (…)

Today we reaffirm the federal government’s formal apology to the Japanese Americans whose lives have been irreparably harmed.

President Joe Biden, in a statement from the White House declaring February 19, 2022, Memorial Day.

Local high school student Brandon Gonzales is one of many students who have helped restore and maintain the site over the past 30 years.

“If you don’t learn history, it’s bound to repeat itself,” he said. “We don’t want something like this to happen again.”

Some of the buildings and other facilities have been restored or reconstructed, such as the guard tower and the water tower. The cemetery for infants and others who died at the camp is now surrounded by mature pinons.

There is also a memorial for the 31 people who were killed during World War II, including Private First Class Kiyoshi K. Muranaga who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 2000. These 31 service members American servicemen were among the 1,000 Japanese-Americans at Camp Amache who volunteered to fight in World War II.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland pays his respects at the Camp Amache National Historic Site Cemetery near Grenada on Saturday, February 19, 2022.

“You get a sense of the resilience of our democracy and the resilience of this country,” Senator Bennet said.

“Even when we lock people up like this, completely violating their civil rights, they still volunteer to serve our country. And it’s that image that is, in many ways, the most important thing people can take away from this, other than the fact that obviously it should never happen again anywhere.

Bennet, who co-sponsored the Senate bill with fellow Colorado Senator John Hickenlooper that will make the site federal land, invoked the words of camp survivors last week in the Senate when GOP Sen. Mike Lee of Utah threatened to block Amache’s passage through the National Park Service, despite the approval of 99 other senators.

“During World War II, we were forced to live as prisoners in our own country. Along with our parents, we were forced from our homes, tagged as animals, and sent to the desolate prairie of southeastern Colorado, where we experienced trauma.

Rep. Neguse, who co-sponsored the House Bill with Republican Congressman Ken Buck, hopes transferring Amache to the National Park Service will help provide more resources to Grenada and ensure the site is preserved for future generations.

“As I think about our shared history as Americans, it’s important that we find an opportunity to tell Amache’s story.”

US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, center wearing a long coat, walks with others at the cemetery at the Camp Amache National Historic Site near Grenada on Saturday, February 19, 2022.

These stories and memories are painful for many families.

Mitch Homma’s father was only seven years old when Homma’s grandfather died at the camp, but Homma’s father never told his children about it – until they visited Amache together.

When Homma saw his father crying when he returned to camp, Homma thought that making the trip might have been the biggest mistake of his life.

“But he said, ‘We should have talked about it,'” Homma said. “It’s hard to be here. I can’t imagine what my father went through. Growing up in Southern California. You have a nice house, and your father has a flourishing one. All of that is taken away. [Then] living here behind barbed wire, [your] father dies.

“What kind of memory is this?”

Everyone here hopes it’s one worth remembering, but not repeating.

Mitch Homma, left, speaks with U.S. Representative Joe Neguse, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, and Senator Michael Bennett in the cemetery at the Camp Amache National Historic Site near Grenada on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022. Relatives de Homma were forcibly buried at the camp during World War II.

Learn more about the Camp Amache trip to the National Park Service

Betty K. Park