WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation last Thursday that would make the Granada Relocation Center, a World War II incarceration site in Colorado also known as Amache, a National Historic Site.
The legislation, introduced by Reps. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) and Ken Buck (R-Colo.), passed the House in a 416-2 vote and moves to the U.S. Senate, where it is sponsored by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and John Hickenlooper (D-Colo).
The site is currently maintained by the Amache Preservation Society and became a National Historic Landmark in 2006. John Hopper, principal of Granada High School, established the society and students at his school volunteer at Amache, giving tours, writing funding grants, and maintaining the cemetery for those who died in the camp.
Ann Burroughs, president and CEO of the Japanese American National Museum, urged swift passage in the Senate, so that President Joe Biden can sign the legislation into law.
“The former incarceration camp of Amache represents a dark chapter of U.S. history that must be permanently preserved as a place of learning and a site of reflection. The legacy of more than 7,000 people of Japanese ancestry who were imprisoned there between 1942 and 1945 — most whom were U.S. citizens — is a story that must be retold,” Burroughs said.
“As a National Historic Site, Amache will benefit from the National Park Service’s expertise in preserving and protecting this national treasure for all visitors to experience. Amache symbolizes the power of place — a historic destination for pilgrimage, education, remembrance, and action.”
Tracey Coppola, senior Colorado program manager, National Parks Conservation Association, stated: “This overwhelming vote of support clearly demonstrates that America believes in the Amache Movement, and that this movement is strongly bipartisan. There is no reason why the Senate can’t do the same this year. Most definitely the biggest next step is urging the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks to set the bill for a hearing as soon as possible in the fall. We need all hands on deck for the Senate push.”
If Amache becomes a historic site, the National Park Service would take over management, giving it and the area a possible economic and tourism boost. It would also grant the U.S. secretary of the interior the authority to acquire the land, currently owned by the Town of Granada, by donation or purchase.
Dr. Karen Korematsu, executive director of The Fred T. Korematsu Institute, said the story of her father resonates today as an example of losing one’s fundamental rights.
“Now, more than ever, the lessons of history need to be learned. I commend the House of Representatives, and the leadership of Congressmen Neguse and Buck, for today’s passage of the Amache National Historic Site Act,” Korematsu said.
Ken Kitajima, a former Amache incarceree, said, “As a young boy at Amache, I never thought I’d see an America that cared about my story. Today’s vote moves us closer to making the dream of honoring Amache as a national park a reality. Thanks to Congressman Neguse and House leadership for this big step forward, and I am hopeful the Senate will care as much and do the same.”
Ken Tsukada, a descendent of Amache incarcerees, praised the vote, saying Amache would serve as a memorial to the 120,000 individuals who “served our country through incarceration.”
“My grandfather died there, cousins were born there and all left after ‘serving’ the U.S. in a time of war. When I think of Amache, I am proud of all those who sacrificed their lives with humble dignity and courage beyond anything I have ever had to endure. And, yes, proud that America could recognize its mistakes and provide the opportunity for the descendants to fulfill many of the dreams that were stolen,” Tsukada said.
According to the National Park Service, the Amache camp site includes a cemetery, a reservoir, a water well and tank, a road network, concrete foundations, watch towers, the military police compound, and trees planted by the incarcerees.
When it was in operation, many of the incarcerees were successful farmers, and Amache became a thriving farming center, with crops of potatoes, wheat and corn. Also, more than 10 percent of Amache inmates served in the U.S. military, including the highly decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the Women’s Army Corps, and as nurses and instructors.
Amache was one of 10 camps established by the War Relocation Authority along with Poston and Gila River in Arizona, Jerome and Rohwer in Arkansas, Manzanar and Tule Lake (which later became a segregation center) in California, Topaz in Utah, Minidoka in Idaho, and Heart Mountain in Wyoming.