Every national park has a story to tell. We are fortunate to have 12 of these special places designated in Colorado alone.
They not only protect natural landscapes and unique ecosystems but also share our history, including some of its darkest chapters. Parks have the power to represent a full and inclusive history of America, teaching us to reflect, persevere and heal. We need this now more than ever.
In Colorado, we have an opportunity to share a time in history that has largely been forgotten: the wrongful imprisonment of 7,567 Japanese Americans at the Granada Relocation Center, or Amache, in Southeast Colorado.
Thanks to leadership by U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet and Rep. Ken Buck, legislation was signed into law earlier this year calling on the Park Service to study Amache as a next step toward an official park site proposal.
Two-thirds of our national parks have been designated to commemorate some aspect of this country’s history, and this is an opportunity to tell more of our collective story through a national park site.
To this day, most of our schools do not teach this history. Yet Amache is an American story that must not be forgotten. It is a story of failure by the U.S. government to protect its own citizens. And it is a story that still resonates today with the current political climate of anti-immigration rhetoric and the divisiveness it creates.
During the first months of World War II, in the largest single forced imprisonment in U.S. history, the government ordered more than 110,000 citizens of Japanese descent to leave their homes. The citizens were imprisoned in 10 remote, military-style prisons surrounded by barbed wire. One of these 10 prisons was Amache, in a remote southeast corner of Colorado near the Kansas border.
Today, Amache is a National Historic Landmark. Its watch tower, water tower, partial barracks and a cemetery have been restored, and the grounds are maintained by the Amache Preservation Society, a group instrumental in preserving, honoring and advocating for the site.
Two-thirds of the people at Amache were American citizens. Most of the second-generation, or Nisei, and third generation Sansei had never been to Japan.
The other one-third were first-generation Japanese elders, the Issei, who emigrated from Japan but were denied citizenship for decades. Most were given a week or less to dispose of everything they owned, with no idea where they were going or what would happen. Only one thing was clear: they were not welcome to live freely in California, Oregon and Washington because of their Japanese faces and names.
Even amid this tragedy, Amache prisoners created a life for themselves, quickly established a form of democratic self-governance, and nearly 10% volunteered for military service, the highest percentage of all the imprisonment sites.
Despite this resilience and patriotism, Amache was a prison, with guard towers and barbed wire. Its sparse barracks were built so shoddily that the interior walls didn’t even fully touch the ceilings, and flimsy windows allowed snow and dust to blow inside.
Many of the Issei generation died before receiving reparations, and never even received an apology.
Amache is a story that is ready and waiting to be told. This effort is broadly supported by survivors, their descendants, the Amache Preservation Society, National Parks Conservation Association and other allies. In addition to supporting the proposal, the Amache Preservation Society has already expressed interest in donating its extensive collection of artifacts to the Park Service.
We and future generations would benefit from a national park site honoring this often-overlooked portion of our past, so that the hardships imposed in the name of our government will never be repeated.
We urge our congressional leadership and the National Park Service to see this park designation through. The time is not only now, it is long overdue.
Robert Fuchigami is an 89-year-old Amache survivor and U.S. Navy veteran living in Lakewood.
Tracy Coppola is the Colorado program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association living in Denver.