An undated aerial photo of barracks at the World War II-era incarceration center west of Granada. (History Colorado)
A site in southeastern Colorado where thousands of people, mostly Japanese Americans, were interned during World War II will soon be preserved by the federal government to help future generations remember the shameful period of American history.
The U.S. Senate voted Monday night to pass the Amache National Historic Site Act, which will designate the Granada Relocation Center — better known as Amache — under the National Park Service umbrella.
It is the companion legislation to a bill passed last summer by the U.S. House of Representatives and represents a rare bipartisan effort among Colorado representatives to conserve the camp.
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“The incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II at sites like Amache is a shameful part of our country’s history. Our bill will preserve Amache’s story to ensure future generations can learn from this dark chapter in our history,” Sen. Michael Bennet, who sponsored the bill with Sen. John Hickenlooper, said in a statement.
The Senate bill was caught up by an objection from Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, who wanted the park service to give up the same amount of land it would gain by acquiring Amache. On Monday, Bennet offered an amendment that makes the land a donation to NPS, and the bill passed later that night by unanimous consent.
“We have to get this done … because the number of survivors of Amache are growing fewer and fewer in number each year. We have to keep the memory of what they went through alive for the next generation,” Bennet said during his final floor speech for the bill.
The legislation will now head back to the House for a final vote and then to the president’s desk. The bipartisan bill in the House, sponsored by Reps. Joe Neguse, a Democrat, and Ken Buck, a Republican, passed last July with a 416-2 vote. Every member of Colorado’s congressional delegation voted in favor.
Buck, who represents Granada in Colorado’s 4th Congressional District, said in a statement that the legislation “recognizes the awful injustices committed against Japanese Americans who were placed in internment camps.”
The measure passed the Senate ahead of the 80th anniversary of Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, which led to the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans at various relocation camps across Western states during World War II. Amache was built in 1942 and at its peak housed over 7,300 people, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens.
“I have waited many, many years to see the day where we can be certain that Amache, as a place of reflection, remembrance, honor, and healing, is protected for our current and future generations. Passage of the Amache National Historic Site Act in the Senate brings me hope that we are finally closer to this certainty, and I thank Senators Bennet and Hickenlooper for their leadership,” Amache survivor Bob Fuchigami said in a statement. “My parents did not live to see this day. The time is not only right; it is long overdue.”
The Amache site currently consists of the cemetery, a reservoir, a water tank, a road network, concrete foundations, watch towers and a military police compound. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994 and became a national historic landmark in 2005.
It is overseen by volunteers, primarily a group of high school students led by local principal John Hopper, called the Amache Preservation Society. They work on preserving the structures and also run the Amache Museum and research center. In a typical year before the COVID-19 slowdown, the museum hosted between 10,000 and 12,000 visitors per year, according to Hopper.
Hopper called the prospect of the park service taking over management of Amache a relief.
“We’re taking care of not just a museum but Amache itself. Eventually, we’ll need some help taking care of it, and hopefully this will help,” he told Colorado Newsline.
Hopper is planning to step down soon, and former APS student and current Granada history teacher Tanner Grasmick is set to take over. Hopper hopes that the new designation of Amache will emphasize the national importance of remembering the inhumane treatment of Japanese Americans, fueled by fear and xenophobia.
“You may say, ‘Yeah, that’s long way from Florida or a long way from Michigan, but it’s not just that. We need to preserve a lot of these confinement centers for educational purposes so it doesn’t happen again. Hopefully people see it that way,” he said. “I mean, I’m a long way from Yellowstone and I’ve never been there in my life, but I think it means a great deal.”
Colorado is home to four national parks, five national monuments and two national historic sites.
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