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President Biden signs bill designating Colorado's Amache National Historic Site

Camp Amache
Posted at 2:47 PM, Mar 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-18 19:23:51-04

PROWERS COUNTY, Colo. — Legislation designating the Amache National Historic Site was signed into law by President Joe Biden on Friday afternoon, according to the National Park Service.

Amache, a former World War II Japanese-American incarceration site in southeast Colorado, covers 10,000 acres near Granada in Prowers County. It now has the protection of the National Park Service and will preserve the stories of the Amache survivors and their descendants.

WWII Internment Camp Dispute
FILE - A rebuilt watchtower stands at Camp Amache, on Jan. 18, 2015, the site of a former World War II-era Japanese-American internment camp in Granada, Colo. On the eve of the 80th anniversary of the forced internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans at the onset of World war II, Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah is getting backlash for holding up the creation of a national historic site at the former internment camp in extreme southeast Colorado. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras, File)

“As a nation, we must face the wrongs of our past in order to build a more just and equitable future,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “I applaud President Biden and the bipartisan action in Congress that has ensured this important and painful chapter in our nation’s story is preserved and honored for the generations to come. After visiting Amache and meeting with survivors and descendants, I was moved by their resilience and the way in which Colorado communities came together during and after the injustice to support Japanese Americans. May we all be inspired to do the same today for all our fellow citizens.”

The NPS said it will work with the Town of Granada to acquire the lands and formally establish the park. This process will take about a year.

Reps. Joe Neguse (D) and Ken Buck (R) introduced the bipartisan H.R.2497 Amache National Historic Act to designate Amache as a national historic site on April 14, 2021. This came on the heels of a measure introduced by Sens. Michael Bennet (D) and John Hickenlooper (D).

"I am thrilled that President Biden will sign the Amache National Historic Site Act," Congressman Joe Neguse said on Friday. "When we work together, when we listen and lead locally, we can accomplish a lot. This bill proves it. With the support of countless community advocates, and the powerful stories of survivors and descendants, we’ve been able to authorize the site’s designation in record time."

Bob Fuchigami, Amache survivor, said he had waited many years for this day.

“President Biden’s signature on the Amache National Historic Site Act today brings me hope that we are finally closer to this certainty," he said. "My parents did not live to see this day. The time is not only right; it is long overdue.”

Another survivor, Min Tonai, said he was incarcerated when he was 10 years old, along with his mother and siblings. He was a Boy Scout at the time.

“In 1943, our camp troop went to the Granada Railroad Station at four in the morning to see the young enlisted men off," he said. "Our scout commissioner told us to play as loud as we could. Years later, I served as a medic in the U.S. Army Korean War. In the 1980s, I worked to preserve Amache, organizing reunions and working on various preservation efforts. Thank you to President Biden for signing the Amache National Historic Act so that these efforts are not forgotten.”

The Amache National Historic Site joins other Japanese American incarceration sites protected by the National Park System, including Manzanar in California, Tule Lake in California, Minidoka in Idaho (and partially Washington), and Hono‘uli‘uli in Hawaii.

The Amache incarceration site was half built in 1942, when the first prisoners arrived. This came in the wake of President Franklin D. Roosevelt signing an executive order to force more than 120,000 Japanese Americans, who were mostly U.S. citizens, from their homes and into incarceration sites and detention centers around the west and southwest.

Villainy Parade
** TO GO WITH STORY SLUGGED EEUU VILLANOS ** This June 21, 1943 file photo shows housing barracks at the internment center where Japanese Americans were relocated in Amache, Colo. during World War II A space of 20-by-25 feet was allotted for each family with a communal bath house and a mess hall to serve each block of barracks. (AP Photo, File)

Roosevelt's order was part of the unconstitutional treatment of Japanese Americans and people of Japanese descent during WWII, according to the National Parks Conservation Association, and was a symbol of anti-Asian sentiment before, during, and after the war.

More than 7,500 Japanese Americans were held at the site between 1942 and when it closed on Oct. 15, 1945. Of those, 121 died at Amache.

American Internment: the fight to preserve Amache

In the decades since then, survivors and descendants have worked hand in hand with the Amache Preservation Society, civil rights groups, veterans’ groups, academics, public lands advocates, the Town of Granada and other local and state elected officials to preserve the Amache site land. Today, a cemetery, reservoir, water well and tank, the road network, concrete foundations, watch towers, the military police compound, and trees planted by the internees remain, according to the NPS.

Amache became a National Historic Landmark in 2006 and is maintained by the Amache Preservation Society.

Amache National Historic Site now has an official website.