Amache is located on prairie land the government took from Colorado farmers through eminent domain. The climate was wretched and, for most people imprisoned there, Amache was far away and different from the places they were stolen from, such as my family’s home in Los Angeles.
Oct. 15 marks the 76th anniversary of when Amache was closed by the same U.S. government that opened it a few years previous. And, on this anniversary, I remember.
I remember the story of the guards at one of the campswho shot and killed a Japanese American man who rushed to capture his dog that burrowed under the fence to freedom. I remember how my Japanese American uncle had to pick sugar beets, which were used to make bombs for the war, while my father had to shovel coal for the railroads.
I remember the shoddy barrack bathtubs that were open to the sky and the elements, where there was no place for private bathing, modesty or pride.
I remember waiting outside with hundreds of other Japanese American families, three times a day, every day for our meals that were served out of mess tents. During these times, my father would hoist me up on his shoulders to protect me from the never-ending sandstorms that would pelt our eyes, hair, noses and clothes with grit.
And, I remember how my parents, like so many other parents, never talked about Amache once the government closed the doors, without apology or assistance to help us reestablish ourselves in the United States. Their deep shame created silence on an experience that is unthinkable to current Japanese American generations.
I am 82 now. Most children of the camps across the United States are in our 80s and 90s, our parents long gone. I, like many other incarceration survivors, work hard to preserve the land and what is left of the barracks, guard watchtowers and fencing. After Amache was closed in 1945, the land was abandoned and left for the prairie to reclaim.
I volunteer with the Amache field school, a program through the University of Denver’s anthropology department that offers for-credit and internship opportunities for students in the program as well as Amache descendants. We section off the land and sift through the layers of prairie soil, searching for my peoples’ belongings. What we have found so far has been preserved and can be viewed in an online gallery. But there is so much more work to be done, and my time is running out.
I also work with the National Parks Conservation Association to preserve Amache into a national park site. The Amache National Historic Site Act was introduced by Reps. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) and Ken Buck (R-Colo.) and was overwhelmingly passed in the House of Representatives in July. The bipartisan bill will preserve the land and create a memorial where people can learn about the site’s history.
I want people to walk through the gates of the camp, as my parents and I did. I want them to see the cots and naked, single lightbulbs in the rooms where we slept. I want them to feel the emotions of being trapped with their loved ones, political prisoners of war. With violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States on an alarming rise, I want people to know a fuller representation of Japanese American history so that it never happens again.
The Amache National Historic Site Act is now in the hands of the Senate. I urge them to pass it. All Amachean children are waiting for the justice, respect and honor our parents never saw. We must protect their stories and experiences for generations to come.