Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Colorado Day Trip: Amache Internment Camp, Part 1

You can find some historical background at this here.

Amache is a Cheyenne name. It was the name of the daughter of One-Eye, a Cheyenne chief. One-Eye, Ochinee or Lone Bear, was killed at the Sand Creek Massacre. Amache married a local rancher and raised a family in the region around Granada. The camp was officially called the Granada Relocation Center. Amache became the unofficial name to differentiate the camp from the town that lies just outside the boundaries of the camp.

When you research the history of the Amache Camp, you learn some fascinating details. At the time, it was the tenth largest city in Colorado. It housed almost 7,400 people at its most populated. They had a fire and police department. It had its own "day-care", elementary, and high school. It was the only one of 10 internment camps for the Japanese in America that experienced no riots or large scale disturbances. It had the highest percentage of volunteers who joined the military and most of those fought in the highest decorated military unit in World War II, the 442nd Infantry Regiment. 

The 10 camps that were used to house the 120,000 people of Japanese descent were spread from eastern California to Arkansas. The people who lived in those camps were divided between the Issei and Nisei. The Issei were first generation immigrants to the United States. The Nisei were second generation - they were born in the United States. The first generation were like many other immigrants. They spoke Japanese as their primary language. They retained their Japanese customs, traditions, and way of life as it could be adapted to life in the United States. The Nisei were more American than Japanese in many ways. They adapted to their surrounding because they were natives to the United States. And by nature of their birth, they were natural born United States citizens. Their children, Sansei, were just kids, as American as any of us whose grandparents and prior generations had chosen to seek out the American way of life.

When the Japanese and Japanese Americans who lived along the west coast were ordered to vacate their homes and businesses and lives, it was done with no regard to loyalty or citizenship. It was done in an all encompassing way - anyone of Japanese race was to leave. There was no voice or power that could turn the order. People of every economic level and class were to leave. Age, health, and status were ignored. This was a racist reaction to the events of the Empire of Japan and the Americans were judged guilty by race.

It makes someone wonder - how is this any different than what Hitler and the Nazis were doing to the Jews? How is this any different than the attitudes against Blacks? How is this any different than the treatment of indigenous peoples for three centuries?

The biggest difference, at least for the people of Amache, was that they never gave up on their country. The loyalty of the people forced to live in Amache seemed to never waver.


For me, the most powerful moment of this reality was reading and hearing about the Boy Scouts of America who lived within the walls of that camp. These young men continued to salute the flag. They continued to wear their uniforms. They bugle corps played when soldiers left for World War II and the played when they returned to be buried.