PROWERS COUNTY, Colo. — A former World War II Japanese American incarceration site in southeast Colorado is one step closer to becoming a national park site.
On Monday, the U.S. Senate passed the Amache National Historic Site Act via unanimous consent. If it becomes law, the Amache site, which currently covers 10,000 acres near Granada in Prowers County, will earn the protection of the National Park Service and preserve the stories of the Amache survivors and their descendants.
This piece of bipartisan legislation will now go back to the House of Representatives for a final vote — where it's expected to pass easily — before it lands on President Joe Biden's desk.
On April 14, 2021, Reps. Joe Neguse (D) and Ken Buck (R) introduced the bipartisan H.R.2497 Amache National Historic Act, which would designate Amache as a national historic site. This came on the heels of a measure introduced by Sens. Michael Bennet (D) and John Hickenlooper (D). The House Bill passed on July 29, 2021 and the companion Senate Bill 1284 passed out of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Nov. 18, 2021. It needs to be passed by the full Senate.
The U.S. Senate's passing of the act means it will go back to the U.S. House of Representatives — where it previously passed in July 2021 416-2 — for a final vote.
If Biden signs the legislation, Amache would join 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. Roosevelt's order was part of the unconstitutional treatment of Japanese Americans and people of Japanese descent during WWII. More than 7,500 Japanese Americans were held at the site between 1942 and 1945.
Amache closed on Oct. 15, 1945.
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.
Bob Fuchigami, an Amache survivor, said he has waited many years for Apache to be protected for current and future generations to reflect, remember, honor and heal.
"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 Sens. Bennet and Hickenlooper for their leadership," he said. "My parents did not live to see this day. The time is not only right; it is long overdue.”
The father and grandparents of Michael Takada, Amache descendant and chief executive officer of the Japanese American Service Committee, were all incarcerated at Amache.
"They lived for decades with a sense of shame and deep emotional pain and trauma," he said. "My grandparents have passed away but my dad and uncle, 97 and 95, respectively, are fortunately alive and in relatively good health. But we have a narrow window to help heal these wounds and provide a sense of closure for them and the few remaining Amache survivors. With each day, we are losing survivors and descendants. Thanks to bipartisan leadership in the U.S. House and Senate, the Amache bill is very close to the legislative finish line.”
Hickenlooper, Neguse, Buck and Bennet all celebrated the Senate's passing of the proposal on Twitter.
"We’re a step closer to sending this bill to @POTUS & giving Amache and survivors the recognition they deserve," Bennet wrote.
Amache became a National Historic Landmark in 2006 and is maintained by the Amache Preservation Society. The society was established by John Hopper, a social studies teacher and principal of Granada High School. He also runs the Amache Museum, where he spends hours each week giving tours of the site.
He told Denver7 in May 2021 that the history of Amache has become deeply personal for him.
“I became emotionally attached to the individuals and families that were here. And listening to their stories overwhelms me. It’s a part of me,” Hopper said.
You can learn more about Amache here.