It was February 19, 1942 when, in the midst of World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt signed an Executive Order to enable the wartime incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry in 10 internment camps throughout the country.
One of those locations was in Granada, Colo., where over 7,000 people of Japanese ancestry, most of whom were American citizens, were forcibly imprisoned at the Granada Relocation Center from 1942-1945. The influx in population made Granada the 10th largest concentration of people in the state at the time, despite being the smallest of the 10 relocation centers.
Though carrying the official name of Granada Relocation Center, the internment camp became known to locals as Camp Amache, deriving its name from a Cheyenne Indian chief’s daughter who married prominent cattle rancher, John Prowers after whom Prowers County is named.
The significance today of Camp Amache is its maintenance. Perhaps because it was the smallest of the 10 internment camps from the World War II era, or perhaps it was located in an area that did not see much development after the war ended, the Granada site is one of the best preserved with intact foundations and little alteration from subsequent development. The Amache Preservation Society (APS) today maintains the Amache site along with several organizations such as Amache Historical Society, the Friends of Amache, The Japan America Society of Southern Colorado, University of Denver among several others.
Former social studies teacher and now Principal of Granada High School, John Hopper, started the Amache Preservation Society and has used volunteer work from students at Granada High School to renovate the cemetery, establish an Amache Museum and research center, restore key Amache landmarks, including the water tower, a guard tower and barracks. The APS volunteer students also are given the task of traveling throughout Colorado, Kansas and Oklahoma to speak about the World War II internment camps and, specifically, about Amache. For almost a decade members of the Amache Preservation Society have traveled to Japan to live with host families to learn their culture and give presentations to local high schools.
“Those of us who were born in a camp wore a name tag with the name of the camp,” said Patrick Hayashi, former Associate President of the University of California who was born in the Topaz Internment Camp in Delta, Utah just over 700 miles west of Amache. “It’s a funny feeling to put on a tag. It creates a deep connection with others who have worn that tag, but it is also deeply dehumanizing.”
In 1988 the United States addressed the “dehumanizing” act of keeping thousands of American citizens in the Japanese internment camps with the Civil Liberties Act. Through that act the U.S. government acknowledged that “a great injustice was done to both citizens and permanent resident aliens of Japanese ancestry” and that the acts were “motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”
“If we want to understand our history, a little humility goes a long way,” Hayashi said at conference commemorating the Day of Remembrance - a day set aside in several states, including Colorado, to remember the Japanese American internment during World War II. “Nobody will ever understand the full story and each of us has a great deal to learn.”
Since closing in 1945, Camp Amache has gone through some restorations and has also become a location for community based research. Leading that charge is the University of Denver’s Amache Research Project, which is an on-going research project focused on both site-specific archeological research, as well as working on the collection at the Amache museum.
Amache is located in southeastern Colorado about 1.5 miles west of Granada. For driving directions as well as visiting options and museum hours visit www.amache.org.