Amache Preservation Society
The Amache Preservation Society is a group established by a Granada High School social studies teacher named John Hopper in the early 1990s. It is comprised of local high school students who work to preserve the physical site and memory of the Granada War Relocation Center, more commonly known as Amache. The group provides upkeep of the site, gives presentations on the wartime Japanese American experience, and maintains a small museum in Granada which houses objects, documents, and photographs related to Amache.
Early Preservation Activities
The town of Granada purchased the land on which the main portion of Amache rested after its official closure on January 26, 1946. With the exception of the land being used as a water source and dump for the town, it was largely ignored for over 20 years. The first pilgrimage took place in 1976, and the Denver Central Optimist Club began preservation efforts in the early 1980s. Limited activity took place at Amache throughout the remainder of the 1980s besides an annual pilgrimage sponsored by the Optimist Club and those visiting individually to reflect on Japanese American incarceration during WWII.
Establishment of the Amache Preservation Society
The preservation movement at Amache gained strength in 1990 due to the efforts of a Granada High School social studies teacher named John Hopper. He viewed Amache as a tremendous resource for his students, as it would allow them a chance for hands-on participation in world history. Hopper took his involvement a step further in 1993 with the official formation of the Amache Preservation Society (APS). One of his original goals for the group involved interviewing those imprisoned at Amache, believing this would provide students the opportunity to learn considerably more details about the experience than through books alone. Although Hopper was initially interested in recording oral histories and obtaining primary information on the camp, this turned out to be just the beginning of his involvement with the site.
During these early years of the APS, the local Granada community did not entirely support the endeavors undertaken by the students. Most residents were not even aware of the project at this time, and many who did know about it did not fully understand the motivations of the group. The primary complaints towards the preservation efforts expressed by some citizens of Granada in the early 1990s related to the potential loss of local water wells and an opposition to governmental control they felt would coincide with status as a national historic site.
The APS continued its preservation efforts, and by 1996 the group had begun presenting on the topic of WWII Japanese American incarceration to surrounding schools and organizations. The students constructed a large-scale model of the prison camp and brought it with them during their presentations to allow others to better visualize Amache. The Granada High School shop class constructed a trailer for the group, allowing easier transport of the model and other objects during outreach programs. The APS made contact with former Amache inmates currently living in Colorado as one of its earliest projects. The students were able to expand upon this project in 1998 during the "Back to Amache" reunion, when close to 500 inmates and their families visited the site. The California-based Amache Historical Society sponsored the 1998 reunion, which boasted the largest gathering of Amacheans together since the prison camp closed in 1945. The APS prepared for the visitors by cleaning the cemetery and placing dozens of signs to locate specific barracks and other areas throughout the site. During the reunion the students also assisted in recording numerous oral histories to preserve the memories of former Amache prisoners, led by filmmakers Irene Rawlings and David Foxhoven. These videotapes remain under the care of the APS, along with other oral histories obtained from former War Relocation Authority personnel and locals who lived in Granada during the war.
The entire Granada community pitched in during the spring of 2000 to help the APS and Optimists clean up Amache's cemetery. Over the course of a weekend in the middle of April, close to 300 individuals gathered to plant over 150 trees, lay sod, and put up a chain link fence. The widespread enthusiasm expressed by local residents at this time demonstrated that more were warming up to the idea of preserving Amache. The hard work and dedication apparent from the APS students since the group's inception began to convince locals about the importance of Amache and also created excitement about the project throughout the community. It has also produced a newfound appreciation that Granada could benefit economically from the continuation of these efforts. The sentiment expressed by Derek Okubo has been echoed by individuals throughout the stakeholder groups. "If it weren't for the students in the APS, we wouldn't be where we are today. This situation is a graphic example of where young people have changed the world."
Amache Preservation Society Today
Living in a small town such as Granada has been beneficial for the approximately 100 students who have participated in the APS over the years, as it has allowed hands-on access much more readily than may have been possible in a larger urban area. Both the students and the community have reaped enormous benefits from participation in this project. The students have been exposed to an important period in our nation's history, and they have used their knowledge and resources to spread the story to others.
Under the direction of John Hopper, APS students are responsible for regular maintenance at Amache and providing tours of the site. They also manage the Amache Museum located in Granada, which is filled with objects donated by former inmates and their families. The museum is open for special events such as the annual pilgrimage and by special request from visitors. It contains items such as photographs, Granada Pioneer newspapers, wooden carvings and other crafts created at Amache, as well as archaeological materials recovered during the University of Denver's field investigations at the site. The APS also regularly presents on the subject of Japanese American incarceration to groups throughout Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma. The activities of the APS and the continued preservation at Amache are funded through donations and grants from individuals and foundations from around the country.
Through their involvement with the APS, these Granada High School students have obtained public speaking skills and a sense of responsibility that can only benefit them later in their lives. The University of Denver's association has provided APS members the opportunity to work alongside university students while learning about both archaeological and museum studies practices. Numerous groups of APS students have also traveled to Japan, staying with host families and learning about Japanese culture while giving presentations about Amache. Few students living in a small rural community would be able to participate in such extraordinary experiences, but the dedication of the APS has opened up many new possibilities for them.
For More Information
Amache Preservation Society. http://www.amache.org. [This is the website maintained by the Amache Preservation Society in Granada, Colorado. It provides general history about Amache and its preservation, as well as updates about events and preservation activities.]
Amache Project. University of Denver (DU). http://portfolio.du.edu/amache. [The University of Denver (DU) Amache Project is a community based project researching the tangible history of Amache. The website provides information about ongoing projects related to the site]
Harvey, Robert. Amache: The Story of Japanese Internment in Colorado during World War II. Dallas: Taylor Trade, 2004. [Harvey's is the one of the few published works dealing exclusively with Amache. It is out of print but available at many libraries.]
Shikes, Jonathan. http://www.westword.com/2001-09-13/news/forward-into-the-past/ [A magazine article that provides history of Amache and its preservation.]
- John Hopper, conversation with author, January 29, 2010.
- Hopper, conversation with author.
- Jim Carrier, "Japanese Americans relive days of shame: Bashing binge bringing back scars of racism," Denver Post, March 22, 1992, Section 1-A.
- "Colorado's Historic Preservation Award Winners 2004." Colorado Preservation Inc., accessed April 5, 2010, http://www.coloradopreservation.org/news/articles/DCA_Release_04.doc.
- "Joint effort restores sites of war camp," Denver Post, May 18, 2000, Section B-05.
- Derek Okubo, conversation with author, February 6, 2009.