Last week, Camp Amache – more formerly known as the Granada Relocation Center -- got one very large step closer to something John Hopper could not have imagined, let alone envisioned, when he took a position teaching Social Studies at Granada High School and became intrigued with the abandoned World War II Japanese internment camp a few miles away.
Over the years that followed, Hopper and dozens of his students devoted themselves to restoring, as much as they could, the internment camp to the place where visitors, students of history and, perhaps most importantly, descendants of those who had been interned could take a closer look at what the camp had been like when it was occupied by nearly 8,000 Japanese-American citizens held there as prisoners for…simply being of Japanese descent.
Last week, the US House of Representatives passed legislation to establish the Amache National Historic Site as part of the National Park System. Colorado U.S. Representatives Joe Neguse (D), Ken Buck (R), Jason Crow (D), Ed Perlmutter (D), and Diana DeGette (D) co-sponsored this bill – which is companion legislation to a bill Colorado U.S. Senators Bennet and Hickenlooper introduced in the Senate earlier this year – in the U.S. House of Representatives. Before he was voted out of office, former U.S. Senator Cory Gardner had also been a strong advocate of Amache’s inclusion in the National Park System.
“It has never been a guarantee that America's highest ideals will always prevail, and our country’s shameful internment of Japanese Americans during World War II proves that,” said Senator Bennet in a statement. “Establishing Amache as a part of the National Park System will preserve its story, so that future generations learn from this dark period in our history. As this legislation advances out of the House, I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to pass this important bill.”
“We’re one step closer to making Amache a National Historic Site,” said Senator Hickenlooper. “Preserving Amache is about what we choose to remember and what we commit ourselves to prevent. The ball is now in the Senate’s court.”
“Today’s historic passage of the bipartisan Amache National Historic Site by the U.S. House of Representatives is an expression of faith in our future,” said Tracy Coppola, Colorado Program Manager of the National Parks Conservation Association. “We applaud the leadership of Congressman Neguse and Congressman Buck and the enduring voice of the Amache community. We look forward to Senators Bennet and Hickenlooper championing the companion bill among their colleagues next.
“As America’s storyteller, what the National Park Service chooses to preserve and the stories it chooses to tell reflects our values as a nation,” Coppola continued, “and Amache challenges us all to act toward a better future where justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion are America’s top priority. We urge Congress to keep the momentum going and look forward to swiftly getting this bill through the Senate and to President Biden’s desk.”
The official process to include Amache in the NPS has met its challenges along the way, not the least of which was the pandemic, which effectively shut down progress on the study typically required of including a historic site in the park system.
However, thanks to the diligence of some of the Colorado delegation, Congress agreed to expedite the process so that the consideration of the designation would not be further delayed.
Last month, Bennet and Hickenlooper sent a letter to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources asking Chairman Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) to hold a hearing to consider this legislation.
With the infrastructure bill consuming so much of Washington’s time and attention, it is unclear whether the bill will get out of committee and go to the floor before the Senate goes on recess, scheduled for next week. If not, it will be delayed until the Senate returns from recess following Labor Day.
For those unfamiliar with the site, Amache was one of ten Japanese American incarceration facilities across the country. During World War II, nearly 10,000 Japanese Americans passed through Amache and over 7,000 lived there between 1942 and 1945. According to the National Park Service (NPS), today “the cemetery, a reservoir, a water well and tank, the road network, concrete foundations, watch towers, the military police compound, and trees planted by the internees still remain.” Amache is currently a National Historic Landmark maintained by the Amache Preservation Society, established by John Hopper, a social studies teacher who is currently the principal of Granada High School, and powered by student volunteers from the high school.
In May 2017, Hopper guided Bennet during his visit to Amache. In May 2018, Bennet, Buck, and former U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), introduced the Amache Study Act, which directed the Department of the Interior to conduct a Special Resource Study (SRS) to assess Amache’s historical significance and determine the feasibility of adding the site to the National Park System. The act was signed into law in 2019 as part of the Dingell Conservation Act. While the study was already underway, the community asked Bennet, Hickenlooper, Neguse and Buck to introduce legislation because, ultimately, adding Amache to the NPS requires Congressional designation.
It must also be said that John Hopper, who went on to become the principal of Granada High School and Dean of Students, and class after class of GHS students has worked on this project tirelessly for thirty years, with Hopper devoting his own time, his own equipment and, often, his own money to restore the site to its current state.
If inclusion in the NPS continues on its present trajectory, one can only imagine the possibilities that await this site that, much like the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site located less than 50 miles to the north, is so crucial to Americans understanding our past.
The Independent has covered both Hopper and Camp Amache several times since the newspaper began publication in 2016 and will continue to cover this story as it develops.