Colorado became the 38th state in 1876, after the Civil War. Its land was seized in the Mexican-American War and subsequent Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in the late 1840s, but as a relatively dry and mountainous place, it didn’t attract as many settlers as other territories. The Rocky Mountains were virtually impossible to pass, without going south toward modern Utah or north toward modern Oregon, and farming was easier both in the plains of Kansas to the east and the fertile coasts of California to the west. The people who did settle were largely ranchers and railway workers.
In the dusty, quiet southeastern corner of Colorado lies the remains of the Amache Internment Camp, also called the Granada War Relocation Center. This was the smallest of ten internment camps built by the federal government in the 1940s, out of racial panic and material desire. Japanese and Japanese-Americans were forced to sell or abandon their homes and belongings, for well below market value. The people who benefited from these desperate sales were most often white Americans and businesses.
Amache Camp was the tenth largest “city” in Colorado at the time, with schools, a newspaper, and a Boy Scout troupe. Residents in all internment camps were subjected to loyalty tests, with those deemed “disloyal” kept in even further segregated camps. Amache was where “loyal” prisoners were sent. Several residents enlisted in US military service, more from Amache than any other camp.
Adults and children stayed in long, poorly insulated bunkers with no furniture and a single lightbulb on a chain for illumination. These bunkers laid closely together, over a square mile. Most of the people forcibly relocated were American citizens, although their citizenship was tenuous during the war years.
Amache had a hospital with dental clinic, though after the original prisoner dentist died, no one was found to replace him. 412 babies were born in the camp, and 106 people died, mostly the very young and very old. It’s important to stress that Amache was the “best” in a class of human rights violations, not actually a good place to live or raise a family. Amache Camp survivor Bob Fuchigami recounted longing for freedom as a boy behind barbed wire to the New York Times.
Mr. Fuchigami recalled the armed guards, and the floodlights that interrupted each night’s sleep. At Amache, he said, he became intensely jealous of a kite had fashioned from sticks and newspapers. “A kite can fly wherever it wants to go,” he said, noting the way it soared over the barbed wire as he remained inside.
(Continue to part 2)