Three hundred community leaders and activists congregated for the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Traveling Exhibit fundraiser held on Aug. 29 at the Nishi Hongwanji Betsuin Kaikan in Little Tokyo.
Many descendants of detainees were moved by the photos and charts that depicted a lost time in their personal histories. The goal to raise funds to match a National Park Service grant was successfully met with a small reserve for a future memorial on site.
Since Tuna Canyon is largely unknown to the general public, there was a sense of urgency about this place located only a few miles away from Los Angeles City Hall on the Verdugo Hills Golf Course.
More than 2,000 Japanese, German and Italian immigrants as well as Japanese Peruvians were detained at the former Civilian Conservation Corps camp in Tujunga from December 1941 to October 1943. Most were sent on to more permanent sites like Ft. Missoula, Ft. Lincoln and Santa Fe, which were run by the Department of Justice.
Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition members exhibited newspaper clippings, historical information, and photos that will be part of a museum-quality exhibit that the National Parks Service has selected for a 2015 Japanese American Confinement Sites grant.
Since no buildings from the Tuna Canyon camp remain, the coalition seeks to preserve a grove of oak trees that dates back to World War II.
David Ono, ABC7 news anchor, was the master of ceremonies. Dr. William Lloyd Hitt and Minoru Tonai, introduced by Bill Watanabe of the Little Tokyo Historical Society, were honored for their decades of service to the community.
Hitt, board chairman of the TCDSC, has been a leader of the Little Landers Historical Society and Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council. Starting in 2006 with Paul Tsuneishi and others from the Japanese American community, he spent close to 10 years compiling information and advocating for preservation of the Tuna Canyon site. With a contact between the group and the family of Merrill Scott, administrator of the camp, the project accelerated. In 2013, the Los Angeles City Council voted to approve Councilmember Richard Alarcon’s proposal to preserve a one-acre site at Tuna Canyon as a historic-cultural monument. Hitt is now working with the coalition to erect a monument on that site.
Tonai, who was born on Terminal Island, which was home to approximately 3,000 Japanese immigrant fishermen with businesses and families. At the onset of the war, his father was jailed as a community business leader at San Pedro City Jail, then Terminal Island Federal Penitentiary. The family was not allowed to visit him and were themselves interned at Santa Anita Assembly Center and then Amache War Relocation Center in Colorado. A veteran of the Korean War, Tonai built a successful career in finance and management at high-tech companies.
A supporter of the TCDSC, he has been a leader of the Amache Historical Society, Terminal Islanders Memorial Monument Committee, Japanese American Korean War Veterans, Nanka Wakayama Kenjinkai, Esumi Sonjinkai, Omotesenke Domonkai Southern Califonria Region, Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, Japanese American National Museum, and Asia America Symphony Association. He recently was awarded a Kunsho by the Japanese government.
The two honorees were recognized by Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside) and also received proclamations from Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, represented by Frank de Balogh. Los Angeles City Councilmember Felipe Fuentes, State Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Canada Flintridge), Assemblymember Patty Lopez (D-Arleta), and Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) also sent proclamations that were presented by Marc Stirdivant of TCDSC.
Sigrid Toye of TCDSC presented each honoree with a glass book inscribed with the coalition’s new logo and these words: “The oaks, as witnesses to history, compel us to learn from our nation’s mistakes and stand strong against prejudice, wartime hysteria, and injustice.”
Harunobu Ernie Nishii shared reflections of Tuna Canyon, Kanji Sahara provided details about the exhibition, and Nancy Kyoko Oda gave words of appreciation on behalf of the coalition.
Consul General of Japan Harry Horinouchi and his wife Sabine came to show their support.
A film clip courtesy of the producers of “Citizen Tanouye,” Robert Horsting and Craig Yahata, showed what Torrance High School students learned about the political shifts in California after Pearl Harbor, and the confinement of “enemy aliens’ at Tuna Canyon. The documentary profiles Ted Tanouye, who was killed in action while serving with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and posthumously received the Medal of Honor.
Ruth Matsuo Brandt, daughter of Sei Fujii, publisher of The Kashu Mainichi, told of her father’s plight at Tuna Canyon. Fujii, who is depicted in the dramatic film “Lil Tokyo Reporter,” was barred from becoming a U.S. citizen or practicing law in the U.S. because he was born in Japan. Brandt and her daughter, Lucia, donated a framed photo of him in front of the newspaper office when it opened and a group photo for the traveling exhibit.
Music by members of the renowned band Hiroshima, June Kuramoto (koto), Dan Kuramoto (flute), and Kimo Cornell (keyboards), contributed to the celebration.
Tribute songs by Franny McCartney and Rob Narita included “What America Means to Me” and “Allegiance.” Their songs told of a strong belief in America’s promise while connecting to emotional pain of the Tuna Canyon experience.
Nancy Teramura Hayata danced in a traditional kimono that had symbolic gold cranes on a turquoise sky with red inner sleeves, symbolizing hopes for world peace. The dance was accompanied by June Kuramoto playing Hiroshima’s “Thousand Cranes.”
Several guests traveled as far as the San Francisco Bay Area, like Grace Shimizu, an expert on Japanese taken from Peru. Kristin Okimoto, a strong advocate of the memorial, came from San Jose. She was interviewed by Kaitlyn Tang, a Peninsula High School student, who was interested in Okimoto’s grandfather, Sanjiro Miyoshi. Okimoto recounted what happened to him as a Terminal Island fisherman on the eve of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
The Manzanar National Historic Site was represented by Superintendent Bernadette Johnson, Supervisory Park Ranger Alisa Lynch Broch, and NPS anthropologist Jeff Burton, who visited Tuna Canyon and hiked in the heat, then went on to visit Historic Wintersburg in Huntington Beach the day before the event. The Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force was represented by Mary Adams Urashima.
Guests remarked that it was a true community event with Boy Scout Troop 738 setting up and Troop 719 posting the colors, Nikkei Student Union volunteers from CSU Fullerton, UC Irvine, UCLA, Cal Poly Pomona, San Fernando Valley Team Mirai, SFV Angels, and the grandchildren of board members working hard to make the event flow. It seems like the next generation will keep the torch burning.
Coalition meetings are held on the first Thursday of every month at the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center.
The Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition is dedicated to education and to raising public awareness about the detention that was a violation of civil liberties and to the continuing struggle of all peoples. It plays a key role in the development of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Memorial at 6433 La Tuna Canyon, Tujunga. Meetings are held on the first Thursday of every month at the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center.
For more information, call (818) 935-2603 or visit www.tunacanyon.org. Donations can be made online or sent to Tuna Canyon Detention Station (TCDSC) c/o SFVJACC, 12953 Branford St., Pacoima, CA 91331.
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo