Tuna Canyon Coalition Says Petition for Memorial Is a Sham

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An image of the oak grove at the Tuna Canyon site from a video shot by Joe Barrett.

The Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition is urging its members and supporters not to sign a petition being circulated online by a group called the Tuna Canyon Memorial Partnership.

The coalition has been working to establish a memorial at the site of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station, a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp in Tujunga that housed local Japanese, German and Italian immigrants rounded up by the government shortly after Pearl Harbor.

All traces of the camp were razed when a golf course was built on the site, but the Los Angeles City Council designated Tuna Canyon a historical and cultural monument, singling out a grove of trees that dates back to the 1940s. The property owner, Snowball West Investments, has opposed the designation because it would interfere with development.

The petition, with no names of individuals or organizations attached, reads, in part: “We believe the Tuna Canyon Detention Center Memorial Exhibit deserves a permanent home. The Tuna Canyon Memorial Partnership proposes to create a permanent detention camp memorial with facilities that can house exhibits, educate the public and promote the role of history in the protection of civil liberties.

“There is a possibility of a land donation from the current property owner to act as a permanent foundation for the proposal. It would be located directly across the street with a clear view of the original site of the camp, 6433 La Tuna Canyon Rd., Tujunga, CA 91042.

“The Tuna Canyon Memorial Partnership will hire an artist and an architect to design a memorial and a permanent facility to house the written and oral histories of detainees and their families. The development would include a commemorative space for contemplation and ceremonial gatherings.”

In a statement issued over the weekend, the TCDSC said: “Please be aware that the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition is NOT connected to, and does NOT support, this petition calling for a Tuna Canyon memorial to be located across the street from the actual site of the detention station in any way, shape, or form.

“This petition is being circulated by someone working for the 229-unit housing project proposed for the historic site and not by any organization that is genuinely working to preserve the history of Tuna Canyon. We are working on plans for an ON-SITE memorial and other public amenities in a regional park that would benefit the community and the City of Los Angeles. We are hoping the owner will discuss selling the land at a fair market price to a public agency for these purposes.

“During the Los Angeles City Council mandated working group in 2013, both the landowner’s representatives and the interested community were represented. They reached a consensus that there would be a publicly accessible memorial on the site where the original detention station was located and that included the grove of oak trees, which existed at the time that the detention station was in operation. The Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition supports this decision and believes this is the only appropriate site where a memorial should be located.

“The Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition is a nonprofit organization, established in 2013, to preserve the story of Tuna Canyon, and especially of the Japanese, German, and Italian immigrants, Japanese taken from Peru, and others who were held there during World War II. It is the winner of two National Park Service Japanese American Confinement Sites grants, one to tell the story of Tuna Canyon through our traveling museum exhibit, ‘Only the Oaks Remain,’ and the other to preserve the video histories of Tuna Canyon descendants through our ‘The Legacy Project.’

“The Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition has also undertaken extensive research on Tuna Canyon at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere.

“We urge you not to sign this misleading ‘Tuna Canyon Memorial Partnership petition’ and we appreciate your continued support to preserve the history of Tuna Canyon at its rightful location.”

The Tuna Canyon Detention Station. (Courtesy of the Little Landers Historical Society)

TCDSC President Nancy Oda said, “With the leadership of the Sunland Tujunga community, Little Landers Historical Society, La Crescenta Volunteers Organized in Saving the Environment, Italian Museum of Los Angeles, Tricentennial Organization, NCRR (Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress), JACL, Nisei Week Committee, LTHS (Little Tokyo Historical Society) … and many more organizations, we were able to achieve Historical Cultural Monument status … If we move across the street, we will lose the designation and the grove will make way for 229 houses.”

“This statement refers to ‘the’ Tuna Canyon Detention Center Memorial Exhibit, not to ‘a’ Tuna Canyon Detention Center Memorial Exhibit,” said Russell Endo, TCDSC board member, retired professor of sociology and Asian American studies at University of Colorado, and descendant of a Tuna Canyon detainee. “Words do matter. There is only one existing Tuna Canyon exhibit. This, in particular, is why people will be confused and think we are behind the petition.”

James Okazaki, TCDSC board member, stated, “Trees are living things. They saw everything that happened at Tuna Canyon. The trees across the street are deaf. They cannot hear due to the freeway noise and pollution.”

The Manzanar Committee has also urged its supporters not to sign the petition.

On the Tuna Canyon Memorial Partnership’s Facebook page, which also does not list any members by name, Noel Higa, a Sansei who grew up near the detention center site, posted a series of questions:

“How many of the family of those historically detained here are involved in your effort? How many Japanese Americans are represented in your group? How does this effort differ from the existing Tuna Canyon Detention Station preservation effort? Who are the ‘partners’ in your effort? Why, in light of the existing effort … do you feel it is necessary to advocate for an alternative? Are you a non-profit organization? Are you connected with or supported by the developer of the underlying development?”

As of Tuesday afternoon, there was no response.

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