Tuna Canyon Coalition Standing Its Ground

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Nancy Oda of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition addresses the general meeting of the Little Tokyo Community Council on Tuesday. The council voted unanimously to reaffirm its position in favor of the commemoration of the story of Tuna Canyon through a memorial on the actual site of the wartime detention center, rather than across the street. (GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo)

A nonprofit organization working to develop a city-designated historic site in tribute to Japanese, Italian, German and other immigrants unjustly imprisoned during World War II is pushing back against efforts to relocate their planned memorial.

The Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition (TCDSC) on Jan. 18 issued a statement opposing a petition calling for the memorial to be moved from its historic location to an area across the street. Coalition spokesperson Nancy Oda emphasized that the proposed alternate location has no meaningful connection to the people and events that shape the Tuna Canyon Detention Station story.

“The developer, Snowball West, is trying to relocate our planned memorial and place it across the street, so that they can build 229 houses on the Tuna Canyon site. This recent petition is being circulated by a lobbyist in Little Tokyo and the Japanese community,” stated June Berk, secretary and board member of TCDSC.

“There is every reason why we should have a memorial on the ACTUAL site. It is the RIGHTFUL place to commemorate the men and women who suffered on these grounds. Just as the Manzanar Memorial was not built across the highway, or Heart Mountain, or Tule Lake built in a place ‘close to’ or across the street, so too we believe that Tuna Canyon Historic-Cultural Monument needs to be built in its rightful place.

“That place is on the grounds where the men and women who suffered there looked out through the barbed wire to their visiting families. Those incarcerated there could not go outside the barbed wire to walk across the street. This is the rightful place to build a memorial park that will teach people that the indignities inflicted on the Japanese, Germans, and Italian immigrants, as well as Peruvians of Japanese descent and others, should never be repeated or forgotten.”

James Okazaki, another TCDSC board member, said, “The trees are living things. And they were witnesses to what happened at Tuna Canyon. The trees were there to see and hear the people who were detained at Tuna Canyon, and the trees heard the cries of family members who came to see them there. Therefore, those oak trees are part of and an important element of a living memorial about the history and legacy of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station. Thus, the Memorial must be on-site and not off-site, across the street.”

In June 2013, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted to designate a one-acre parcel, distinguished by a grove of mature oak trees, as Historic Cultural Landmark No. 1039. In addition to a memorial plaque, the coalition is considering the installation of hiking trail markers, other educational amenities, and perhaps a regional park intended to raise awareness about the area’s historical significance.

When completed, Tuna Canyon will join other local, state, and federally designated World War II landmark sites, such as Manzanar, Tule Lake, Crystal City, Santa Fe, Ft. Missoula, and others in helping to transmit the lessons embodied in the preservation, interpretation, and education made possible through the “power of place,” according to Oda.

Oda points out that the coalition has logged several accomplishments since it was formed nearly five years ago. Among them:

• Recognition by the National Park Service with two Japanese American Confinement Sites grants.

• Development and mounting of “Only the Oaks Remain,” a museum-quality, traveling exhibit bringing to light the treatment during World War II of Japanese, German and Italian immigrants, Japanese brought to the U.S. from Peru, and others.

• Establishment of “The Legacy Project,” a video collection designed to record and preserve the stories of Tuna Canyon prisoners through their descendants.

• Extensive, scholarly research including but not limited to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. to chronicle the archival records and events that helped shape the Tuna Canyon story.

The TCDSC statement reads, in part: “In designating Tuna Canyon as an Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) in 2013, the City Council asked for and fully intended that there be public access to the HCM site on La Tuna Canyon Road. They mandated the formation of a working group and instructed it through the Office of City Planning to ‘explore appropriate ways to commemorate the historical and cultural significance of the site and strategies to secure resources to support the development of appropriate on-site interpretive displays, signage, markers and/or exhibits.’

“The working group included representatives of the landowner and the community. 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 continues to support this decision and believes this is the only appropriate site where a memorial should be located …

“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. DON’T BE FOOLED!”

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