Tuna Canyon Day of Remembrance at City Hall

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From left: Kay Oda, James Okazaki, Takashi Okazaki, Councilmember Monica Rodriguez, Nancy Oda, Councilmember David Ryu, Kanji Sahara, Donna Sugimoto.

It was a historic day for the Tuna Canyon Detention Station to receive a resolution recognizing its dark past in Los Angeles and American history at Los Angeles City Hall.

Councilmembers Monica Rodriguez (District 7) and David Ryu (District 4) introduced the resolution on Nov. 15 to the Los Angeles City Council to commemorate Dec. 16 as Tuna Canyon Detention Station Day of Remembrance. The vote was finally taken on Jan. 15.

Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition President Nancy Oda thanked the City Council for the resolution in memory of the untold story on its 77th anniversary.

The FBI was authorized by Presidential Proclamation 2525, 2526, and 2527 to arrest or cause the arrest of Japanese, German, and Italian aliens.

Board member Kanji Sahara recalled, “On April 29, 1942, our family assembled at St. Mary’s Church, which is in an area now called Koreatown, and got on a long caravan of yellow buses to Santa Anita Assembly Center. In October of 1942, we were sent to Jerome concentration camp in Arkansas.

“These camps were chosen in the most desolate places in America to give the Japanese a feeling of isolation, insignificance and despair. After our release from camp, we said, ‘Never again.’

“But this year it happened again. Along the Mexican border, immigrant children were separated from their mothers. Young boys were placed in cages inside abandoned Walmart stores and forced to sleep on the floor.

“In order to prevent this type of behavior by the government, we must teach the public of what happened during World War II. We can do this by building a memorial at the Tuna Canyon Detention Station site.”

The most compelling story cane from Donna Sugimoto, granddaughter of Shinsuke Sugimoto, who was incarcerated without a trial.

“Our government deemed him a ‘dangerous enemy alien’ because he was a martial arts teacher, and he was Japanese,” she said. “When I discovered a box of his letters and artifacts, I was shocked to learn that the [Verdugo Hills] golf course, just over the mountain from where I grew up in Burbank, had a dark history as a World War II incarceration camp.

“Replicas of my grandfather’s letters, and his handkerchief — signed by men incarcerated at Tuna Canyon — are now traveling in the exhibit ‘Only the Oaks Remain,’ teaching current and future generations Tuna Canyon’s story — a story so important, one of these letters is now shown in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

“Though nothing will change the injustices of Tuna Canyon, these educational exhibits bring history to light, as does this resolution — serving as deep reminder why something like this should never happen again.

“I never knew my grandfather, as he later died in another camp, never seeing freedom again. By honoring those forced behind Tuna Canyon’s barbed wire, this resolution will help descendants, like myself, heal from its dark past.”

TCDSC board members Marc Stirdivant, James Okazaki and Kay Oda lauded the earliest historians, Dr. Lloyd Hitt and the late Paul Tsuneishi, whose work resulted in securing Historic Cultural Monument No. 1039.

Dr. Russell Endo of the University of Colorado, grandson of detainee Heigoro Endo, said, “This public recognition of the injustice and tragedy will ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

TCDSC is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to preserve the stories of Japanese, German, and Italian aliens, and Japanese taken from Peru during World War ll. It is actively seeking an on-site memorial in honor of the 2,000 men incarcerated in Tujunga.

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