SENIOR MOMENTS: Tuna Canyon

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By PHIL SHIGEKUNI

A recent Rafu article reported that the site of a WWII detention station was being considered as the site for a Los Angeles historical-cultural monument. The site was originally designated as an “enemy alien internment camp” and was in operation from Dec. 7, 1941 until Oct. 1, 1943. 

The article goes on to state that more than 2,500 Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans were held there, along with Germans, Italians and Japanese Peruvians. The site is located adjacent to the 210 Freeway, a short distance south of the turn-off to Sunland/Tujunga.

A city staff report has recommended against monument status. Supporting monument status are an environmental group and a group organized to preserve the golf course that presently occupies the land. (I have played the short par-3 course.) Japanese Americans along with others who are concerned were urged to attend a meeting held Thursday, April 18.

The motion to consider making the site a historic-cultural monument was introduced by Councilman Richard Alacon at an L.A. City Council meeting in February. It was unanimously supported by the council.

While I am not aware of the reasons the staff did not recommend recognizing the site as a cultural historic monument, let me express my reservations concerning the proposed designation.

Richard Alarcon has long been a supporter of the San Fernando Valley JA community.  He was a neighbor of Valley icon Harry Nakada in North Hollywood, and took judo at our dojo on the campus of our community center. In March 2012, as city councilman, he sponsored the very successful rummage sale fundraiser at our JA Community Center on behalf of the earthquake/tsunami victims.

With this as background, I could understand Mr. Alarcon’s interest in preserving the site when approached by members of the Sunland/Tujunga community. The difficulty I have is with his statement in support of the designation.  He is quoted as saying, “Classifying the Tuna Canyon Detention Station as a historical cultural monument would allow us to protect this important piece of history, and give us the opportunity to continue to learn from our past mistakes and preserve this lesson for generations to come.”

The bombing of Pearl Harbor and the subsequent declaration of war with Japan had serious consequences for Japanese aliens in this country. I have friends whose fathers were led away from their homes by FBI agents shortly after Pearl Harbor and locked up at Tuna Canyon. Most were subsequently sent to internment camps such as Crystal City, Texas and Santa Fe, New Mexico. As tragic were these events, under the circumstances, in time of war, I cannot imagine how our government could have reacted any differently.

For Alarcon to call this governmental action “a mistake” is to confuse the issue concerning what happened at Tuna Canyon and the mass removal of Japanese from the West Coast based purely on ancestry. Because of rules in place relating to the Geneva Convention, the aliens — be they Japanese, Italians, or Germans — taken to Tuna Canyon were at least given individual hearings, in contrast to the mass removal of all Japanese, citizens and aliens alike, in complete disregard to due process of law.

Moreover, when the Tuna Canyon internees were processed and arrived at their camps, their living conditions there were governed by rules established by the Geneva Convention. I would suspect that Americans living in Japan or German-occupied countries during this era would have been given similar treatment.

So, for whatever reasons are put forth to designate the site as a historical cultural monument, let us make clear to the public the difference between processing enemy aliens during time of war and the mass incarceration of innocent people.

Phil Shigekuni writes from San Fernando Valley and can be contacted at [email protected] The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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