By GANN MATSUDA
On June 8, the Manzanar Committee announced its support of efforts by the Historic Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition, and Los Angeles City Councilmember Richard Alarcon, to designate the site of the former Tuna Canyon Detention Station as a Historic Cultural Monument.
Tuna Canyon, located in Tujunga (northeast San Fernando Valley), originally a Civilian Conservation Corps camp, became a high security prison within days after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
A total of 1,490 Issei (immigrants from Japan who had been prevented from becoming U.S. citizens by racist laws) were unjustly incarcerated at Tuna Canyon prior to being moved to one of the permanent confinement sites operated by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) or the Department of Justice/Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) during World War II.
Over 110,00 persons of Japanese ancestry, more than two-thirds native-born American citizens, were unjustly incarcerated in ten American concentration camps, along with other confinement sites. More than 2,500 people, primarily Japanese Americans, but also Germans, Italians and Japanese Peruvians, were incarcerated behind the barbed-wire fences and armed watchtowers at Tuna Canyon, before being moved to other confinement sites.
Indeed, like the ten American concentration camps operated by the WRA, Tuna Canyon had the same barbed wire and watchtowers armed with machine guns.
The site of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station must be designated as a historic cultural monument by the City of Los Angeles in order to ensure that a portion of the land will be set aside to commemorate the site, and to interpret its history for educational purposes.
“Tuna Canyon Detention Station should not become another lost opportunity where a vital part of American history is paved over and forgotten,” said Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey. “While our country, and the Japanese American community, have made strides in commemorating and preserving much of our history, especially the ten WRA sites, the entire story of the forced removal and incarceration of our community remains to be told.
“This is particularly true of the Department of Justice/INS detention camps and prisons, like Tuna Canyon. Many of the WRA sites were constructed, very consciously, in remote, desolate areas, including Manzanar. Tuna Canyon, where many Japanese American community leaders and prominent businessmen were incarcerated, is here in Los Angeles, not more than a stone’s throw from where many Japanese Americans live today. It provides a unique opportunity to preserve an important part of our local heritage.
“With the buildings and fences gone, it is easy to forget what happened. Regardless, or maybe even in spite of the physical structures being gone, it is imperative that a marker or plaque, along with other commemorative improvements, noting what once took place there, be installed.”
Embrey noted that the Manzanar concentration camp was also built on land once owned by the City of Los Angeles.
“Many are unaware that the site of the Manzanar concentration camp was leased to the United States government during World War II by the City of Los Angeles, which owned the land the camp was built on,” said Embrey. “The city owns huge swaths of land in the Owens Valley and the Eastern Sierra to protect its primary water source, the Owens River, its tributaries, and wells throughout the region.
“When the legislation to create the Manzanar National Historic Site was introduced in Congress by Rep. Mel Levine, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) vehemently opposed it, claiming that it would somehow threaten their water rights in the area. It took intervention by then-Mayor Tom Bradley and the Los Angeles City Council to overcome DWP’s stiff opposition.”
Embrey also pointed to the Santa Anita race track in Arcadia, which was one of the assembly centers where Japanese Americans were temporarily incarcerated before being shipped off the to the permanent camps, as an example that the City of Los Angeles and the landowner/developer at Tuna Canyon should look at as a model.
“Santa Anita has done an excellent job of retelling what took place there during World War II without any physical alteration to the race track,” Embrey said. “It would be a travesty of justice if the Los Angeles City Council fails to recognize the importance of this site, not just to Japanese Americans, but to the history and the people of the City of Los Angeles, and the surrounding metropolitan area, not to mention California and our nation.
“We join with the Japanese American Citizens League, Nikkei For Civil Rights and Redress, and the Historic Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition in urging the Los Angeles City Council to recognize the injustices done at the site of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station by designating it as a historic cultural monument, just like they did for Manzanar, located more than 200 miles outside the city limits, in September 1976. Only in this manner can we ensure that what happened at Tuna Canyon will never be forgotten, and remind us all that it must never happen to anyone ever again.”
You can help urge the Los Angeles City Council to designate the site of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station as a historic cultural monument by signing the petition. For more information and to sign, go to Change.org.
Editor’s note: Supporters of monument designation for the Tuna Canyon site will attend a public hearing of the Los Angeles City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee on Tuesday, June 11, at 2 p.m. in the Board of Public Works Edward R. Roybal Hearing Room (350), City Hall, 200 N. Spring St.