An American Nightmare 1942-1945

They could bring only one suitcase per person! The Japanese Americans who were sent to the Granada Relocation Centre in south-east Colorado as a security measure after the attack on Pearl Harbor were only allowed to bring one suitcase with them, therefore many of their belongings had to be sold, given away or left behind. At the History Colorado Centre in Denver some of the suitcases and their contents are on display. 

Before being shipped to the camp they had to sell their farms, homes and businesses, many of which had been in their families for generations.  One Japanese businessman only got $5,000 for a business worth $100,000. 

The 7,318 people who were relocated to the camp that came to be known as Amache, stuffed photos, keepsakes, clothing, books and necessities like sewing kits into one suitcase they were allowed. 2/3 of the people detained at Amache were American citizens. 

The Amache Centre provided small, leaky, drab barracks accommodations for the detainees.

Recreation of the barracks at the Amache Japanese Detention Camp at the Colorado History Centre in Denver

In the History Colorado Centre they’ve tried to recreate the barracks with their single light bulb, coal stoves, cots with thin mattresses and lack of privacy. 

The residents built furniture from scrap lumber and hung sheets as room dividers to try to create some normalcy and a chance for family life. 

A Boy Scout troop in the camp made wooden toys for the children at Christmas. 

The body of artwork created by Japanese residents in relocation camps in the United States are called gaman. Gaman means to ‘bear the unbearable with patience and dignity.’ Art pieces included painting, woodwork, ceramics, prints and carvings. These creative endeavors helped the internees to bear their experience and maintain hope. 

A movie at the Colorado History Centre cleverly juxtapositions clips from the American government propaganda films explaining why relocation camps were necessary and how well they were run and maintained, with photos of the actual camp and the voices of detainees telling their own memories of that time. The differences in perspective are very clear. 

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