After being awarded a $102,190 grant from the National Parks Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites program, the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition is working on a traveling exhibit that will bring to life the Tuna Canyon Detention Station.
Many stories come from all of the concentration camps and assembly centers from the work of dedicated families and foundations. But Tuna Canyon is different. The detainees are all gone, the barracks have long been destroyed. Today, the site sits on what is now the Verdugo Hills Golf Course in Tujunga, Calif.
There are no markers, nothing to remind visitors of its existence, nothing but the oak trees in the area to remind visitors of life there during the days following Pearl Harbor.
The new traveling exhibit will be called “Only the Oaks Remain” because the standing mature trees witnessed the disruption of Japanese, German, Italian and Japanese taken from Peru as well as other’s lives.
According to NPS Ranger Alisa Lynch Brock, “They were watered by the tears of the Issei.”
The Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition hopes to open the exhibit on Dec. 16, 2016, the 75th anniversary of the site. It is also seeking venues that are interested in the little-known period between Dec. 7, 1941, and E.O. 9066.
To honor those who spent time at Tuna Canyon, the exhibit will also delve into prewar files from the National Archives that set the stage for the immediate arrest of “suspicious aliens.” A letter from the FBI dated Dec. 5, 1941, is in “Bend With the Wind,” about the life, family and writings of Grace Eto Shibata, edited by Naomi Shibata.
Also part of the exhibit will be photos taken by Officer in Charge Merrill H. Scott; however, visitation day and the hearings will be re-created by an artist since no known pictures are available.
Russell Endo, a retired ethnic studies professor who taught Asian American studies at the University of Colorado Denver, will travel to Washington, D.C., and Perris, Calif., in search of the names of each Tuna Canyon detainee. Along with Lloyd Hitt of the Little Landers Historical Society, he believes there will be nearly 2,000 names.
The hope is to display the names on a commemorative wall.
Endo is the grandson of Heigoro Endo, who was arrested by the FBI and taken to the L.A. County Jail and then on to the Tuna Canyon Detention Station. Heigoro’s family only had a few days, without his guidance, to get ready for their forced removal to the Santa Anita Assembly Center, a temporary prison created by the military at the Santa Anita racetrack in Arcadia, Calif.
“Whenever I now visit the Tuna Canyon Detention Center site and stand under the surviving oaks, I can easily recall my father’s stories and visualize as well as emotionally feel what occurred in 1942,” said Endo. “The buildings are gone, having been replaced by a golf course. But what matters is not what is currently on this site. What matters is what once happened there.”
Different committees are working to re-create life at Tuna Canyon. Yoko Mansfield and Noriko Murata are translating Sasabune Sasaki’s diary chapter by chapter. He was among the first to arrive in Tuna Canyon.
In addition, June Aochi Berk has been interviewing descendants at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, Calif. Her passion has led to typing transcripts of each child or grandchild that she has contacted. She is still seeking more stories; but interviews are becoming increasingly difficult, as she is encountering an aging community and faded memories.
Overall, Project Director Kanji Sahara promises that the Tuna Canyon traveling exhibit will be an experience that speaks to all.
Please contact the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition if you have any artifacts, art work or documents from the Tuna Canyon period of your loved one’s incarceration during World War II. Families interested in learning more or if you would like to help with the efforts to support a museum, please contact Nancy Oda at