Amache: Forgotten History. (Day 1)

I wasn’t sure how I was going to start this blog off. I reset it back in November (2021) and was planning on posting about my cemetery adventures for a course I was taking, and that never happened. Then, during the spring semester, I started my work on 3D scanning of garments and textiles, also worthy of a post: didn’t happen.

I figured, “Hey, why not a screed about Kim Kardashian wearing Marilyn Monroe’s dress?” And then I saw the masses on social media saying garbage like, “It’s a dress and meant to be worn!” and then getting really upset about my retorts involving armor, pottery, and other “meant to be used” objects in museums, so I decided that the lecture on the importance of textile and dress history and archaeology would be coming as a more standalone feature (see the empty page above.)

What I have decided was worthy, however, is my current excursion to the Granada Japanese-American Relocation Center, otherwise known as Camp Amache, an internment camp in the tiny town of Granada, Colorado about a half-hour from the Kansas border.

You’re probably wondering how a dress historian got here.

I was asked to. Kylie, the project lead, was my project assistant for my above-mentioned scanning project, figured that since we worked together so well, I would be a beneficial asset to her planned thesis. As a graduate from the University of Denver’s anthropology program, she had completed the field school here, which is also currently coinciding with our scanning project. I figured the chance to actually visit a hidden and deliberately forgotten nasty facet of American History was more important than staying home and attempting to hammer out dissertation parts, or, work on portfolio contents to pass to candidacy (that has to happen anyway.) So, here I am.

I was apprehensive. Who wouldn’t be? This isn’t a fun happy place. This is a place where American citizens were wrongfully incarcerated because they looked like the people that bombed Pearl Harbor, while there was no similar camp structure for the people committing genocide across the other ocean. Not to say the Germans and Italians weren’t treated terribly, of course, but not on the same level as the Japanese were.

When people hear “archaeology”, they think Indiana Jones, they think Greek and Roman mosaic floors, they think cool temples and mummies, they don’t WANT to think about razed foundations where Americans imprisoned their own currently being reclaimed by the high plains at an alarming rate. They don’t want to think about that stuff, because Hollywood wants us to treasure hunt, not struggle to save even the absolute worst of human history in our own backyards. So here we are, determined to save it anyway.

The project? Terrestrial Laser Scanning. Using two Faro Focus scanners slowly walking across blocks of uneven ground, prickly sagebrush, pack rat nests, and rattlesnakes, bound and determined to make sure people remember what was here.

We landed in Denver on Monday, June 20th, and after some local sightseeing and a nice drive alongside the Rockies, we veered hard left toward the plains and didn’t look back for 3+ hours. After meeting up with the DU crew, we got to our hotel, and found ourselves at an early morning heading to site.

Day 1:

We were blessed/cursed with an overcast day that later turned to rain. So we only got a half a day of scanning in. Using spheres designed to help the alignment process on the difficult terrain, it took us almost 2 hours to finish one walk across the block, moving the scanner 20 paces and then completing a 12 minute scan.

Honestly, it was for the best that the day ended early, as we determined we needed to reconfigure our scanning process. Kylie started processing and registering the data, and we found that they were not aligning well. Upon consultation back at the lab, it looks like we have to go down to 10 paces a scan. This is going to double the time, scans, and work, to complete the project. Neither of us are thrilled about this, but quality is important, even if it lowers the quantity of ground Kylie wanted to cover.

On the way out, we visited the cemetery. 102 internees died while imprisoned at Amache, but the cemetery also honors those that served during WWII in the highly-decorated 442nd, and lost their lives proving they weren’t agents of the Empire of Japan. This is truly when I couldn’t hold back my emotions anymore, and lost it.

In the shrine at the cemetery, there’s quite a few cliff swallow nests. They build their own little mud huts, basically, and I thought all were empty until I noticed a couple of little eyes staring at me.

It was a bit startling, actually.

My mind immediately assumed they were the ancestors of those interred in the cemetery, forever overlooking the shrine to ensure its protection. I thanked them for their time, told them I was there for only good purposes and peace, and left them to come out safely. Upon doing some reading, I found the swallows do have significance in Japanese symbolism, mostly in the form of marriage, fidelity, and luck, but, also the importance of returning to one’s home. Perhaps rather than the ancestors, I was getting stared down by a imprisoned Japanese-American citizen, forever soured and traumatized, but dutifully guarding those that were never freed.

Tomorrow: Hopefully some museum time so I can assist with the textile collection.

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