Pilgrimage History

Pilgrimage History
Pilgrimages to former WWII concentration camps for those of Japanese descent were started in the late 1960s. It took nearly a quarter century for former prisoners and their descendants to question why they had been imprisoned and begin searching for answers.

In 1968, the Denver Central Optimists Club (DCO) was formed to preserve the site of the Granada Incarceration. The club met with the City Fathers of Granada, CO and the first meeting could be characterized as rancorous. The parties continued to meet and the dialogue grew polite. Today, the City of Granada is planning to donate the land of the site to the National Park Service.

In the late 60s and seventies, the DCO continued its efforts to preserve the site which was little more than concrete foundations amid dead and dying trees and wild grasses. Within a few years, the DCO had erected a sign, planted sod, restored the cemetery and brought Amache out of the obscurity of time and neglect.

The first formal pilgrimage to Amache in 1975 was organized by Marge Taniwaki and University of Colorado professor Russell Endo, along with members of the Community Action Research Program and university students. The pilgrimage was funded by a grant from the state of Colorado, and it was one of the official 1975-1976 events commemorating the centennial of Colorado’s statehood.

After pilgrims arrived at Amache, they cleaned the cemetery site. During a remembrance service, they laid flowers at the stone memorial left by the prisoners, which was housed in a small brick structure located northwest of the headstones. Barbed wire enclosed the cemetery, which was accessible through a cattle guard that kept foraging livestock from stepping on grave markers. Wooden planks carefully inscribed in Japanese with the names of those who died in camp were kept from the elements in the same brick building that housed the stone memorial.

A guided walk through Amache revealed barrack foundations, cement slabs from laundry facilities and showers, and base anchors for the guard towers that had ringed the camp. The heat and strong wind that stirred up dust and sand reminded former prisoners of their years spent behind barbed-wire on the plains of Colorado. Before heading back to Denver, a potluck lunch was shared in the front yard of the Masunaga family, who lived in the nearby town of Granada.

In 1983, the Denver Central Optimist Club began their pilgrimages to Amache, which founding members have continued through efforts of the Amache Club and now the Nikkeijin Kai of Colorado. Today, several groups that organize the Amache Pilgrimage and also work on historical restoration of the site. These groups include: Nikkeijin Kai of Colorado, Amache Preservation Society, Amache Alliance, Colorado Preservation, Inc., University of Denver’s Amache Project, and others you can learn about on the Project Team page.

The annual in-person Amache Pilgrimage typically takes place in May on the Saturday before Memorial Day weekend, and it follows much the same format as the first pilgrimage in 1975.