When thousands of people of Japanese descent in the U.S. were incarcerated during World War II, some of LA’s best-known recreation spots served as imprisonment sites. That includes the Santa Anita Racetrack, Griffith Park, and the Fairplex in Pomona. A shuttered golf course in Tujunga also held hundreds of people of Japanese descent at a facility called the Tuna Canyon Detention Station.
Kyoko Oda was raised in East LA, but she was born in 1945 at the Tule Lake Segregation Center, where her family was held during the war. Today, she’s the president of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition, a group dedicated to sharing its dark history.
The U.S. government deemed the detainees at Tuna Canyon as the most dangerous, such as Shinto and Buddhist priests (who were thought to have influence over others), martial arts and language teachers, and fishermen.
“They thought they were potential saboteurs,” Oda explains. “Fishermen … [were] on the tuna boats, or they need[ed] guns. And they also use shortwave radios to communicate. So this could be used, in the mind of the military, as potential transmitters to a foreign government.”
Mostly men were held in smaller camps like Tuna Canyon, and they were separated from their wives and children.
Oda’s family was held during the 1940s at what was known as a segregation camp in Northern California. Her father was put into stockades, where he was starved and beaten in the bitter cold of the Northwestern winter.
Her family has since received reparations, but she says they’re not enough to make up for what happened. “The reparations could never restore the losses that the people had endured. My parents had a business before the war. Some people had to sell their houses, their equipment, their harvest, just had to leave everything behind, because they had barely a week or two to leave. So there's no way to compensate anyone for that.”
She says after the war, her father continued to be a martial arts teacher, then became a gardener. His idea of recovery and success was to go to school and have a good career, as Japanese communities were particularly focused on the next generations.
At the Japanese American National Museum, when she saw the Ireichō book containing the names of everyone at the camps, she was overwhelmed.
“I think it was very healing for our community … to see this book so beautifully put together and to acknowledge my grandparents, my parents, my sisters, my aunts, my uncles, my cousins. And everybody's gone. So this is very important.”