Even those who’ve lived in the San Fernando Valley all of their lives might be surprised to learn there was once a government detention center in Sunland/Tujunga that unjustly imprisoned Japanese, Germans and Italians and even held Japanese who were extradited from Latin America.
That shameful history was swept under the rug when the Tuna Canyon Detention Station later became the location for the Verdugo Hills Golf Course, which closed 1 ½ years ago and now is the spot speculated to build 215 houses.
While the barracks, barbed wire, and guard stations are no longer there, it's history is well-documented in “Only the Oaks Remain: The Story of Tuna Canyon Detention Station,” now on exhibit at the Museum of the San Fernando Valley in Northridge.
Through photographs, letters, diaries and video, descendants tell the stories of those targeted as dangerous enemy aliens, and imprisoned in the Tuna Canyon Detention Station by the US Department of Justice during World War II.
“My father was a farmer who was picked up in 1942 after the war started,” Haru Kuromiya shared on video. “The FBI came and suddenly took him. We found out later that they took him to the county jail and then he was taken to the Tuna Canyon Detention Center.”
Kuromiya remembers the barbed wire surrounding the camp when she and her mother — pregnant at the time — went to see him, but was only allowed to talk to him through the fence. “It reminds us of our constitutional rights, how easily they can be taken away from us,” she said.
“Due to the current political climate, this exhibit has become more relevant,” said Nancy Oda, president of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition.
Oda, born in the Tule Lake concentration camp herself, knows the painful history of Japanese Americans during World War II firsthand, so after learning of the Tuna Canyon Detention Center it called to her. She found that while she and her family were incarcerated at the Poston and Tule Lake concentration camps, Tuna Canyon temporarily held more than 2,000 immigrants, including Japanese Peruvians, before sending them off to the concentration camps where they would spend the rest of the war.
She notes that many of the people held at Tuna Canyon were leaders in the community, and it’s especially moving for people who find the names of their relatives on the exhibit’s “honor wall.”
Those viewing the exhibit learn that during the decade before World War II, the US government compiled lists of people they saw as potential risks to national security. When the war began, Presidential Proclamations 2525, 2526, and 2527 authorized the FBI and other agencies to arrest such individuals—mostly spiritual, educational, business, and community leaders from the Japanese, German, and Italian immigrant communities. The government also rounded up Japanese and other individuals who had previously been forcibly removed from Latin America.
This history smacks of similar controversies today with President Trump attempting to gather citizenship information through the US Census.
The traveling exhibit will be shown in several cities, and is especially noted for its important documentation of Valley history.
A reception and talk by Nancy Oda will be given at the museum today, July 11, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., and is open to the public. The exhibit will run through July 27. The museum, located at 18860 Nordhoff St., Suite 204, in Northridge, is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit info@TheMuseumSFV.org