Monday, March 27, 2017

Tucson AZ - George Hirabayashi

There’s a beautiful road which curves up through the mountains to Mt Lemmon, the highest point near Tucson. For years the only access to the top of Mt Lemmon was by way of a winding, twisting steep, dirt road up the back of the mountains. A long difficult climb and far from the city itself. Now, there’s a beautiful 25 mile road that winds from Tucson up the slopes. Easier, more accessible and a beautiful drive. Built by prisoners who lived 1/3 of the way up the slope in a prison camp marked not by guards and walls but by painted white rocks on the ground.

History, a beautiful drive and a few trails on the way. A three-fer. Count us in and we were on our way up the slopes. We’ve had so much rain recently that the flowers were in full bloom carpeting the walls of the canyons we passed through.
The ocotillo was blooming adding its red accents to the carpet of green.
This road was built between 1933 and the 1951 when it was opened. Most of the building was done by 44 Japanese-Americans who had refused Executive Order 9066 which called for the relocation of thousands of people with 1/6th or more of Japanese blood away from the coasts where they were considered a threat to internment camps further inland.

Here’s a poster of the times. With posters like these, it’s no wonder that people wanted Order 9066.
But, the Germans were doing the same and worse but there were no internment camps for German-Americans. Gary’s mother’s whole German-American family would have been interned.

In all 117,000, 2/3rds of the Japanese-American citizens of the US, were given from 3 days to 2 weeks to sell their homes, their businesses, their fishing boats and anything else they owned, told to pack a few clothes and move. The largest forced removal and incarceration in US history.
And then, after all this, the US drafted the young Japanese-American men living in the internment camps.
More than 300 of these young men refused to be drafted into the military until their constitutional rights as citizens were restored. They didn’t resist the draft itself but they just wanted their citizenship and that of their families resorted. If they were citizens and could be drafted, why had they been sent to internment camps? If their loyalty was questioned, why were they being drafted? Good question.
They they were convicted of draft evasion and sentenced to 2 - 3 years in prison. 40 of them were sent to Tucson in leg chains and handcuffs under armed guard. One of these young men, Gordon Hirabayashi wanted to work outside and got assigned to the Catalina Federal Honor Camp in Tucson but the federal authorities refused to pay for his trip so he hitchhiked his way to Tucson stopping in to visit his family interned in Idaho along the way. When he arrived, the prison could not find his papers and Gordon went out to dinner and a movie while they found them.
Here’s the camp, running up a valley in the Catalina Mts. No walls, no guard towers only painted white rocks lines on the boundary.
And, here it is today - not much left of it.
The prisoners were given shovels and pick-axes to break up the mountains and wheelbarrows to cart the broken rock off. ‘Before I went to the Honor Camp, I thought only prisoners broke rocks with picks in cartoons,’ said one former prisoner.
Roadwork progressed much faster when jack-hammers, bulldozers and tractors were added. The prisoners also built the buildings in the camp and grew most of their own food.

Gordon served out his time at the camp and after the war, went on to become a professor of sociology. 40 years after his internment, historians discovered documents showing that the Justice Department had withheld evidence that the forced removal and internment of Japanese-Americans was unnecessary.

In 1987 a Federal Appeals Court unanimously overturned Gordon's conviction and in his honor, the old prison camp was renamed the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site. Hirabayashi is in the middle of this group of former prisoners.

And, we are at Gordon Hirabayashi Rec site with Gary at the top of some stairs that still remain.
We walked around a bit and then decided to take the trail which took off from here and have lunch at the Whimsical Rocks.

‘Plan to be spontaneous.’

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