Historical ‘Asian Hate’ in the Foothills
The phenomenon of “Asian hate,” or prejudice against Americans of Asian descent, has unfortunately been in the news lately. Locally, Korean Americans are a huge part of our community and I’m sure that some of them could point to incidents that have happened to them recently.
Looking at the issue from a historical perspective, our community became the focus of Asian prejudice in the early 1940s. It had much to do with two government-run facilities in CV: Tuna Camp and Hillcrest Sanitarium.
As we all know, during WWII Americans of Japanese descent were singled out for persecution on a governmental level. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, hysteria on the west coast ran wild. Stories of Japanese Americans radioing bombing coordinates or signaling Japanese warships lurking offshore were rampant. In the panic, 120,000 American citizens of Japanese descent were imprisoned.
Tuna Camp was a former CCC camp that was repurposed as an interrogation center for suspected “spies” on Dec. 8, 1941. It was located where the now closed Verdugo Hills Golf Course is today. The name “Tuna Camp” refers to its location in La Tuna Canyon. Community leaders in the Japanese American population were arrested and held at Tuna Camp for questioning, sometimes for months. From there they either went to the internment camps or to federal prison.
Hillcrest Sanitarium was located at the top of Lowell Avenue. It was taken over by the U.S. government to house Japanese American internees that had contracted tuberculosis in the crowded conditions of the internment camps. They were removed from their families and brought to Hillcrest where, alone and under the eyes of armed guards, they simply waited to die. I’ve researched and written much in past columns about this.
Recently I found two old news articles written for Tujunga newspapers that had different angles of “Asian hate” in that era. The first is titled “Plan To Intern 250 Japanese Aliens In Tuna Canyon CC Camp – Bunk Houses Are Enclosed With High Fence.” The article details the process of enclosing the former CCC camp “to serve as a concentration camp.” It is further written that the “buildings have been enclosed by a 12-foot, heavy woven-wire fence with strands of barbed wire on top, and electric lights placed at intervals to aid armed guards in frustrating any attempt at escape.” The article continues that armed military guards were already stationed there. It finishes by quoting one of the guards: “It’s too nice a place for enemy aliens.”
The other article, published on April 2, 1942, was bittersweet. Titled “Lest We Forget – The Japanese Are Not All Disloyal,” the article comments on the last days in Tujunga for the Tsumori family before they were shipped to an internment camp. The young son Paul Tsumori had been active in Scouting, his family supporting those activities. Young Paul was described as having been the most faithful Scout to man the air-raid observation post. He was in the mixed-race color guard that represented the Sunland Tujunga Boy Scouts. Scoutmaster Jens Knudsen had made sure that his color guard was “color blind” stating, “In a land where men and women and children of all races make up the population and contribute to national life and industry, distinction of race, color and creed should play as little part as possible.”
The article about the soon-to-be interned Tsumori family finishes: “So Jens Knudsen went to say goodbye to Paul Tsumori last Saturday night before he left with his family with the other Japanese evacuees. As he was leaving, Paul’s mother slipped a sealed envelope into the Scoutmaster’s hand saying, ‘Here is something to help with the Red Cross trailer the Scouts are building.’ The envelope contained a 10 dollar bill, the first cash contribution the Scouts have received for their project.”
Despite this touching story, the LA Times infamously editorialized at that time: “A viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched – so a Japanese American, born of Japanese parents – grows up to be a Japanese, not an American.”
It was wrong and “Asian hate” remains an unfortunate part of our local history.