Courtney Ozaki loves Mexican food, especially tortillas. While she was growing up, her father would give it to her as a warm snack with a little butter.
She didn’t think much about the origins of her favorite childhood therapy, at least until last year, when she interviewed her father for her new collaborative, interactive art and mapping project called Solidarity Stories: Japanese Americans at Five Points.
In their conversation, her father revealed that he too had tasted fresh tortillas when he was young. The kind neighbor near their house was showing them to him and his friends while they were playing in the alley.
For many decades, Five Points has been Denver’s center for black arts, culture, and music as well as its community, but it has also been home to a range of other groups marginalized, including Japanese and Latinos, due to mandatory segregation rules and “redlining,” a discriminatory practice in which banks And insurance companies and other industries and agencies without their services out of neighborhoods with low-income people of color. The Ozaki family once owned a grocery store in Five Points. A Mexican restaurant sat down the block.
Ozaki’s father’s family moved to Denver in 1945 after they were released from the Crystal City family concentration camp in Texas near the end of World War II.
During the war, they were forcibly removed from their home in Peru at the request of the US government and taken to the camp – one family out of 120,000 people of Japanese descent who were held in such camps in the US (including one in Colorado) – where They faced harsh treatment and isolation. It is estimated that more than 2,000 Latin Americans of Japanese descent from 13 countries were interned in the United States and used to bargain for the return of US troops captured by Japanese forces – a little-known chapter in US history.
After their release, the Ozaki family was unwelcome and unable to return to Peru. So they moved to Colorado, where a cousin who lives in Denver was able to take care of them.
This meant five points – but they found affiliation, not just with these other communities, but with the increasing number of IDPs of Japanese descent who moved to “Larimer Pass” between 17th and 29th Streets to rebuild their lives after World War II. Communities together formed baseball teams, played neighborhood games, and celebrated their culture.
Much of that history has now faded or been erased as many businesses and homes formerly occupied by the Japanese have been modernized or demolished. Landmarks have disappeared, except for Sakura Square downtown, and most of the original settlers have become elderly.
But Ozaki is determined to rebuild that history and tell their stories again.
“I was very interested in understanding that there was a thriving Japanese community of businesses, families, community spaces, groceries, restaurants, hotels, etc., along Larimer Pass and in the Five Points and Curtis Park neighborhoods for several decades,” Ozaki said. that they were ever there.”
The project began with Ozaki and a small group of friends began collecting oral accounts from family members, friends, and other people they knew or knew who lived in the part of Denver.
Now fully developed, the project (launched by the Japanese Arts Network, founded by Ozaki, and the Japanese American Citizens Association Mile High) includes many of the stories they have collected so far, along with a map of nearly 30 landmarks and points of interest related to Japanese history or culture in Region. Visitors can take the tour virtually in person or online. The full 2.6-mile self-guided tour takes about two hours to complete.
Each of the 28 stops, also available in the app, feature articles, interview clips, public art, and/or videos to help rediscover a history lost in time. Each shows how the vastly different communities concentrated in the region created a thriving place of belonging and acceptance during a turbulent time.
An accompanying exhibition is on display at Savoy Flex Space, 2700 Arapahoe, #103, which includes a “section dedicated to the handcrafted high school where many of the interviewees attended” and other attractions. It has the hours July 15-17 and July 22-23.
With the right funding, Ozaki hopes to keep the app and website running after the gallery is removed. She and her team continue to collect oral histories of the digital archive to continue building on people’s stories at Five Points.
“There was a lot of focus on how they were feeling [Five Points] Ozaki said about the interviews they’ve collected so far. “How people helped each other, how it wasn’t without challenges like violence or some of these other things that you face when you live in the city,…but overall, there was a general feeling of taking care of one another.”
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