February 19, 2016 marked the 74th anniversary of the beginning of the Japanese internment camps. Shortly following the attacks on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the incarceration and forced relocation of 110,000 to 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry who lived on the Pacific coast. Sixty-two percent of the internees were US citizens. Incarcerated without trial, they were forced to leave behind their families along with everything they knew and loved. The internment has been determined to have resulted more from racism in the West Coast rather than any military danger posed by Japanese Americans.
Two internment camps were located in New Mexico. NewMexicoHistory.org tells us from March 1942 and April 1946, the internment camp in Santa Fe (current site of the Casa Solana neighborhood) incarcerated 4,555 men of Japanese ancestry.
“Racial hatred and war hysteria created an inhospitable atmosphere for Japanese Americans already residing in New Mexico. Many Japanese-Americans lost their jobs and feared imprisonment….After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 7 December 1941, Americans blamed the debacle on espionage committed by Japanese Americans instead of the lack of preparedness by American military forces. The federal government actually had proof that no espionage had occurred, but chose not to contradict the circulating rumors. Indeed before Pearl Harbor, Curtis B. Munson, a special representative to President Roosevelt, had studied whether the Japanese Americans of the west coast posed a threat to the country, but had concluded that they did not.” – NewMexicoHistory.org
Watch the 2013 PBS video Moments In Time which looks back on the internment camp in Santa Fe. Professor of Literature Gail Okawa, renowned photographer Patrick Nagatani, and southwestern artist Jerry West share their family’s stories about the Santa Fe camp. Highlighted are original family photographs along with rare photographs of the camp loaned by Brian Minami of manymountains.org. Featured is Japanese flute music performed by Andrea McQuate.
You can read more Gail Okawa in this Santa Fe Reporter article from 2010.
While there was an increase in racism towards Japanese Americans, there were people around the nation who stood by their their neighbors who were at risk of losing everything.
In 2013 The New York Times shared the incredible story of Bob Fletcher. Fletcher was “a former California agriculture inspector who, ignoring the resentment of neighbors, quit his job in the middle of World War II to manage the fruit farms of Japanese families forced to live in internment camps. ” Sadly, Fletcher died on May 23, 2013 at 101 years of age.
The internment camp is now marked by a secluded monument at the Frank S. Ortiz Dog Park, hidden from most eyes, as if the city does not want to remember this dark piece of Santa Fe’s history.
Note: In 2014 the National Parks Service granted New Mexico $186,000 to preserve the history of these camps.