History team finishes documenting N.M. Japanese-American confinement camps

A team of historians from Colorado State University, working under the direction of Assistant Professor Sarah Payne at the Public Lands History Center, has completed a project to preserve and spread the stories of Japanese Americans who were detained in New Mexico confinement camps during World War II.

The project, “Confinement in the Land of Enchantment: Japanese Americans in New Mexico during WWII,” has resulted in historic markers, a book, and an interactive online story map documenting the stories of the families who suffered imprisonment as a result of racism and wartime hysteria.

As many as 120,000 Japanese Americans were sent to confinement sites nationwide between 1942 and 1946, including four camps in New Mexico: Santa Fe, Fort Stanton, Old Raton Ranch (Baca Camp), and Camp Lordsburg.

New markers

The CSU team created two new historical markers at Fort Stanton and Lordsburg, and contributed materials to a third interpretative marker at Baca Camp.

About 500 copies of the book they produced have been distributed, for free, to libraries and public schools around New Mexico.

“We at New Mexico Japanese American Citizens League were proud and honored to provide volunteer help to the CLOE (Confinement in the Land of Enchantment) team,” said Victor Yamada, volunteer project coordinator for the New Mexico chapter of the JACL. “As we members and leaders say when talking about the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II: We provide presentations on this history so that society does not forget, and hopefully does not repeat, the injustices of the past.”

Six-year project

Payne began the project in 2011 while she was working as a consultant in New Mexico, before she joined CSU’s Department of History.

Thanks to two grants from the National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites grant program, Payne built a team of more than 30 scholars, survivors, family members of survivors, and other volunteers to conduct oral histories, archival research, archeological surveys at Lordsburg and Baca, and to complete the publication, markers, and story map.

In addition to telling the stories of detainees held at each camp, the project examines how the surrounding communities interacted with their Japanese and Japanese-American neighbors, both inside and outside of the camps.

According to Kellie Nicholas, who got her master’s in history in 2015 and worked on the project with fellow alumna Tessa Moening, the next phase of the project for Yamada and his JACL colleagues is to incorporate CSU’s materials into an exhibit that will travel around New Mexico.

In addition, the hundreds of documents that the CSU team collected from the National Archives in Washington, D.C., including prisoner rosters for the four New Mexico camps, are being entered into searchable spreadsheets that will be made available to the public on the new website.

Support future PLHC projects by making a gift online. The center and the Department of History are part of CSU’s College of Liberal Arts.