FORT COLLINS, COLO. (KRQE) – A new project aims to raise public awareness about four Japanese American confinement camps in New Mexico during World War II. A partnership between the New Mexico Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League and the Public Lands History Center out of Colorado State University organized the project. Now, it’s gaining momentum with a nearly $200,000 grant from the National Park Service.
“We think this is an important piece of New Mexico’s identity and heritage,” says Confinement in the Land of Enchantment Principal Investigator Sarah Payne.
It’s a dark history some New Mexicans don’t even know about. Four confinement camps were built from Santa Fe to Lincoln County, where the Department of Justice held Japanese Americans captive during World War II.
“Once Pearl Harbor was bombed, they immediately had a mechanism to arrest and round up hundreds of thousands of people they already had under suspicion,” explains Payne.
While children might learn a little bit about confinement camps in school, it’s not history you can easily recognize on New Mexico’s landscape.
“At the site where Camp Lordsburg was, this is all private property now, so you can’t go visit it, you can’t see what little does remain there,” Payne says.
The one in Santa Fe is a suburban development, but there is a monument there. Yet, you’ll find nothing at the Old Raton Ranch or at Fort Stanton.
It’s why those who feel passionately about this unique history are working to increase awareness with historic markers, a public outreach publication and a website.
“Our project wants to make that history a little bit more visible and we also think that it’s just an important, it’s an important topic of conversation in our current political climate,” Payne explains.
Payne says they want to convey certain themes through those markers and publication.
“Identity, civil liberty and citizenship and what those themes mean in different times,” Payne says.
Now, thanks to the grant for this project, three years in the making is only 18 months from becoming a reality.
“It forces us to ask really important questions about current events and what it means to be a citizen and what civil liberties mean in a time of war and a time of crisis,” says Payne.
Even though the National Park Service has awarded the grant, the group still has to raise more cash. The rule is, the grant must be partially matched – a dollar for every two dollars of grant money. That comes out to between $94,000 and $95,000.
The project is one of 21 Japanese American Confinement Sites that received grant money. In total, the National Park Service awarded $2.9 million this year.