Exhibit considers a bittersweet legacy - Albuquerque Journal

Exhibit considers a bittersweet legacy

Evelyn Saeda, right, stands in a corn field near Albuquerque on Aug. 30, 1942. She was the daughter of Japanese immigrants and the mother of Steve Togami, current president of the New Mexico Japanese American Citizens League. (Courtesy of Togami Family)

Nikki Nogima Louis remembers the day the FBI interrupted her fourth birthday party and took her father away.

The family lived in Seattle, where he worked as bookkeeper.

“He’d been in the U.S. for 30 years,” she said. “We didn’t hear from him for a long time. I’d get packages stamped ‘Alien Enemy Mail.’

“My family never lived together again.”

Louis’ family was one of more than 120,000 of Japanese ancestry forcibly removed from the West Coast into camps across the country. Four camps were in New Mexico.

Japanese American confinement during World War II has long been a cauldron of American shame. The bombing of Pearl Harbor ignited paranoia and racism across the county.

“Courage and Compassion: Our Shared Story of the Japanese American World War II Experience” backflips that legacy by focusing on acts of kindness defending the residents of Japanese ancestry whom the FBI targeted as “enemy aliens.”

By August 1942, the U.S. government had forcibly removed about 120,000 men, women and children of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast to prison camps throughout the West and Arkansas.

New Mexico’s camps were near Lordsburg, Santa Fe, Fort Stanton and Old Raton Ranch (also known as the Baca Camp) in Lincoln County. The exhibit mines the untold stories of the people of Gallup, Las Cruces and Clovis who tried to help.

Government authorities considered New Mexico’s Japanese population too minuscule to be threatening. But the four camps held people of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast, said Louis, a board member of the New Mexico Japanese American Citizens League and exhibit community curator.

Wartime drama erupted in Clovis, because of racism and economic resentment toward Japanese railroad workers who refused to strike with their Anglo colleagues. Their company loyalty fueled hatred that smoldered for years.

Days after Pearl Harbor, the FBI advised employers to tell Japanese railroad workers to stay off the job. At midnight in January 1942, State Police rounded up more than 30 workers, forcing them to the Baca Camp in a neglected and abandoned Civilian Conservation Corps building.

“They slept among the bedbugs and the spiderwebs,” Louis said.

Decades later, a longtime Clovis resident named Adrian Chavez learned about the mass removal in a history class. In 2014, the shocked student lobbied Clovis officials to invite the former residents back as honored guests of the Pioneer Days Celebration.

In Gallup, community leaders and citizens in general championed their Japanese American neighbors.

“The sheriff told the community, ‘I will protect you as much as I protect my Italian American family,” exhibit coordinator Jane Cole said.

Cole’s father was a Lincoln County farmer of Japanese descent. After Pearl Harbor, gossip about the lights atop the family barn circulated.

“People in the community said they pointed to Fort Bliss to lead the Japanese pilots,” Cole said.

On the whole, people were kind, she acknowledged.

The government sent Louis’ father to an internment camp near Lordsburg, where he remained for a year before being moved to Santa Fe. Louis and her mother were evacuated to a camp in Minidoka, Idaho.

Mostly, she remembers the bitter cold.

“My mother made me a mask out of an old Army blanket,” she said. “I remember traipsing off to kindergarten with holes in the mask for my eyes, ears and nose.”

By the time Louis was 7½, church and civil rights groups helped relocate her and her mother to the Midwest. Louis grew up in Chicago.

“My mother still believed in the American dream,” she said. “My uncle was a World War II war hero; he joined an all-Japanese American unit. Many men came to the Santa Fe camp to visit their fathers in uniform before being shipped out.”

“We’ve had 35 years of cataloging the injustice,” she said. “It’s time for reconciliation.”

The exhibition includes a traveling component by the Go For Broke National Education Center in Los Angeles.

Home » Entertainment » Arts » Exhibit considers a bittersweet legacy

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

Former reporter pulls from personal experience in 'The Power ...
Elizabeth 'Digger' Doyle is the protagonist ... Elizabeth 'Digger' Doyle is the protagonist of Rosalie Rayburn's lively, crisply-written debut novel 'The Power of Rain.'
One-woman play 'Katie's Tales' debuts at Fusion's Cell Theatre
Fresh off a run at the ... Fresh off a run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Agnieszka Kazimierska's one-woman play debuts at Fusion's Cell Theatre on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.
A look at five pieces exploring the intersections of ...
Exhibit on view at the National ... Exhibit on view at the National Hispanic Cultural Center
ALT brings one-woman play 'The Belle of Amherst' back ...
The Albuquerque Little Theatre production 'The ... The Albuquerque Little Theatre production 'The Belle of Amherst' kicks off its two week run beginning at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30.
NMPhil announces rock and pop series
Rock and pop music fans can ... Rock and pop music fans can hear the music of the movies, flamenco fusion and a symphonic version of Genesis when the New Mexico ...
New concertmaster to make NMPhil debut Sept. 25
On Sunday, Sept. 25, Cármelo de ... On Sunday, Sept. 25, Cármelo de los Santos will give his first concert with the New Mexico Philharmonic at Immanuel Presbyterian Church, playing the ...
Now is the time to prep for moving citrus ...
It's time to start to monitoring ... It's time to start to monitoring your trees for any pests that could be congregated or hidden on the citrus.
'Contemporary Ex-Votos: Devotion Beyond Medium' explores the understudied iconographic ...
Opening on Sept. 30, at the ... Opening on Sept. 30, at the New Mexico State University Art Museum, 'Contemporary Ex-Votos: Devotion Beyond Medium' sheds light on this understudied
Devin Vasquez reinvents old treasures into modern art
The artist transforms worn and broken ... The artist transforms worn and broken items into vintage pop art