Clovis-Carver Library now has WWII Japanese American internment exhibit

Clovis-Carver Library now has WWII Japanese American internment exhibit
(Source: KFDA)
(Source: KFDA)

CLOVIS, N.M. (KFDA) - The Clovis-Carver Public Library now has an exhibit that shows the history of Japanese American Internment camps in New Mexico during World War II (WWII).

The Confinement in the Land of Enchantment is the exhibit which displays history and photos that tell the story of the removal of Japanese American families from their homes after Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941.

Colorado State University is overseeing this project in partnership with the New Mexico Japanese American Citizens League (NMJACL.)

"We want to provide this to the public so that they are aware of this experience and to also provide a history lesson about some of the past injustices," said Victor Masaru Yamada, NMJACL Board Member.

In an effort to better educate visitors about Japanese internment, three previous Clovis residents held a public panel on March 24 alongside the exhibit.

Lillie Kiyokawa, her brother Fred Kimura and Roy Ebihara are 3 out of the 6,000 Japanese Americans living in New Mexico during the war and were relocated from their homes into camps throughout the state.

In late Jan. 1942, most Clovis families began their relocation.

Lillie and Fred were young children during this time and recall the night they had to pack and leave home.

"There was a bunch of people that were going to kill us all," said Lillie. "That's why the immigration officers came and said we needed to leave. We didn't know what was going on. Our mom was in the hospital, so I had to pack all of the kids clothes and put it in the car trunk. After that, they took us away into the mountains."

The Kimura family had 13 children in total, 3 were visiting family in southern Japan when the war broke out.

"Two brothers and a sister were visiting grandma in Japan," said Fred. "Then the war started and they didn't even get the chance to make it back to the United States again and they were citizens, they were born in Clovis."

Aside from this, Lillie and Fred remember the Baca camp experience as fun.

"It was a nice place and I thought it was fun because you could find arrow heads and all kinds of cactus," said Lillie.

"People always ask us about prejudice stuff but when you're a kid, you don't know what's going on," said Fred.

Roy Ebihara described his experience different compared to Lillie and Fred's.

"It was a traumatic experience for me," said Ebihara. "I remember my dad listening to the shortwave radio on Sundays. It was a great pleasure to be able to listen to a Japanese broadcast but that morning of the Pearl Harbor bombing, it was just horrendous. Us kids knew that something bad was going on."

On Jan. 20, Ebihara recalls vigilante groups and the feeling of being forced out of his home without a warning.

"Vigilante groups crossed the railroad tracks with oil torches and shot guns," said Ebihara. "We believe to come and kill us. So, state patrol came in their sedans and told us to take what we could in pillow cases."

Ebihara said the camps were uncomfortable and made him feel fearful.

"The Topaz Relocation Center was like a true American concentration camp, I don't know how else to describe it," said Ebihara. "We were all given a number with a tag. Somehow we lost our identities as people."

Once the war was over, Ebihara's parents never wanted to talk about their experience.

"Our parents never expressed anything that was negative, it was always that we need to be model citizens and prove to America that we are the most loyal and greatest citizens," said Ebihara. "That was always pounded into us. So, we never talked about what happened in our childhood. Our parents always talked about looking ahead."

Lillie, Fred and Roy are a part of the 32 Japanese Americans who lived in Clovis during WWII and were relocated among the four New Mexico camps in Santa Fe, Lordsburg, Ft. Stanton and Baca camp.

If you want to learn more about this exhibit or the team behind it, you can visit the Colorado State University website.

The Confinement in the Land of Enchantment exhibit will remain at the Clovis-Carver Public Library until April 3.

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