New Mexico WW2 Internment Camps Symposium: Inside and Outside the Barbed Wire

The New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors will hold a symposium on New Mexico World War II internment camps. Learn more about the experiences of Japanese people held in New Mexico’s internment camps during World War II at an April 21 and 22 symposium. “From Inside and Outside the Barbed Wire: New Mexico’s Multicul­tural World War II Internment Stories,” will be in the History Museum auditorium, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, April 21 and 1-4 p.m. Sunday, April 22.

Organized by the Committee to Preserve New Mexico’s Internment History, the symposium commemorates the 10th anniversary of the Santa Fe Internment Camp Historical Marker in Frank S. Ortiz Park, while raising public awareness of the internment experience in New Mexico.

Tickets are $15 at the Lensic Theater Box Office, 505-988-1234, or 

A New Mexico Centennial event, the symposium is co-sponsored by The New Mexico History Museum, the Historical Society of New Mexico, and the New Mexico Centennial Board, with a grant from the New Mexico Humanities Council. The New Mexico Community Foundation serves as its fiscal agent.

Through lectures, film and performance, the program will explore the experiences of Japanese immigrants and American citizens detained in Department of Justice internment camps in New Mexico during World War II, focusing especially on the Santa Fe camp, which held 4,555 men over the course of the war. It will also examine the impressions such camps had on visitors and communities surrounding them. “In other words,” says Gail Okawa, one of the conference organizers, “this symposium will seek to explore the human experience on either side of the barbed wire.”

Presenters include co-chairs Nancy R. Bartlit and Dr. Gail Y. Okawa, Dr. Richard A. Melzer, Brian Minami, Dr. Nikki N. Louis, Colonel Joe Ando (USAF ret.), Bill Nishimura, Mollie Pressler, and Kermit Hill. Nishimura is a survivor of the Santa Fe camp; several presenters are descendants of internees.

“The historic symposium will be a rare chance for the community, scholars, and internee descendants to learn who the civilian detainees and internees were, how they passed their time, and how they were treated during wartime,” Bartlit said.

Contacts for this event: Michael Hice, or Nancy Bartlit,

Program schedule:

Saturday, April 21

10:30 a.m.: Welcome (Dr. Gail Okawa, moderator)

10:45 a.m.-noon: Part I:  Inside Stories

Dr. Richard A. Melzer: “Inside the Barbed Wire: Life in the Santa Fe Internment Camp”

KNME/NMHM documentary: Remembering the Santa Fe Japanese Internment Camp

Brian Minami: “Issei Poet Prisoners at Santa Fe”


Noon-1:15 p.m.: Lunch (on your own)

1:30-3 p.m.: Part II: Outside Stories

Dr. Gail Y. Okawa: “From the World Beyond the Barbed Wire”

Dr. Nikki N. Louis and company: “Voices from the Outside”


3-4:15 p.m.: Part III: The SFIC Historical Marker: Community Conflicts, Multicultural Healing

Nancy A. Bartlit, Carol Robertson Lopez, Col. Joe Ando (USAF ret.), Bill Nishimura


4:15-4:30 p.m.: Wrap-up (Dr. Gail Okawa)

Sunday, April 22

1 p.m.: Welcome (Nancy Bartlit, moderator)

Part IV: Personal Stories and Profound Postscripts

1:10-2 p.m.: Memories of American WWII Imprisonment

Film clip from Prisoners and Patriots by Neil Simon

Bill Nishimura, survivor of the Poston, Tule Lake, and the Santa Fe Internment Camps: “My Story at Santa Fe”


2-2:20 p.m.: Lordsburg Camp Stories.

Mollie Pressler (local historian): “Tense Times at the Lordsburg Camp: 1942-1943”  

2:20-2:35 p.m.: Break

2:35-3:20 p.m.: The NM National Guard and Japanese American Soldiers in Europe

Film clip on the 442nd Regimental Combat Team

Kermit Hill (local historian): “Nisei and New Mexican Soldiers:  A Tale Too Long Untold”


3:20-3:50 p.m.: Profound Postscripts—A Panel: The American Internment in New Mexico

Bill Nishimura (internee survivor); Brian Minami, Joe Ando, Dr. Nikki Louis, and Dr. Gail Okawa (descendents of internees); Nancy Bartlitt, Dr. Okawa (Humanities scholars)  

4-4:30 p.m.: Book signing


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