‘Community in Conflict’ focuses on fight over a historical marker in Santa Fe, N.M.

CENTER OF CONTROVERSY ­— The marker for the former Santa Fe internment camp became the subject of an intense debate. photo courtesy of Claudia Katayangai

Back in 1999, community leaders set out to create a historical marker acknowledging the 4,555 Nikkei men who were imprisoned at the World War II internment camp in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

What they didn’t anticipate was the fierce opposition and the sometimes hateful battle they got into with local veterans and their descendants.

“Community in Conflict: The Santa Fe Internment Camp Marker” (2023, 45 min.), a feature-length documentary by filmmaker Claudia Katayanagi, tells the story of this conflict, and how a fractured community went from anger, betrayal and hatred to understanding, friendship and healing.

Today, nothing remains from the former Santa Fe internment camp site, which is currently covered with residential properties. If you didn’t know about the camp, it’s as if it never existed.

In order to correct this situation, local Nikkei and community leaders formed a committee to place a monument above the former camp site. But to do this on city-owned land, they needed approval from the city council.

“This committee ran into immediate resistance to this idea,” said Katayanagi. “This was a town that had many veterans who fought the Japanese military in the Philippines and were victims of the Bataan Death March. These veterans even objected to the term ‘monument’ and thus the official committee had to be called the ‘Santa Fe Internment Camp Marker Committee.’”

Citing the atrocities Japanese soldiers committed upon American troops during the infamous death march, local veterans made it clear: There was no way a group of “Japs” was going to be honored after what they had done to them.

After two years of fighting, things came to a head when actual violence was threatened against the committee.

Featuring interviews with individuals involved with the conflict, Katayanagi’s film shows how tensions began to subside when city leaders decided to bring both groups together — to engage in dialogue, listen to each other’s stories and to understand each other’s perspectives and points of view.

From these sessions, the veterans learned the Issei held at Santa Fe considered America their home, and would have become American citizens had the government not banned them from citizenship. Committee members learned that at the core of the veterans’ opposition was the fact that no one had ever honored and recognized them with a monument in their city.

With this understanding, it was decided to build two memorials — one which remembered the Nikkei at the former internment camp, and the other to honor the city’s World War II veterans, and what they suffered during the Bataan Death March.

CENTER OF CONTROVERSY ­— The marker for the former Santa Fe internment camp became the subject of an intense debate. photo courtesy of Claudia Katayangai

“I think the most important lessons learned from what occurred in the city of Santa Fe is that we all need to talk to each other,” said Katayanagi. “And through many in-depth conversations, we begin to see the misunderstandings of each group, and see each other as people who really want the same things in life.”

For the Nikkei community, she also pointed out the importance of pilgrimages to Japanese American confinement sites. “We need to see for ourselves the actual landscapes so we can heal the trauma of those painful imprisonments, and let go of internalized shame, pain and suffering.”

For descendants of Nikkei held at Santa Fe, they now have such a place. In 2022, 100 Nikkei attended the site’s first pilgrimage, where flowers and tsuru (origami cranes) were laid at the base of the stone monument.

“It felt so important to come to this ‘marker,’” said Katayanagi. “After 80 years, we were able to acknowledge and honor the 4,555 Nikkei men held at Santa Fe.”

WHAT: “Community in Conflict: The Santa Fe Internment Camp Marker” (2023, 45 min.) by Claudia Katayanagi
TIME: 11 a.m. in War on Citizenship program
WHEN & WHERE:

  • Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024 at AMC Kabuki 8 theater in San Francisco’s Japantown
  • Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024 San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin in San Jose’s Japantown
    WHO: Featuring panelists Nikki Louis (middle) and Sue Rundstrom (bottom) from New Mexico
    VIRTUAL OPTION: There will also be a virtual option to watch the film From Feb. 24 through March 10 (does not include panel).
    INFO/TICKETS: 2024.filmsofremembrance.org

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