By PHYLLIS HAYASHIBARA
Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument (VJAMM) Committee members and former Manzanar incarcerees Arnold Maeda and Mae Kakehashi joined fellow former incarcerees Susumu Ioki and Mary Nomura on a panel to speak before approximately 150 juniors at the Venice High School World Languages and Global Studies Magnet on Feb. 15.
Maeda, 15 years old at the time of his forced removal from Santa Monica and a Junior at SAMO High, told of sleepless nights in his cot in the barracks in the middle of a desert, questioning how he, an American-born U. S. citizen, could possibly be imprisoned in this barbed-wire enclosure, having broken no laws and having had zero due process.
Maeda distinguished himself while in camp, however, memorably performing in plays and in musical comedy, getting elected senior class president of the Manzanar High School Class of 1944, and after graduation, working as an orderly at the Manzanar Hospital and picking seasonal produce in Oregon.
Ioki, 13 years old when incarcerated at Manzanar, wondered why people were wearing goggles when he arrived. He soon experienced the fierce windstorms that kicked up dust everywhere and into the barracks through cracks in the green wood floors and wall boards that shrank as they weathered. Plucked from his freshman class at Venice High School, Ioki found himself promoted to the sophomore class at Manzanar High School, where he said he struggled to keep up with the curriculum and his slightly older classmates.
Kakehashi recalled that the dust abated as the internees farmed the lands of the Manzanar camp, growing enough vegetables to feed themselves as well as to ship to other American concentration camps such as Tule Lake in Northern California, and Poston and Gila River in Arizona.
In 1944, Kakehashi married her husband Hideo, who was drafted into the U.S. Army while incarcerated in Manzanar, coincidentally on the anniversary of Executive Order 9066, Feb. 19. She had graduated from Venice High School in the Class of 1941, and worked in the Manzanar Hospital as a medical stenographer.
Kakehashi recalled getting into a little bit of trouble the day she and her fellow stenos persuaded one of their truck driver friends to drive them some ten miles beyond the barbed-wire fencing, to play in the snow at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Nomura honed her singing talent with the Manzanar High School drama and music teacher Lou Frizzell, who encouraged her to sing at various camp occasions, including the camp dances featuring the tunes of Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Jan Garber, and Guy Lombardo. Thus Nomura earned her nickname, “the Songbird of Manzanar.”
Nomura sang for the Venice High School students a song Frizzell composed for her, “When I Can,” known unofficially as the “Manzanar Song,” about the yearnings of young lovers who have no privacy in camp. Nomura was a 16-year old junior at Venice High School, exactly the same age of her audience at Venice High School, when forcibly removed and imprisoned in Manzanar.
VJAMM Committee member Phyllis Hayashibara began the program with a slide presentation on the text and quotes on the monument by Brian Tadashi Maeda, Arnold Tadao Maeda, Amy Takahashi Ioki, Mae Kageyama Kakehashi, and the late Yoshinori Tomita. For the complete text and quotes, visit www.venicejamm.org.
Hayashibara, a retired Venice High School Social Studies teacher, distributed copies of the VJAMM dedication program to the students, courtesy of the VJAMM Committee. She remarked that the VJAMM began with a Venice High School junior, Scott Pine. He brought in the April 2009 **Free Venice Beachhead** with an article by Scott Ueda on the Japanese American internment for a current-events discussion in Hayashibara’s U. S. history class.
This sparked a Service Learning Experience project that evolved into the Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument, shepherded over the next eight years by a committee of Venice artists and activists, and members of the Japanese American community, most of whom had been incarcerated at Manzanar.
The committee dedicated the VJAMM on April 27, 2017 on the northwest corner of Venice and Lincoln boulevards, to commemorate the site where 1,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, forcibly removed from Venice, Santa Monica, and Malibu, lined up with only what they could carry, for transport to and incarceration in the American concentration camp at Manzanar.
The committee greatly appreciates the invitation to speak to Venice High School students, and thanks teachers Cris Vicente-Aguilar, Trasey Nomachi, and Jennifer Barnhill for coordinating the morning program. The committee invites Venice High School service organizations and any other community youth groups to schedule a maintenance day, to wipe down the VJAMM and sweep up the sidewalk debris before the planned VJAMM commemoration on Thursday, April 19. Interested parties may contact [email protected]