Monrovia Honoring Japanese American Legacy

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City to install public art piece dedicated to Nikkei pioneer families.

Laurie Keiko Sakatani was born after World War II at the Japanese Hospital in Boyle Heights. Her grandfather, Yutaro, settled in Monrovia near 1907 and raised strawberries and other fruits along Huntington Drive. (Photo courtesy of Keiko Sakatani)

By SUSIE LING

MONROVIA — The City of Monrovia is honoring its Japanese American history with a public art piece.

Kerri Zessau of Monrovia said, “One of the key goals of our Neighborhood Treasures program is to affirm the importance and value of Monrovians in history. It also allows us to bring public art into different neighborhoods.”

Maryrose Mendoza is the artist selected for this special project. She said, “I was born in Manila. Growing up in the San Gabriel Valley, my family would hang out in Little Tokyo and Chinatown. Just recently, I’ve been exploring my ethnic heritage through my art. Filipino American history – like that of other groups – is just invisible. This was a great opportunity for me to celebrate the diversity in Americana.”

Mendoza is professor of drawing at Pasadena City College.

On the right end of Mendoza’s rendering are the four stars for the Tsuneishi family. While in a concentration camp, the Tsuneishis had four sons serving in World War II as well as two daughters who served as civilian translators.

On the bottom of the art piece is the Red Car that was a critical part of Monrovia life as well as the racial dividing line of its residential community.

Keiko Sakatani of Monrovia said, “Most African Americans, Mexicans, and Japanese lived south of this line.”

The early Japanese pioneers were farmers, ran produce stands, and the like. Sakatani’s grandfather, Yutaro Uyeda, was known as Monrovia’s Strawberry King.

On the left end is Sakae “Mary” Asano. She and her husband, Takumi “Tom,” ran a grocery story in Monrovia’s downtown on Myrtle Avenue. The Asano granddaughters still live in Monrovia.

On the top of this art piece is the image of the Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming, where most Japanese American Monrovians were interned.

Mendoza, who has lived in Monrovia for over a decade, said, “I wanted to honor the Japanese American story of Monrovia. I love living here too. It has this hometown feel; everybody from all walks of life live here.”

The other Neighborhood Treasures installed in Monrovia include tributes to Lt. Col. Allen Allensworth of the Buffalo Soldiers, an African American cavalry regiment, and WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) test pilot Bettie Mae Scott.

The Neighborhood Treasure featuring Japanese American pioneers will be revealed in a block party at 300 Cypress Ave. in Monrovia on Saturday, June 8, at 11 a.m. To RSVP, visit eventbrite.com.

For more information, call (626) 932-5563, email [email protected] or visit cityofmonrovia.org/neighborhoodtreasures.

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