By PHYLLIS HAYASHIBARA
The Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument (VJAMM) Committee has planned the Dedication of the VJAMM for Thursday, April 27, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. on the northwest corner of Venice and Lincoln.
The nine-foot, six-inch-tall solid black granite obelisk will commemorate the forced removal of persons of Japanese ancestry and their incarceration in the American concentration camp at Manzanar, so that such an injustice will never be perpetrated again. Warren Furutani, community activist and Manzanar Pilgrimage pioneer, has confirmed as keynote speaker.
The VJAMM dedication will be followed by the sixth annual VJAMM fundraiser at Hama Sushi Restaurant in Venice. Proprietor Esther Chaing will donate 100 percent of all pre-ordered bento lunch profits and 10 percent of all dinner sales to the VJAMM Committee.
Over several days in April 1942, about 1,000 persons of Japanese ancestry from Venice, Santa Monica, and Malibu reported to this corner, with only what they could carry. Civilian Exclusion Order No. 7 had given Japanese Americans only days to register their families, dispose of their property and possessions; their businesses, their vehicles, and their pets.
They lined up along Venice Boulevard for bus transport directly to what would become the War Relocation Authority internment camp called Manzanar, deep in Inyo County off Highway 395. At the time, they did not know their destination, that the bus ride would take four hours, or that many of them would be imprisoned for over three years for the duration of World War II.
The dedication of the VJAMM will also mark the 75th anniversary of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942. EO 9066 followed Japan’s Dec. 7, 1941 bombing of the U.S. naval base in Hawaii, and led to the detainment of persons living in the U.S. whose only offense was that they “looked like the enemy.”
As the front side of the VJAMM reads, EO 9066 “empowered the U.S. Army to declare areas of Washington, Oregon, and California militarily sensitive. EO 9066 forced the removal of 120,000 Japanese and American citizens of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast to be imprisoned in temporary assembly centers at fairgrounds and race tracks. Months later, they were taken to ten American concentration camps under the War Relocation Authority. This forced removal and imprisonment, without any regard to due process or the writ of habeas corpus, violated their rights under the U.S. Constitution.”
One side of the VJAMM features quotes from five former incarcerees at Manzanar.
Brian Tadashi Maeda, who was born in Manzanar: “My family reported to this very corner, before being sent to Manzanar concentration camp with only what they could carry. They, and many other families, lost everything: their homes, their businesses, their liberties.”
Arnold Tadao Maeda from Santa Monica: “Instead of being worried about where we were going, I was obsessed with the fact that I had parted with my constant companion, my pet dog, Boy. For a fifteen-year-old, that was unforgettably traumatic.”
Mae Kageyama Kakehashi from Venice: “When the camp closed, we were given twenty-five dollars and told to leave. But we had nothing when we left camp – no home, no jobs, no prospects. It was very hard on all of us.”
Amy Takahashi Ioki from Malibu: “As a sixteen-year-old I didn’t realize the injustice fully, but in time we learned how our rights as citizens were ignored. Thanks to the strength and resilience of our Issei parents, we were able to survive.”
Yoshinori Tomita from Venice: “I was only five years old when we were imprisoned in Manzanar. I feel so grateful to the many Nisei and Sansei who worked successfully for redress and reparations with the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. I feel extremely grateful also to all the people in the community who came together to make the VJAMM a reality.”
Another side of the VJAMM permanently acknowledges its major donors for their support. These include: Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program of the National Park Service ($50,000 matching grant 2:1), Jung and Esther Chaing of Hama Sushi Restaurant in Venice ($14,500 through April 2016); and those who have contributed $5,000: former Los Angeles City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl of the 11th District, current City Councilmember Mike Bonin of the 11th District, former Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky of the 3rd District, current Supervisor Sheila Kuehl of the 3rd District, current Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas of the 2nd District, former Supervisor Don Knabe of the 4th District, former California State Sen. Ted Lieu of the 28th District; Santa Monica City Council; Arnold T. Maeda and Brian T. Maeda, in memory of their parents Norman Toyoshige and Sasami Takeda Maeda; Alice Stek, Venice Peace and Freedom Party; Malibu City Council.
For a complete list of all donors and supporters, visit www.venicejamm.org.
The back of the VJAMM features a map of the route to the Manzanar National Historical site, north of Venice towards Bishop along Highway 395. The Manzanar Committee sponsors an annual pilgrimage to Manzanar, and will convene its 48th pilgrimage on Saturday, April 29.
Furutani, a fourth-generation Japanese American community activist who has served in various political offices, spearheaded the first pilgrimage to Manzanar in 1969. He co-founded the Manzanar Committee with Victor Shibata and Sue Kunitomi Embrey to organize annual pilgrimages and to advocate for state and federal recognition of the Manzanar site. In 1985, Manzanar was designated a National Historic Landmark, and in 1992, Congress voted and President George H. W. Bush signed into law the establishment of the Manzanar National Historic Site “to provide for the protection and interpretation of the historical, cultural, and natural resources associated with the relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II.”
The VJAMM Committee emerged from activists and artists in the Venice community in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon in Virginia and the World Trade Center in New York, and the aborted attack that crash-landed in a field in Pennsylvania. They decried the indiscriminate assaults against, and calls for the arrest of, individuals who shared the religion, nationality, or region of origin with the terrorists.
Meanwhile, students in the New Media Academy at Venice High School responded to the “lest we forget” plea in the April 2009 edition of the Free Venice Beachhead. For a current events discussion, student Scott Pine brought in The Beachhead, which urged its readers to contact then-Los Angeles City Councilmember Rosendahl to secure his support for a permanent memorial in Venice, so that such a violation of constitutional rights would never happen again to another minority group based solely on a common characteristic such as nationality or religious affiliation.
Rosendhal responded immediately, and sent a bus to Venice High School so that students could make their presentation before the Los Angeles City Council at City Hall in May 2009. Rosendahl enthusiastically supported the VJAMM, and his successor, current City Councilmember Bonin, has continued his staunch support of the efforts of the VJAMM Committee.
In 1983, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians reported that not “military necessity,” but “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership” had led to the internment of Japanese Americans in 1942. Furthermore, the report concluded that a “grave personal injustice was done. . . without individual review or any probative evidence.”
The black granite obelisk of the Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument echoes the 15-foot-tall white concrete obelisk that stands in the Manzanar cemetery, erected by internees in 1943. The Manzanar cemetery’s three kanji characters, “i-rei-tou,” mean “monument to console the dead.”
The VJAMM seeks to remind the living “to be forever vigilant about defending our constitutional rights. The powers of government must never again perpetrate an injustice against any group based solely on ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, race, or religion.”
Today, more than ever, the significance of the Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument cannot be emphasized enough.
Warren Furutani, State Assembly member
Jim Smith, formerly of Free Venice Beachhead Collective
Ruth Galanter, retired Los Angeles City Council member, District 6
Joel Jacinto, commissioner, Board of Public Works
Zev Yaroslavsky, Los Angeles County Supervisor, District 3 (retired)
Rachel Zaiden, senior field deputy for Supervisor Sheila Kuehl
Len Nguyen, senior field deputy for City Councilmember Mike Bonin
Kevin McKeown, councilmember and former mayor, City of Santa Monica
Jeff Burton, National Park Service, Manzanar National Historic Site
Dr. Jimmy Hara, born in Gila River WRA camp in Arizona
Dr. Thomas Yoshikawa, former incarcee at Manzanar WRA camp in California
Brian Maeda and Nikki Gilbert, VJAMM Committee
Emily Winters and Suzanne Thompsonm, VJAMM and Venice Arts Council
The VJAMM dedication souvenir program is made possible in part by a grant from the City of Los Angeles, Department of Cultural Affairs, and with the support of Community Partners.