Civil Rights

Venice Memorial to Japanese-Americans Incarcerated During World War II Moves Forward

By Don E. Geagan and Suzanne Thompson

In a time when we are consistently threaded by the loss of public space and facilities, such as the Venice Post Office, a very special building continues to serve the community. On Saturday, October 29th, a place dedicated to the possibilities of language, housed in the Old Venice Town Hall, Beyond Baroque welcomed over a hundred mostly Japanese Americans in  support of the Venice Japanese American Memorial Marker VJAMM) to be placed on the northwest corner of Venice and Lincoln Boulevards.

The highly successful event began on the back space patio with a VIP Sushi and Sake reception prepared by Sushi Girl, Nikki Gilbert, a member of the VJAMM Committee. The Manzanar Committee provided banners from the relocation camps: Manzanar, Tule Lake (CA), Poston (Arizona), Gila River (Arizona), Granada (Colorado), Heart Mountain (Wyoming), Minidoka (Idaho), Topaz (Utah), Rohwer (Arkansas), and Jerome (Arkansas) for display under the canopy. A very special performance was given by The Songbird of Manzanar, Mary Kageyama Nomura. She sang songs from the 1940’s which were also some of the songs she sang at Manzanar.  The Shoo Flies and the “Songbird of Venice” Suzy Williams also performed.

At 2pm when the reception guests joined others in the Beyond Baroque Theater to view the three short films there was standing room only. Welcoming by Beyond Baroque Executive Director, Richard Modiano was followed by Len Nguyen from LA City Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s office who presented Mary Kageyama Nomura with a certificate.  Filmmaker and VJAMM Committee Member Brian Maeda emceed the event. Phyllis Hayashibara, recently retired Venice High School History teacher and VJAMM member gave a PowerPoint brief history of the VJAMM Committee. “The Music Man of Manzanar”, the story of Lou Frizzell was followed by a question and answer period with the filmmaker Brian Maeda, who was born in Manzanar, his older brother Arnold Tadao Maeda, a VJAMM member who said “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 kind of traumatic”. This statement by Arnold will be inscribed on the memorial marker along with a quote from his brother Brian and VJAMM Committee member and former internee Mae Kageyama Kakehashi and Amy Takahashi Ioki. To view their quotes visit: www.venicejamm.org  or http://www.facebook.com/VeniceJAMM .

Guests viewed the silent auction items, which included art work solicited by artist and VJAMM Committee Member Emily Winters of the Venice Arts Council. The artwork donated by local artists included painted images of Manzanar, hand blown sake glasses, restaurant gift cards, books and other items.

A model of the memorial marker designed by Emily Winters and the VJAMM Committee members, constructed by Kay Browne was on display for all to see. The text for the memorial marker was written and agreed upon by VJAMM Committee members. The text can be found at http://www.venicejamm.org/progress.html.

Raffle prizes were given out between film screenings. The second film screened was “Stand Up for Justice” the Ralph Lazo Story, by filmmaker John Esaki. Educational packets where distributed free to teacher in the audience.  The event ended with the screening of an Academy Award for Short Documentary “Days of Waiting” the story of Estelle Ishigo by filmmaker Steven Okazaki.

The event was organized by members of VJAMM Committee: Don Geagan, Free Venice Beachhead, Nikki Gilbert, Venice High School Alumni Association, Phyllis Hayashibara, Venice High School, Mae Kakehasi, former Manzanar internee, Arnold Maeda, former Manzanar internee, Brian Maeda, Manzanar Pilgrimage Committee, Jim Smith, Free Venice Beachhead, Alice Stek, Venice Peace and Freedom Party, Suzanne Thompson, Venice Arts Council, Yosh Tomita, former Manzanar internee and Emily Winters, Venice Arts Council.  Beyond Baroque’s Jim Fleck worked very hard setting up, providing sound and lighting which furthered the success of the event.

Sponsoring organizations who helped make the event possible were Beyond Baroque, Free Venice Beachhead, King Fahad Mosque, Voice of the Canals and many volunteers.

“After 9-11, the Japanese American community reached out to Muslim Americans to left us know that their organizations would mobilize against any government effort to identify, detain, or exclude Muslim Americans based on religion or ethnicity.  We will always be grateful for that support, and wish the Venice Japanese American Memorial Marker Committee success in building a reminder of our Constitutional rights”. –King Fahad Mosque

Other contributors included Whole Foods Market, Feast of the East, Sakura’s Gourmet Pastries, Hama Sushi, Kifune, 26 Beach and many other silent auction and raffle prizes.

The event was not only a financial success by raising over $10,000, and packing the house,  it showed cooperation between cultures and support from business, religious and non-profit institutions and individuals.  That spirit of cooperation builds community.

VJAMM has raised over $20,000 toward their $25,000 goal. The memorial marker is scheduled to be installed in April of 2012, the 70th Anniversary of the forced removal and imprisonment of over 1,000 Japanese Americans from Malibu, Santa Monica and Venice from this location to Manzanar, an American concentration camp in the Sierra Nevada mountains .

As stated on the memorial, “May this Venice Japanese Memorial Marker remind us to be forever vigilant about defending  our Constitutional rights, so that the powers of government shall never again perpetrate an injustice against any group based solely on ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, race, or religion.”

For more information on how you can help build, install, maintain and utilize the memorial marker as an educational tool, visit the VJAMM website www.venicejamm.org or on Facebook.

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