SANTA MONICA — The Santa Monica City Council voted unanimously to award $5,000 to the Venice Japanese American Memorial Marker Committee on Sept. 27.
The council voted 7-0 in favor of Agenda Item 13B, “to authorize $5,000 in council contingency funds for a contribution to the creation of the Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument, to honor the approximately one thousand Americans of Japanese ancestry forcibly relocated at the start of World War II from their homes in Santa Monica, Malibu, and Venice to the Manzanar war relocation camp in the Owens Valley, losing their homes, their businesses, and their liberties.”
Mayor Tony Vazquez, Mayor Pro Tem Ted Winterer, and Councilmember Kevin McKeown made the request.
McKeown spoke in favor of the authorization of the funding, saying, “The date was April 25, 1942, and it’s one of those dates that most people don’t remember, but we all should. Because on that date, a thousand Japanese American family [members] from the Westside peaceably assembled, under order, and were trucked away from their homes, their businesses, their friends, their lives, and put in internment camp for the duration of World War II.”
Noting that the VJAMM Committee was formed “to build a memorial to that event, to help us all remember that it happened, and keep it from ever happening again,” McKeown asked the council to “allocate some funds to be part of the construction of that memorial.”
Public comment included four speakers in favor of the funding for the VJAMM, with no speakers in opposition. Arnold Maeda, former Manzanar incarceree and charter member of the VJAMM Committee, spoke first.
Maeda was born in Santa Monica in 1926, and his parents opened the Santa Monica Nursery, a wholesale-retail business on Colorado Avenue, around 1935. He attended McKinley Elementary, and graduated from Lincoln Junior High.
“Then I enrolled at Santa Monica High School,” said Maeda, “but spent only about two semesters there because of the evacuation … I was a 15-year-old teenager unforgettably traumatized because I couldn’t take my pet dog, Boy. He was a beautiful German shepherd. I spent about 40 months [in Manzanar] before I could return to Santa Monica.
“Upon my return and whenever I passed by Santa Monica High or the corner of Venice and Lincoln [where we lined up for the transport to Manzanar], I found myself welling up with a gut-wrenching, emotional feeling which I hadn’t known had been harboring within me. It wasn’t until sometime after I joined the Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument Committee that my visceral, emotional feeling began to ease up.
“Today I am full of hope that this nine-foot, six-inch monument project will be completed soon. We hope that this monument will help thousands and thousands of us to be alert so that nothing of this nature will ever happen again.”
Phyllis Hayashibara, a member of the VJAMM Committee who retired from teaching history at Venice High School in 2011 and whose U.S. history students began soliciting support for the VJAMM as a service learning experience in 2009, spoke next.
“One of my students brought in an article in the Free Venice Beachhead commemorating the forced removal and evacuation of Japanese Americans,” she recalled. “The Venice Beachhead had written a little blue box that said, ‘Lest We Forget’ [and] said please email then-Councilmember Bill Rosendahl and ask him for his support for a permanent marker or something to remind us that this happened and should never happen again …
“His aide called us immediately and said, ‘Would you like your students to make a presentation before the Los Angeles City Council?’ … He sent a bus; we had about 25 students [go] over. We had two [student] speakers before the entire City Council of Los Angeles. Bill Rosendahl was our champion. He spoke in our favor, and he was supportive at every single meeting, and I’m very, very sorry that he’s not here now to see this in fruition…
“We’d love to have the Santa Monica City Council be one of those donors that’s permanently acknowledged as a supporter of the VJAMM.”
Suzanne Thompson, co-founder of the Venice Arts Council and a VJAMM Committee founding member, said, “My mother went to La Puente High School, and she’s told me stories … of what happened from her perspective. It’s very unfortunate to have been told … that [the internment] was for their own good, their protection. So I’m very honored and pleased to be able to be working … with former internees, people that were incarcerated, and to learn from them now …
“The Manzanar Committee … has a pilgrimage at the end of April to Manzanar, and I was fortunate enough to go last year. I encourage you to go as well; it’s always the last weekend of April up in [the] Independence and Lone Pine area, and you can see some of the remnants of what the camp was.”
Dolores Sloan, a long-time Santa Monica resident who had arranged speakers, including Maeda, for the Michigan Avenue Neighborhood Gateway project’s dedication ceremony on May 30, 2015, spoke last: “Arnold spoke very eloquently about his experience [as a member of the Japanese American community in the Pico area of in Santa Monica]. I had the privilege of meeting the good people you heard speak before, and learning about, to my horror, that a corner of Venice and Lincoln, which I just breeze by many times, had witnessed such horrible suffering.
“I’m very proud of our council that we’re considering this. These folks were our neighbors. They had farms; they had businesses … I hope that you will support [the VJAMM].”
Mayor Vazquez said, “I think we all agree,” and council members made additional comments in support of the VJAMM.
McKeown said, “The memorial stone is in shipment right now, and it’ll arrive next month to be engraved. I would hope it would be installed in time for the 75th anniversary next spring of what happened on April 25, 1942. The monument … will be physically located in Venice, because that’s where the buses left from, Venice and Lincoln. But I think Santa Monica has a big part in this …
“This $5,000 would be a way for us to mark that history in a meaningful way that will help the pain of lot of people who went through a great deal. Not all of them are here anymore, but their descendants certainly are, and their memory should be [honored] …”
Councilmember Gleam Davis spoke of the particular meaning the VJAMM has for her personally. “My best friend growing up [was] Louise Okamura. Her father and mother actually met while they were teenagers at Manzanar. So they had quite a trove of pictures and other remnants of their time there. Although they were wonderful human beings, it was clear that being uprooted literally in the middle of their lives as teenagers, and taken [to] some place distant, was difficult.
“Hearing testimony tonight brought a lot of that back. So I just want to say I’m very supportive of this … I think that it’s important for us not only to remember this terrible, terrible piece of our history, but to learn from it as we go forward both in our international and local politics to, as we hear so often in connection with other tragedies, remind ourselves that we can never let anything like this happen again.”
After the vote and adjournment, all seven council members posed for a photo with Sloan, Maeda, Hayashibara, and Thompson.