By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
The 15th anniversary of the Terminal Island Japanese Fishing Village Memorial in San Pedro was celebrated April 15 with speeches, the placing of a time capsule, and a new exhibition at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum.
The memorial includes a statue of two Issei fishermen, a torii (gateway of a Shinto shrine), and panels giving the history of Terminal Island.
The program, which was attended by many former Terminal Islanders and their descendants, opened with a performance by Kokoro Taiko; presentation of colors by the Long Beach Polytechnic High School ROTC; the Pledge of Allegiance, led by Midori Sanchez; the national anthem, sung by Kelsey Kwong; and an invocation by Rev. Jonas Mark Hayes of Grace First Presbyterian Church.
“Terminal Island … is very special to the Hara family,” said the emcee, former LAPD Deputy Chief Terry Hara. “We’re from Terminal island. I’m third generation. My grandfather, Otoji Hara, was a superintendent at the fishery cannery company on Terminal Island … He was an individual that people had gone to to either seek help, advice or even employment … I think everybody who is here today can think of a family member, a relative, a friend that has a relationship here at Terminal Island.”
Terminal Islanders President June Miyamoto Donovan said that the time capsule will be opened on Feb. 27, 2042, 100 years after Terminal Islanders were forcibly evacuated by the government.
Norman Arikawa, assistant director of trade development for the Port of Los Angeles, recalled, “This project was really something that I was directly involved with. When this site was being looked at as the site for the memorial … I had to sign off on it, and I’m so glad … to be here on the 15-year anniversary …
“The Japanese immigrants and the families who made up the Terminal Islander village were a really important part of the history of the Port of Los Angeles. This is an important way for us to recognize that and keep that historical perspective in mind.”
“An Utterly Unique Place”
“Terminal Island was an utterly unique place,” said Naomi Hirahara, co-author (with Geraldine Knatz) of “Terminal Island: Lost Communities of Los Angeles Harbor.” “There were Japanese Americans involved in fishing in other areas of California such as Monterey and San Diego, but none of those places had a Shinto shrine or a torii … and I think it just shows you how special Terminal Island was.
“It was a harsh place at times … 2,000 people crammed in a five-block area. It was overcrowded. Fishing, as most of you know, still remains one of the most dangerous professions. And in spite of all that, certain politicians wanted to prevent Japanese immigrants from participating in fishing. So it was the responsibility of the Japanese Americans in Fish Harbor to send someone to Sacramento every year to fight against any prohibition.
“Yet for all the barriers that were out there, there was this thriving cultural community, and all of you are evidence of this … Terminal Island suffered probably one of the worst experiences in terms of the Japanese Americans being forcibly removed from their homes. On Feb. 2, 1942, all Issei or Japanese immigrant fisherman were taken into custody and questioned, and most of them were sent off to faraway places … very cold areas very far from the sea.
“After that, in late February, every resident of Terminal Island was informed they had to leave the island. Just imagine — all the men, the patriarchs, are gone. There’s the women, the wives, the mothers responsible for multiple children and they had to find a place to go on the mainland to stay. [That same year] all Japanese Americans from the West Coast had to move into camps or into the interior of the U.S. …
“But this event itself is a testimony of the strength of the people of Terminal Island, their will not only to survive, but to overcome, to take care of each other … It’s been an honor to work to preserve your history.”
Consul General Akira Chiba also discussed hardships that the Terminal Islanders faced: “The story of Terminal Island tells us of many great heroes, those who held on to their dignity and defended their rightful place of Japanese Americans in the United States while being unjustly detained … We are reminded of the veterans that fought in the 442nd, 100th and other notable combat units. There were other shows of heroism in the community too. Those who demanded and fought for their constitutional rights … were also as American as those who chose to serve in spite of adverse conditions …
“Thanks to … the Issei, who did not complain, who exercised gaman and gently whispered, ‘Shikata ga nai,’ who convinced America that redress was an honorable request by honorable people. So who are the heroes? … It is the Japanese American community as a whole that added an undeniable legacy to America.”
“We Can Never Forget”
Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn of the 4th District noted, “I have a very special relationship with the Japanese people. My own mother, Ramona, was born in Tokyo in 1924 and lived there for 11 years, and my two uncles have started, and it still remains today, a Christian university in Ibaraki.”
“We can never forget the dark history that made this memorial so necessary,” she said. “Seventy-six years ago, 3,000 Japanese American men, women and children who called Terminal Island home became the first victims of one of the greatest injustices in American history … They were forced out of jobs, stripped of everything they owned, taken from their homes and robbed of their livelihoods for years … They lived in camps deprived of the most basic freedoms, and even as the U.S. government derided Japanese Americans as threats to our national security, brave young Japanese American men served in our armed forces and fought and died for their country.
“One of the greatest honors I had when I served in Congress was to be there when we awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to the remaining members of the Go For Broke 442nd Regiment in the military … What emotion we felt, knowing that they were fighting for this country while at home their families were imprisoned …
“Long after their village was destroyed, a group of former residents who grew up here were able to connect and celebrate their common heritage. It is incredible that we have some of those people here with us today. You were brought together by tragedy … The community you once belonged to was destroyed, but you have built something beautiful out of those ashes that is so incredible.”
Hahn presented scrolls to Donovan and Hirahara to commemorate the anniversary.
Ryan Ferguson, field deputy for Los Angeles City Councilmember Joe Buscaino of the 15th District, also presented a certificate to Donovan.
Michael Enomoto and Craig Biggi of Gruen Associates Architecture Planning recounted how the memorial was designed and built.
“My mother’s family were at Terminal Island, so there’s a special place for this memorial and this group in my heart,” Enomoto said. “… About 20 years ago, my uncle Bob, Dr. Hisao Robert Ryono, came to me and said that he wanted to do a memorial for the Terminal Islanders and would I help him do it. Since he was always the leader of my family, I couldn’t say no … It was really an opportunity for an architect like myself to do something like this for posterity.”
One aspect that most people are unaware of is that “if you’re able to look at the memorial from the air … you would probably notice that the shape of the parcel … is shaped like the stern of a tuna clipper,” Enomoto said.
He added that the torii is a replica of the one that stood on Terminal Island, making the site “a living memorial.”
Biggi recalled that while working with the Terminal Islanders, “we wanted to … make sure that their vision, their story was told. Originally the memorial was going to be just a statue, but we wanted it to be something more … so we combined a number of symbolic elements with the statue in order to … celebrate the life that used to be here.”
One challenge was that the parcel was not on the actual site of the Japanese village, but the designers found a way around that. Historical photos were put in glass panels to create “a snapshot in time of what it used to be like,” and one panel enables visitors to look across Fish Harbor with an image of Terminal Island superimposed over it, Biggi said.
He explained that one of the figures created by artist Henry Alvarez is “crouching down on his haunches and he’s looking through the glass panels over across the harbor … He has this contemplative look on his face.” The other figure is standing and facing the other way, hauling in a net.
Hara asked all former Terminal Islanders present to stand or raise their hands. They included Terry (Kawaguchi) Sugawara, who was born on Terminal Island and attended elementary school there, and 100-year-old Kenji Yamamoto, who will celebrate his 75th wedding anniversary with his wife Hideko this year.
Marifrances Trivelli, director of the Los Angeles Maritime Museum, invited everyone to view “Tāminaru: A Day in a Life of a Japanese American Fishing Village.”
“The museum building was not built to be a museum; it was built to be a ferry terminal and it was a transportation hub between Terminal Island and San Pedro,” Trivelli said. “So of course the Terminal Islanders used that very building as their connection to the rest of Los Angeles. Today the museum is our way of connecting our current generation with the port’s history, so we have thousands of schoolchildren who come every year to the museum. They’re going to learn about the Terminal Islanders.
“We’re in an international port. We have visitors from all over the world. When they come to the museum, they are going to learn the history of Terminal Island. But this could not have been possible without your help — all of the beautiful photographs and artifacts that were donated … If you cannot come today, please know we are open and there for you six days a week, year round.”
Located at Berth 84, foot of 6th Street in San Pedro, the museum will be closed April 21 and will reopen April 22. For more information, call (310) 548-7618 or visit www.lamaritimemuseum.org. For GPS or web-based directions, the address is 600 Sampson Way, San Pedro 90731.
After a benediction by Rev. Yukinori Yokoyama of Long Beach Buddhist Church, the program concluded with the installation of the time capsule and a water display by a fireboat in the harbor. The time capsule contained such items as photos, DVDs of Terminal Islanders picnics and New Year’s parties, news coverage of the 2003 dedication, and Terminal Islanders shirts, bags, pins and blankets.
Other participating dignitaries included Harbor Commissioner Dave Arian; Erika Velzques, L.A. Harbor Area director for the 4th Supervisorial District; Masa Morimoto, assistant director of cargo marketing, and Sheila Gonzales, public information director, for the Port of Los Angeles; and David Metzler, producer of the documentary “The Lost Village of Terminal Island.”
Photos by MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo