Nine young adults and two directors from Venice YouthBuild, a comprehensive educational, job-training, and leadership development program sponsored by Venice Community Housing, helped polish the Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument and sweep up debris from the surrounding sidewalk and street curbs on Aug. 24.
Young adults Tuituu Akau, Durant Dyer, Gage Fontana, Robert Funes, Victoria Guizar, Alanza Jimenez, Tahz Jones, Ramon Ortega, and Shairis Plazola arrived on the northwest corner of Venice and Lincoln, accompanied by Venice YouthBuild Director Kevin Michini and Associate Director Tijana Quilici.
Quilici had prepped the nine volunteers by screening the 2017 documentary by Abby Ginzberg and Ken Schneider, “And Then They Came for Us,” which focuses on the disturbingly current relevance of the 1942 forced removal of persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast, and their incarceration in ten American concentration camps under the War Relocation Authority.
VJAMM Committee member Phyllis Hayashibara introduced the VJAMM obelisk to the YB participants, reading aloud the three-paragraph text, while the youth themselves volunteered to read aloud the five quotes from former Manzanar incarcerees.
Hayashibara explained how the Manzanar cemetery’s white obelisk, inscribed with three kanji characters, I-rei-tou, meaning “monument to console the dead,” inspired the VJAMM obelisk, to remind the living of our constitutional rights and to be vigilant about protecting those rights.
“I am so moved by this monument,” said Alanza Jimenez. “As a woman of mixed African American and Native American heritage, I know this injustice should not be forgotten, and I appreciate learning this history. In fact, I’d like to see more monuments dedicated to other groups of people who have suffered, so no one will forget, and so this will never happen again.”
The volunteers enjoyed a lunch of grilled veggie sandwiches and tuna salad sandwiches, generously donated by James’ Beach in Venice. VJAMM Committee member Suzanne Thompson had arranged for the donation, while VJAMM Committee member Kay Brown organized the pick-up and delivery to the corner. The volunteers also shared a few sandwiches with a couple of women who walked up and wondered if they could have a sandwich, too.
“We have been learning to give back to the community. Whatever we do for the community, we get back in return,” said Funes, who credited his wisdom to YB Director Michini, who has pledged Venice YouthBuild to help maintain the VJAMM on a regular basis as a new component of their monthly community service.
Beach Cities Carwash employee Rafael came over to thank the young adults for helping to clean up the street corner. He said the carwash plans to re-landscape the corner with a variety of plants.
VCH’s mission statement reads, “Venice Community Housing works to reduce homelessness, maximize affordable housing, empower low-income constituents, provide social services, and advocate for public policy that protects and strengthens the economic, racial and cultural diversity of Venice and other neighborhoods on the Westside of Los Angeles.”
VHC, a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization, celebrates 30 years of affordable housing and community development, and serves as the fiscal sponsor for the Venice Arts Council and the Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument Committee. For more information about Venice YouthBuild, www.vchcorp.org/venice-youthbuild/