A rendering of the future home of the Santa Maria Japanese Community Center. The center is seeking an artist to create a monument to honor the Issei pioneers.

By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor

Sculptors and artisans are encouraged to submit proposals for a monument to be installed in the new Santa Maria Japanese Community Center. Santa Maria JCC has been a vital part of the local farming community since its founding in 1925.

The monument will be prominently displayed in the new center and honor the Issei generation who migrated to Santa Maria. It will occupy a space approximately seven feet wide by 11 feet high and will have a depth of seven to eight feet.

Wes Koyama, Santa Maria JCC president, explained, “Some of the visions and concepts we want to include in the monument are as follows. Firstly, we want to spotlight the agricultural field. The majority of the first generation coming to this valley were farmers. Secondly, they brought with them various traditions and art forms. They include martial arts, (judo /karate), gardening (bonsai/ikebana), Japanese tea ceremony, and Japanese music and their instruments (koto, shamisen, taiko).”

The materials used will be up to the artist. The maximum budget for the project is $50,000. The budget will include all costs including artist fees, fabrication, lighting, supplies, labor, insurance, delivery, installation, and setup.

The Santa Maria JCC is also accepting donations in the amounts of $500, $1,000, $2,500, and $5,000. Donor plaques will be placed in the future center.

The original Santa Maria Japanese Community Center, 1925-2017.

The City of Santa Maria is partnering with the community on the new facility, which is being built on a seven-acre site at Enos Ranch. The original community center was sold in 2017 and the Santa Maria JCC donated money to the city for the naming rights to the new center.

At a City Council meeting in March, Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Director Alex Posada said that the city wanted to partner with a group interested in preserving the agricultural history of the valley.

During the meeting, Koyama shared the struggles of the Issei who settled in the region, growing vegetables such as sugar beets, lettuce and strawberries. The monument and gallery will highlight those stories.

“Most importantly in the gallery is the space allotted for a monument to recognize the contributions of the Issei to the betterment of the valley. This is where we will need your help in realizing our dream to memorialize them,” He said.

Among the notable farming families are Issei pioneers H.Y. Minami of Minami & Sons and Setsuo Aratani of Guadalupe Produce Co. Aratani was the first grower to ship lettuce from the area and he sponsored a baseball team that traveled to compete in Japan in 1928. His son, George Aratani, founder of Mikasa and Kenwood Electronics, continued his ties to the area.

“He would come back and donate, sponsor community activities, a golf tournament,” recalled JoAnne Nishino Spencer, Santa Maria JCC vice president.

Santa Maria Japanese Community Center Board (from left): Past President Dale Hiramatsu, Treasurer Keiko Monahan, President Wes Koyama, past Member-at-Large Craig Oye and Vice President Jo Anne Nishino Spencer.

Nishino Spencer’s grandfather, Ichitaro Taniguchi, was one of the original board members. She remembered going to the community center, where they would have classes in flower arrangement, bonsai and martial arts.

“At the old community center, they had Japanese language classes for kids my age. That was a good thing. They tried to keep Japanese culture going for future generations,” she said.

In the fall, community center members who had been incarcerated during World War II gathered at the local Methodist church to sign an American flag. When the new Santa Maria JCC opens, they look forward to hosting meetings and continuing important traditions, including Oshogatsu. Nishino Spencer said they will have a luncheon featuring some traditional Japanese foods.

“We have some older members who still know how to cook all that stuff. Being in the country, we don’t have the grocery stories that have prepared Japanese foods for New Year’s,” she said.

The deadline for artists to file a submission of interest and qualifications is Jan. 31. Questions regarding this RFQ/RFP should be submitted by Jan. 18 to Koyama at weskoyama@gmail.com and Nishino Spencer at fruit01@msn.com.

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