The black-colored obelisk stood to the side of Arnold Maeda as he recounted the day 70 years ago that he and his family departed from a Venice intersection for a three-year stay at the Manzanar internment camp.
Etched on the side of the obelisk is a quote from Maeda describing how the most traumatic part of that day for the then 15-year-old was having to leave behind his pet German Shepherd, Boy.
The 9-foot-6-inch-tall obelisk, while currently only a model, gave Maeda and other former internees a vision of the monument that community members plan to erect to mark the location from where local Japanese-Americans left their homes. Beginning on April 25, 1942, the site marked as 933 Venice Blvd., just west of Lincoln Boulevard was where more than 1,000 Japanese-American men, women and children living on the Westside of Los Angeles boarded buses to be transported to Manzanar for the remainder of World War II.
Given just days’ notice and limited to bring only what they could carry, they were among thousands of other West Coast residents of Japanese ancestry who were required to be sent to war relocation camps under an executive order by President Franklin D. Roosevelt following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Some of the former internees and their families gathered at the same Venice intersection on the 70th anniversary of their relocation, when elected officials and members of the memorial marker committee spoke of the effort to remember the event locally.
“It looks great. I’m saying to Caltrans (California Department of Transportation) that they have to approve this,” Maeda said of the proposed memorial getting the proper approval to be installed.
Reflecting on the seven-decade anniversary, Maeda, a longtime Mar Vista resident, said while it’s been a long time since his family was ordered away from their home, he has had reunions with former Manzanar classmates each year. He was joined at the Venice ceremony by his younger brother, Brian, who was born in Manzanar and also has a quote on the planned monument.
“We have a string that ties us together,” Arnold Maeda said of the bond between former internees. “It’s not a happy occasion (at the reunions), but it’s nice to see the friends we made at camp.”
The Venice Japanese American Memorial Marker Committee, comprised of former internees and concerned citizens, chose to model the marker after the 15-foot obelisk that stands in the center of the Manzanar Cemetery, said artist and committee member Emily Winters. The structure, erected at the camp in August 1943, has a Japanese inscription that translates to “monument to console the souls of the dead.”
At the commemoration ceremony, the committee displayed a life-size model of the final piece, which will be made of black granite and has a map to Manzanar on one side.
Winters said she is thrilled with the final design and committee members hope the marker will remind people of how American citizens’ rights were taken away and that it should never happen again.
“We’re hoping people will realize that you can’t discriminate against a group of people because of their race, ethnicity or religion, and we hope this will be a reminder that we don’t want this to happen again,” Winters said.
The committee has raised nearly $25,000 since September 2010 and announced that the National Park Service Japanese American Confinement Program will award an additional $50,000 to pay for the construction and installation.
The memorial proposal was first discussed by the Venice Peace and Freedom Party and the anniversary of the assemblage of Japanese-Americans in Venice has been noted in recent years with a historic photo of the event in the Free Venice Beachhead. After former Venice High School student Scott Ueda, Jr. wrote an article on the occurrence for the newspaper, another Venice High student, Scott Pine, brought it to the attention of his class and then-history teacher Phyllis Hayashibara.
“Seventy years ago to this day America committed a horrible crime that left a stain on our nation’s history: the internment of over 120,000 innocent Japanese-Americans that included more than 1,000 persons from this historic street corner,” Pine said at the April 25 event. “It was a stain that was relegated to a paragraph in my honors U.S. History textbook.”
The monument effort has received the support of Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose office has contributed $5,000, as well as state Assemblywoman Betsy Butler and state Sen. Ted Lieu. Rosendahl recalled how he recently made a visit to the Manzanar camp and heard stories from former internees who lived there. The councilman learned that the resiliency of Japanese-Americans was “unbelievable,” noting that more than 100,000 citizens were taken away from their homes and put into 10 camps where they essentially became prisoners.
“This is as important of a ‘never forget’ as anything we could conceivably talk about and deal with today,” he said. “This is as serious an issue of a destruction of constitutional rights for any American that there ever was.”
Venice Neighborhood Council President Linda Lucks, whose board has backed the marker initiative, said it was thrilling to see what the monument will look like and she believes it’s important to leave a symbol for future generations to never forget what took place.
As part of the anniversary commemoration, Esther Chaing of Hama Sushi hosted three fundraisers at the restaurant with a portion of sales going toward the memorial committee’s campaign.
In the several decades since he has returned from Manzanar, Arnold Maeda explained how he would pass the Venice and Lincoln corner often and be reminded of the experience that was ahead of him when he arrived there as a teenager.
But since he has learned of the community’s efforts and the prospect of having a monument erected, he said those troubling emotions have begun to drift away.
“I used to have a deep emotional feeling about it every time I see this place,” Maeda said. “But now those feelings have started to change.”