By Melanie Camp
Sporting a James Dean haircut and rolling the cuffs of his jeans up like Marlon Brando, Arnold Maeda was every bit your modern American boy back in 1942. He lived in Santa Monica with his parents Toyoshige and Sasami Maeda who ran a gardening business.
His beloved dog was never far from his side – until World War II came and tore them apart. As a Japanese American, Maeda fell victim to the fear that crawled into the cracks of a country rattled by war.
Along with his parents, the teenager was asked to report to a meeting place in Venice Beach. They were told only to bring what they could carry. Bags and suitcases packed, the family joined 1000 other Japanese Americans who all lined up along the north side of Venice Boulevard, right by the spot that is now Beach Cities Car Wash, just west of Lincoln.
“Instead of being worried about where we were going, I was obsessed with the fact that I had parted with my constant companion, my pet dog, Boy. For a 15-year-old, that was kind of traumatic,” Maeda recalled.
Sent to the Manzanar Relocation Center internment camp, Maeda would be 19 before he and his family would be free again, “I spent 40 months behind barbed wires,” he explained.
The Maedas lost everything they had worked for in Santa Monica, their home, their gardening business, and their liberty. Their youngest son Brian was born in the camp.
On Wednesday, April 27 Hama Sushi at 213 Windward Avenue in Venice will host their annual fundraiser for the Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument (VJAMM).
“The VJAMM will commemorate this history and remind us to be vigilant about our Constitutional rights, so such a forced removal and incarceration solely on the basis of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, race, or religion, will never happen to any group again,” said Phyllis Hayashibara of the VJAMM Committee. Maeda’s story will be engraved on the side of a monument remembering this time. Three other quotes will be included from Maeda’s younger brother Brian, Venice High School Alum, Mae Kageyama Kakehashi, and Amy Takahashi Lokiof Malibu, all former internees.
Hayashibara said that the push to have the memorial placed in Venice began when her history students at Venice High School came to class with a copy of the Free Venice Beachhead in April 2009.
“The issue featured a 1942 photo of Japanese Americans lining up with bags and suitcases,” said Hayashibara. The newspaper also encouraged neighbors to write to then LA Councilmember, 11th District, the late Bill Rosendahl, to ask for his support for a permanent memorial.
Many of Hayashibara’s students wrote to Rosendahl which led to them being invited to make a presentation to the Los Angeles City Council at City Hall on May 29, 2009.
“Venice High School student Felix Barron read his email aloud while about 25 other students, who had also written emails to Rosendahl, stood behind him in support. From that moment, Rosendahl became our champion in getting a permanent marker installed,” said Hayashibara.
The VJAMM Committee has been working for six years, collecting letters of support from various community groups, raising funds, as well as chasing reports from civil engineers, soil engineers, and structural engineers. The committee has secured approvals from the California State Senate and Assembly, the Los Angeles City Council, the California Coastal Commission, the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Commission, the Los Angeles Board of Public Works, the California Department of Transportation, and for building permits from LA City.
The original monument was planned to be much smaller than the 9 foot 6 inch tall, solid granite obelisk that will now mark the fateful spot on Venice Blvd. This means the estimated expenses for the transport, foundation, and installation of the monument will exceed the original budget. Because of this, the committee plan to continue fundraising to cover these expenses, as well setting aside a fund for future maintenance costs.
“We are cautiously optimistic that the VJAMM will be installed on the northwest corner of Venice and Lincoln in late 2016 or early 2017,” added Hayashibara.
To support VJAMM and be part of their fundraising efforts on April 27, pre-book a bento box lunch from Hama Sushi before April 25. 100 percent of bento box profits and 10 percent of all dinner sales on the day will go to VJAMM.
Order your bento box by emailing Phyllis Hayashibara at: [email protected] Book your table for dinner at Hama Sushi by calling: 310.396.8783.