Civil Rights

There’s a Monolith at Venice and Lincoln

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By Jim Smith, photos by Margaret Molloy.

The intersection of Lincoln and Venice Blvd. is now my favorite corner in Venice. It’s hard to believe, but there’s a shiny, new black monolith on the northwest sidewalk. If you haven’t been reading the Beachhead or didn’t come to the dedication, April 27, you may think it was dropped there by aliens to test our intelligence as a species. Will we pass? Well, if you understand that all humans around the world are basically alike, and if you are aware that the U.S. Constitution provides for due process, the right to a trial by jury and equality under the law, and further, if you can distinguish between nations that commit war crimes and innocent people whose ancestors may have been born in that country, then you may not go extinct.

The truth is the monolith, also called the Venice Japanese-American Memorial Monument, was placed there by Venetians, and our friends, to remind all of us that 1,000 local people of Japanese ancestry were incarcerated in the Manzanar concentration camp in 1942, even though they had done nothing illegal or anti-American. Most of them were confined there for up to three and a half, or four years. They lost their farms, their homes, their possessions and a total of 450,000 years of their lives if you add up all 120,000 people who were put into the camps, right here in America.

A few hundred of us gathered at the corner to celebrate the dedication of the monument, which we have been working towards for the past 16 years. It took that long to gather the supporters, raise money, get the monument and deal with city, county and state bureaucracies to make it legal to plant it next to a highway (Lincoln Blvd.).

If you’re wondering if this is one more trick to gentrify Venice, it isn’t. There’s nothing to buy here, folks. This is Venice history. The Japanese people who were taken to the concentration camps were almost all working class and farmers.

Likewise, the Committee (Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument or VJAMM) that worked tirelessly to create this living memory of our past included Kay Brown, artist; Nikki Gilbert, Sushi Girl; Phyllis Hayashibara, retired Venice High teacher; Mae Kageyama Kakehashi, Manzanar survivor; Arnold Maeda, Manzanar survivor; Brian Maeda, Manzanar survivor; Alice Stek, Venice Peace and Freedom and Beachhead; Suzanne Thompson, fundraiser; Yosh Tomita, Manzanar survivor; Emily Winters, muralist. Also, Don Geagan, Peace and Freedom and Beachhead; the late Fred Hoshiyama, Manzanar survivor; Marc Salvatierra, Venice Historical Society; and me, Jim Smith. Most of the above are long time Venetians who are fighting to preserve the Venice culture.

Seven of the locals spoke at the ceremony and another seven politicians and government officials also spoke. Fortunately we were limited to two minutes each. Warren Furutani, a former state legislator, school board member and community college trustee was the keynote speaker. Unlike some of the speakers who delivered large helpings of platitudes, Furutani talked to us about how the betrayal of the Japanese-Americans happened and what we need to do to prevent losing our civil liberties again.

The monolith is really a fine piece of work that was created by a very skilled artist, David Williams. You should stop by and take a look at it. The monument is going to take a lot of vigilance to keep it from being desecrated. Please let the Committee know if you see anyone harming it.

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