by Phyllis Hayashibara
(VJAMM) Committee members and former Manzanar internees Arnold Maeda and Mae Kakehashi, joined fellow former Manzanar internees Susumu Ioki and Mary Nomura on a panel to speak before approximately 150 juniors at the Venice High School World Languages and Global Studies Magnet on Thursday, February 15, 2018.
Maeda, fifteen years old at the time of his forced removal from Santa Monica and a Junior at SAMO High, told of sleepless nights in his cot in the barracks in the middle of a desert, questioning how he, an American-born U. S. citizen, could possibly be imprisoned in this barbed wire enclosure, having broken no laws and having had zero due process. Maeda distinguished himself while in camp, however, memorably performing in plays and in musical comedy, getting elected Senior Class President of the Manzanar High School class of 1944, and after graduation, worked as an orderly at the Manzanar Hospital and picked seasonal produce in Oregon.
Ioki, thirteen years old when incarcerated at Manzanar, wondered why people were wearing goggles when he arrived. He soon experienced the fierce windstorms that kicked up dust everywhere and into the barracks through cracks in the green wood floors and wall boards that shrank as they weathered. Plucked from his freshman class at Venice High School, Ioki found himself promoted to the sophomore class at Manzanar High School, where he said he struggled to keep up with the curriculum and his slightly older classmates.
Kakehashi recalled that the dust abated as the internees themselves farmed the lands of the Manzanar camp, growing enough vegetables to feed themselves as well as to ship to other
American concentration camps such as Tule Lake in northern California, and Poston and Gila River in Arizona. In 1944, Kakehashi married Hideo, drafted into the U. S. Army while incarcerated in Manzanar, coincidentally on the anniversary of Executive Order 9066, on February 19th. She had graduated from Venice High School in the class of 1941, and worked in the Manzanar Hospital as a medical stenographer. Kakehashi recalled getting into a little bit of trouble the day she and her fellow stenos persuaded one of their truck driver friends to drive them some ten miles beyond the barbed wire fencing, to play in the snow at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Nomura honed her singing talent with the Manzanar High School drama and music teacher, Lou Frizzell, who encouraged her to sing at various camp occasions, including the camp dances featuring the tunes of Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Jan Garber, and Guy Lombardo. Thus Nomura earned her nickname, the Songbird of Manzanar. On Thursday, Nomura sang for the Venice High School students, a song Frizzell composed for her, “When I Can,” known unofficially as the Manzanar Song, about the yearnings of young lovers who have no privacy in camp. Nomura was a sixteen-year old Junior at Venice High School, exactly the same age of her audience at Venice High School, when forcibly removed and imprisoned in Manzanar.
Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument Committee member Phyllis Hayashibara began the program with a slide presentation on the text and quotes on the VJAMM, by Brian Tadashi Maeda, Arnold Tadao Maeda, Amy Takahashi Ioki, Mae Kageyama Kakehashi, and the late Yoshinori Tomita. For the complete text and quotes, please visit http://www.venicejamm.org. Hayashibara, a retired Venice High School Social Studies teacher, distributed copies of the VJAMM Dedication program to the students, courtesy of the VJAMM Committee. After 9/11 the Venice Peace and Freedom Party and the Free Venice Beachhead started efforts to place a memorial at the corner of Venice and Lincoln Boulevards. The project gained momentum when Scott Pine. a Venice High School junior, brought in the April 2009 Free Venice Beachhead with an article by Scott Ueda on the Japanese American internment for a current events discussion in Hayashibara’s U. S. History class. This sparked a Venice High Service Learning Experience Project that involved a visit to LA City Hall to speak at a City Council council meeting in support of the project. This was instrumental in obtaining City Council support. Over the next 8 years, the VJAMM committee, comprised of representatives of the Venice Arts Council, Venice Peace and Freedom Party, the Beachhead and members of the local Japanese American Community, most of whom had been incarcerated at Manzanar, worked to create the monument. The VJAMM Committee dedicated the VJAMM on April 27, 2017 on the northwest corner of Venice and Lincoln Boulevards, to commemorate the site where 1,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, forcibly removed from Venice, Santa Monica, and Malibu, lined up with only what they could carry, for transport to and incarceration in the American concentration camp at Manzanar.
The VJAMM Committee greatly appreciates the invitation to speak to Venice High School students, and thanks Venice High School teachers Cris Vicente-Aguilar, Trasey Nomachi, and Jennifer Barnhill, for coordinating the morning program. The VJAMM Committee invites Venice High School service organizations and any other community youth groups to schedule a maintenance day, to wipe down the VJAMM and sweep up the sidewalk debris before the planned VJAMM Commemoration on Thursday, April 19, 2018. Interested parties may contact firstname.lastname@example.org.