Recognizing A Tragedy: 69 Years Later

April 1, 2011

It has been nine long years since a small group of Venetians came together to call attention to a terrible wrong that had been committed in our community. On April 25, 1942, approximately 1,000 Japanese-Americans living in Venice, Santa Monica and surrounding farms were required to report to Lincoln and Venice Blvds. with only what few belongings they could carry. They were put in buses that took them to a concentration camp called Manzanar in the high desert.

Shortly after the destruction of New York City’s World Trade Center, on Sept. 11, 2001, there was a rising hysteria in the country against Arabs; indeed, anyone who looked like he or she might be Arab, was in danger of verbal and even physical assault. The signing into law of the Patriot Act on Oct. 26, 2001, took away many rights to privacy, allowed home searches without a court order and indefinite detention, among other things. Civil liberties hadn’t been so threatened since 1942, when more than 120,000 Japanese in the western United States, two-thirds of who were citizens, were rounded-up and taken to concentration camps.

On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by a paranoid Japanese empire. On Feb. 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed an executive order “excluding” the Japanese – citizens and immigrants – from the western states. The concentration camps soon followed. On Feb. 24, 1942, the Battle of Los Angeles was “fought.” Jittery sky watchers sounded the alarm that night of an invading air raid from Japan. It turned out to be nothing, a weather balloon or a UFO, but the nighttime sky was lit up over the basin with countless artillery barrages.

The jitters turned to hostility which turned to racism against the quiet but hard-working Japanese-Americans in Venice and elsewhere. On April 25, 1942, a coastal-wide operation, including Venice, sent 120,000 Japanese to the camps. It was overseen by Lt. Gen. J.L. DeWitt, who said: “A Jap is a Jap and it makes no difference whether citizen or not. I’m not worried about the Germans or Italians but we will worry about the Japs until they are wiped off the face of the earth.”

Japanese-Americans had played an important role in the economy and society of Venice. At the time, it was surrounded by farmland, much of which was owned by Japanese, who grew produce including celery, beans, cabbage and lettuce. In addition to farming, Japanese were involved in a variety of businesses and occupations, including gardening, florists, restaurants, dry cleaners and concessions on the pier. Most Japanese-Americans, like Germans and Italians on the east coast, were fiercely loyal to the United States. But unlike those Europeans, they were viewed with suspicion by some government and military officials.

Even before the war, Japanese immigrants couldn’t become citizens or own land. Most farms and other property were held in the names of their U.S. born children. Asians and whites couldn’t inter-marry in California until 1948.

According to Arnold Maeda, who was 15 years old when he reported with his family to Venice and Lincoln, others taken away on the bus, who are still living in the area include Jim Sukuhara, Amy Takahashi Ioki, Kazumi Kishi Tatsumi, Koko Tsutsumiuchi Matsui, Mae Kageyama Kakehashi, the Nakagiri family, Nori Kuroyama, Yosh and George Nojima, Nob Kamibayashi and his sister Shizue Kamibayashi Kiyohiro.

Also from Venice and Ocean Park: Mike Kusaba, Glenn Tomita, Kageyama siblings: Frank, Mae Kakehashi, Mary (Songbird of Manzanar) Nomura; Nishi sisters: Kiyo Tanaka, Miyo, Nancy and Aya; George Nojima, Nakagiri siblings: Shig, Jane Shintani, June Akioka; Kazie Nagai, Sam Ono, Toy Ioki Sato and brother Sus Ioki.

“There are many others but I’d be guessing,” says Maeda.

It was probably hardest on the children who were taken out of their schools, including Venice High, Florence Nightengale Elementary (now Anchorage), Martha Washington (now Westminster), as well as schools in Santa Monica and Malibu.

There was no bus ride home from the camps in the Fall of 1945. After three and a half years in the camps, the incarcerated were given $25 to make their way home.

Maeda’s father went home and got his pickup which was being cared for by a neighbor. He made many trips back to Manzanar to pick up people and their belongings and bring them back to Southern California.

Many Japanese had lost their farms and homes during the intervening three and a half years. There was an exodus to Orange County and the Oxnard area. Farm land rapidly became housing tracts that enriched the new and mostly white owners.

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SIDEBAR:

Attend the Groundbreaking Ceremony, April 25 at Venice and Lincoln Blvds.

On April 25, at the northwest corner of Venice and Lincoln Boulevards, a “groundbreaking” ceremony has been planned for 10 a.m. to celebrate the progress of the Venice Japanese American Memorial Marker committee.  The VJAMM committee invites interested members of the community to join Los Angeles City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl, former internees of the War Relocation Authority camp at Manzanar and members of the VJAMM at the unveiling of the proposed memorial marker design and the proposed plaque text.

 

 


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