Suzanne Thompson, Emily Winters, Warren Furutani, Alice Stek and Brian Maeda in 2017.
By PHYLLIS HAYASHIBARA
Three members of the Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument Committee stunned their fellow committee members with their generous donations towards the completion of the VJAMM.
At the VJAMM Committee meeting in January, Arnold Maeda and Brian Maeda, both charter members of the committee, handed over a check for $5,000 in memory of their parents/grandparents, Norman Toyoshige and Sasami Takeda Maeda.
A few days later, Alice Stek, also a VJAMM Committee charter member, announced her $5,000 donation, and requested that she be identified with the Venice Peace and Freedom Party.
Arnold Maeda, who celebrated his 90th birthday in 2016, was born to Norman and Sasami Maeda in Santa Monica. The Issei Maedas grew up as neighbors in the prefecture of Kochi on the island of Shikoku.
“My dad had settled in California first, and then went back to Kochi to pick up his teen-age bride,” said Brian Maeda. “They made the final journey of the Korea Maru bringing Japanese immigrants to the U.S., just before the U.S. cut off immigration from Japan in 1924.”
In Santa Monica, the Maedas started their own wholesale/retail nursery on Colorado Avenue, which they lost completely when ordered to “evacuate” and “relocate” in April 1942. Fifteen years old at the time, Arnold also lost his constant companion, a beautiful German shepherd called Boy — an experience he characterized as “unforgettably traumatic.”
He had this to say to the Santa Monica City Council in September, 2016: “Whenever I passed by . . . the corner of Venice and Lincoln, I found myself welling up with a gut-wrenching emotional feeling which I hadn’t known had been harboring within me. It wasn’t until sometime after I joined the Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument Committee that my visceral emotional feeling began to ease up.
“Today I am full of hope that this 9-foot, 6-inch monument project will be completed soon. We hope that this monument will help thousands and thousands of us to be alert so that nothing of this nature wil ever happen again.”
Brian Maeda, born in the American concentration camp at Manzanar, helped the VJAMM Committee understand why “forcibly removed” and “incarcerated” should replace any euphemisms about the camp experience. A documentary and dramatic filmmaker, he directed “Music Man of Manzanar,” a film about Lou Frizzell, who taught music and drama to the teenagers in Manzanar, including the young Arnold Maeda.
Brian and Arnold Maeda in 2014
The younger Maeda also directed the Japanese American gangster drama “Savage Boys” (also titled “Buddhaheads”). His current film project, “No-No Boys,” addresses the drama in the segregation center and prison at Tule Lake. He is also active with the Manzanar Committee, which sponsors the annual pilgrimage to Manzanar the last Saturday of April.
Stek, an OB-GYN with Los Angeles County and USC Medical Center, has been working successfully on achieving a 100 percent success rate in birthing babies without HIV to mothers with HIV. She has been active in the Free Venice Beachhead collective and the Venice Peace and Freedom Party, both of which originally spearheaded the drive to remind the community that the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans should never be repeated against any other minority group.
The impetus for the original campaign stemmed from the discrimination and prejudice against Middle Easterners and Muslims that arose in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Virginia, and the aborted attack that ended in a field near Shanksville, Pa.
Arnold T. Maeda, Brian T. Maeda, and Alice Stek will be permanently acknowledged for their generous support of the VJAMM. Their names will be engraved on the VJAMM obelisk that gratefully acknowledges major donors who have donated $5,000 or more to the committee, including:
Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program of the National Park Service ($50,000 matching grant 2:1); Jung and Esther Chaing of Hama Sushi Restaurant in Venice ($14,500 through April 2016); the late former Los Angeles City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl, 11th District; City Councilmember Mike Bonin, 11th District; former Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, 3rd District; Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, 3rd District; Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, 2nd District; former Supervisor Don Knabe, 4th District; former State Sen. Ted Lieu, 28th District (now a member of Congress); and the Santa Monica City Council.
Preparation for Foundation
On Feb. 8, the City of Los Angeles’ Construction Forces Division sawcut and demolished part of the sidewalk concrete on the northwest corner of Venice and Lincoln, in preparation for excavation and pouring the foundation for the VJAMM. Meanwhile, the VJAMM obelisk stands under a tarp in Arvin, Kern County, while certified memorialist David Williams will engrave all four sides with historical text, quotes from five former Manzanar incarcerees, acknowledgement of major donors, and a map of the route to the Manzanar National Historic Site.
The VJAMM Committee has planned the dedication of the VJAMM for Thursday, April 27, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at Venice and Lincoln. Community activist and Manzanar Pilgrimage pioneer Warren Furutani has confirmed as keynote speaker.
The dedication will be followed by the sixth annual VJAMM fundraiser at Hama Sushi Restaurant in Venice. Proprietor Esther Chaing will donate 100 percent of all pre-ordered bento lunch profits and 10 percent of all dinner sales to the VJAMM Committee.
For a complete list of donors and supporters, and the complete design and layout of the obelisk, visit www.venicejamm.org.