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Panel on JA WWII Experience in Sierra Madre

Amy Uyematsu, Naomi Hirahara, Mitchell Maki

SIERRA MADRE — A panel discussion titled “Home, Heartbreak and Hope: Reflections on the Japanese American Experience in Sierra Madre and the San Gabriel Valley” will be presented on Sunday, Jan. 21, at Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd. in Sierra Madre.

This event is presented in connection with the run of the play “Nothing Is the Same” by Y York, directed by Tim Dang, at Sierra Madre Playhouse from Jan. 19 to March 4. Admission to the panel discussion is free, but there is a charge for the show.

The speakers are poet Amy Uyematsu and Dr. Mitchell Maki of the Go For Broke Educational Foundation, with author Naomi Hirahara as moderator.

The play is set in Hawaii at the time of Pearl Harbor and dramatizes the way life changed for four 11-year-olds at the outbreak of World War II. One of the children is of Japanese heritage and the action centers around the way friendship is challenged when Japan becomes the enemy.

The panel will look at the true stories of Japanese Americans, not in Hawaii, but right here in California, and how Pearl Harbor changed the lives of those living on the West Coast at the time of the war and afterwards.

Uyematsu, a Sansei teacher and poet, was raised in Pasadena/Sierra Madre from 1947 to 1965. Her family lived behind the Sierra Madre Library and on their Star Nurseries property, which was located just south of the Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center. Her grandfather, Francis Miyosaku Uyematsu, built a flourishing wholesale nursery business in the 1930s, with sites in Montebello, Manhattan Beach, and Sierra Madre.

When the Uyematsus were sent to Manzanar, her grandfather sold his large camellia inventory to publisher Manchester Boddy; those camellias comprised a substantial part of Boddy’s Descanso Gardens.

A graduate of UCLA, Uyematsu has five published collections: “30 Miles from J-Town,” “Nights of Fire, Nights of Rain,” “Stone Bow Prayer,” “The Yellow Door,” and “Basic Vocabulary.”

Maki is the president and chief executive officer of GFBNEC, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit foundation that educates the public on the valor of Japanese American veterans of World War II and their contributions to democracy. A native of Monterey Park, he previously served as a vice president of academic affairs, a dean of two colleges, and a professor at California State University Los Angeles, CSU Dominguez Hills, and UCLA.

An expert on the Japanese American redress movement, Maki is the lead author of the award-winning book “Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress” (University of Illinois Press, 1999), a case study of the history and passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. He has served on the boards of Asian American Drug Abuse Program Inc. and the Japanese American National Museum and the advisory board of the California State Library’s Civil Liberties Public Education Program.

Maki holds a bachelor of science degree in public administration, a master’s degree in social work and a doctorate in social work, all from the University of Southern California.

Hirahara is the Edgar Award-winning author of two mystery series set in Los Angeles. Her Mas Arai series, which features a Hiroshima survivor and gardener, has been translated into Japanese, Korean and French. The final novel in the series, “Hiroshima Boy,” will be released by Prospect Park Books this year. The first in her Officer Ellie Rush bicycle cop series, “Murder on Bamboo Lane,” received the 2014 T. Jefferson Parker Mystery Award, while her debut middle-grade book, “1001 Cranes,” won honorable mention in youth literature from the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association.

A former editor of The Rafu Shimpo, she also writes nonfiction and curates historical exhibitions. For more information, go to

The panel begins at 1 p.m., followed by questions from the audience. A performance of “Nothing Is the Same” begins at 2:30 p.m. There is ample free parking in a lot behind the playhouse.

The show opens Friday, Jan. 19, and Saturday, Jan. 20, at 8 p.m. Show is double-cast and will have two opening nights. Regular showtimes are Sunday and Saturday at 2:30 p.m. through March 4 and Saturday at 8 p.m. on Feb. 24 and March 3. Admission: $30 general, $27 for seniors (65 and over), $20 for youth (20 and under). For reservations, call (626) 355-4318 or go online to

Other free events in conjunction with the play:

Sunday, Jan. 28, at 1 p.m.: “Hula in the Street” on Auburn Street just north of West Sierra Madre Boulevard, featuring Hula Halau Na Mamo O Pana’ewa.

Sunday, Feb. 18, at 1 p.m.: “Hawaii Try It,” mini-workshops exploring the contributions of Filipino, Korean and Native Hawaiian culture to the aloha spirit.

Sunday, Feb. 25, at 1 p.m.: Tour of the Japanese Goodwill Garden at Sierra Madre Elementary School, 141 W. Highland Ave. (at Auburn) in Sierra Madre. Tea and Japanese snacks available for purchase.

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