By Alice Stek
The dedication of the Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument (VJAMM) took place on April 27, 75 years after over 1000 Japanese Americans from the Venice area were forcibly removed and sent to concentration camps for the remainder of WWII. In 1942, essentially no one tried to stop this injustice.
The monument is located on the corner of Venice and Lincoln Blvds at the site where the families were ordered to report, with only what they could carry, for “evacuation” transport. It took many years to accomplish, it looks beautiful, and the VJAMM Committee is thrilled to see it installed; please visit it.
In the months after 9-11 (2001, not Pinochet’s coup in Chile on 9-11-1973) members of the Venice Peace and Freedom Party were alarmed by the flag-waving hysteria around us. Calls for invasions of distant countries and crackdowns on groups that looked like those reported to be responsible for the attacks made us worry that something similar to the Japanese American incarceration could happen again to innocent Americans. Reminding our community that this could happen again was a good idea, we thought. If people understood the history of the Japanese American incarceration, this would encourage communities to remain vigilant, speak out, and organize against injustice, and we could prevent future violations of civil rights. In early 2002, the Venice Peace and Freedom Party circulated a petition to create a monument commemorating the removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans from Venice, Santa Monica and Malibu. We obtained support from our local elected officials. The Beachhead joined in.
After Venice High School students and their teacher Phyllis Hayashibara took up the cause and former Manzanar prisoners and the Venice Arts Council joined the effort, we were able to raise money and design the current monument.
The relevance of this monument is obvious in the current political climate of racism, intolerance, xenophobia and fear-mongering. We are shocked that almost half of American voters support politicians who so openly promote restricting civil liberties.
It would be a mistake to only be concerned with the obvious threats to justice by the current government. Remember that Executive Order 9066, which allowed the incarceration of Japanese Americans, was signed by the highly regarded President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who promoted many progressive initiatives. President Obama was a Democrat and a good orator, but in the meantime he also authorized NDAA, the National Defense Authorization Act, which makes legal many serious restrictions of civil liberties and includes such provisions as extended arrest without due process. Clearly, the people must remain engaged and vigilant, regardless of who occupies the government positions of power.
Our hope is the VJAMM monument will permanently contribute to this critical vigilance.