Rally: The memorial commemorating the departure point for WWII internment camps has been the site of a rally in support of Asian residents. Courtesy photo

The commemoration of the Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument will take place on April 15, marking the 79th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which forcibly incarcerated 120,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast during World War II.

Approximately 1,000 of these residents came from Venice, Santa Monica, and Malibu. In April 1942 these residents were told to gather on the corner Venice and Lincoln Blvd, where they were boarded onto buses and transported to the Manzanar internment camp.

The monument was installed on this corner in 2017 and the VJAMM commemoration ceremony takes place annually to remember the discrimination and loss of rights endured by the local Japanese American community.

This year’s commemoration proves to be more pertinent than ever in light of the rise in violence against Asian Americans across the country.

“We commemorate the VJAMM because we do not want such discriminatory injustices to happen again, to anyone, anywhere,” said VJAMM committee member Phyllis Hayashibara. “Yet here we are, in the midst of a pandemic, and a resurgence of anti-Asian assaults, both verbal and physical; and anti-Asian vandalism and murder.”

The ceremony will take place over Zoom from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. and will be followed by a socially distanced fundraising dinner at Hama Sushi from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The event will feature a series of impressive speakers, including U.S. Congressman Ted Lieu who represents California’s 33rd District and was one of the earliest supporters of the VJAMM.

In 2011, Lieu co-sponsored Assembly Resolution 46, which paved the way for the memorial’s approval, and in 2014 he gave a major donation to fund its construction and maintenance.

Lieu will be joined by a series of prominent Asian activists including Warren Furutani, leader of the Manzanar Pilgrimage; Rev. Duncan Ryuken Williams, organizer of Tsuru for Solidarity; and Bruce Embrey, co-chair of the Manzanar Committee.

Many local community leaders will also speak at the ceremony in solidarity with the Asian American community. This includes representatives from Venice Community Housing, the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission, the Venice Mexican American Traquero Monument Committee, and the Arnold Maeda Manzanar Pilgrimage Grant.

“Yes, of course, this year’s commemoration takes on increased significance in light of the recent recurrence of hate crimes against Asian Americans,” said Hayashibara. “Some of our speakers will address this head on, and some may refer to this obliquely, but I can’t wait for the speakers to articulate their own views on Thursday, April 15, 2021.”

Hayashibara first became involved in the campaign to build the VJAMM in 2009 when she was teaching social studies at Venice High School and one of her students brought in an article on the historical internment of local residents. Together with her students, Hayashibara began a letter writing campaign to then-LA City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl to create a monument marking the forcible removal of local Japanese Americans.

The movement quickly blossomed and attracted supporters from many local organizations as well as residents and descendants of residents who were sent to Manzanar.

These residents remember being told to report to the corner of Lincoln and Venice Blvd. bringing only the possessions they could carry. Many of them spent three long years at Manzanar, separated from their homes and communities and stripped of their independence, autonomy and civil rights.

The monument urges residents to be “forever vigilant about defending our constitutional rights” and features quotes from several former Manzanar internees.

“When the camp closed, we were given twenty-five dollars and told to leave. But we had nothing when we left camp – no home, no jobs, no prospects. It was very hard on all of us,” reads a quote by Mae Kageyama Kakehashi, who was removed from Venice in 1942.

Hayashibara urges all local residents to attend the event and learn more about this important piece of the community’s history. Information on how to join the Zoom commemoration can be found at www.venicejamm.org.