Cal Poly Pomona’s Terumi Tanisha Garcia and UCLA’s Charlene Tonai Din each receive $500 and will help plan and produce the upcoming 53rd Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage.
The Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument Committee and the Manzanar Committee awarded recently two outstanding recipients of the Second Annual Arnold Maeda Manzanar Pilgrimage Grant: Terumi Tanisha Garcia of California State University, Pomona, and Charlene Tonai Din of the University of California, Los Angeles.
Garcia and Din will each receive $500 in grant funds from the VJAMM Committee and help the Manzanar Committee plan and produce the 53rd Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, scheduled as a virtual event due to pandemic precautions, on April 30.
Maeda, who passed away in September 2020 at the age of 94, inspired the VJAMM Committee, on which he served as a charter member. He proved to be a willing and articulate public speaker and invaluable fundraiser. As a boy, he and his family were forcibly incarcerated at Manzanar during World War II following EO 9066.
“Instead of being worried about where we were going, I was obsessed with the fact that I had parted with my constant companion, my pet dog, Boy,” Maeda once said. “For a 15-year-old, that was unforgettably traumatic.”
Despite that trauma of being forcibly uprooted from Santa Monica, Calif., and his family’s losing their home and nursery business, Maeda distinguished himself at Manzanar. He participated in music and drama productions, lifted weights, worked as a kitchen helper and a hospital orderly and became president of his senior class of 1944 at Manzanar High School.
After World War II ended, Maeda began to volunteer with the Manzanar Reunion Committee, the Santa Monica Nikkei Hall and, in 2010, with the VJAMM Committee.
Applicants for this year’s grant program were asked to get to know Maeda by finding his many interviews and articles online and describing his life and legacy in an essay, short story or poem. Applicants were also asked to address three or more areas of reflection: who Maeda was and how he became a role model for the Japanese American community; how Maeda’s legacy has influenced the applicant; how the applicant will apply the lessons learned from Maeda to his/her life today; how Maeda’s life in the American concentration camp at Manzanar compares/contrasts with the student’s life today; how collaboration and service to others have affected his/her life; how and why working with the Manzanar Committee on the 2022 Manzanar Pilgrimage will help him/her better understand Maeda’s life and legacy.
Garcia, a fourth-year student in the Department of Landscape Architecture at Cal Poly Pomona, finds “the stories and lives of incarcerees such as Arnold Maeda inspirational” in her own personal quest for knowledge of her family’s history.
Her great-grandfather, Moritaro “Grant” Ishigaki, was imprisoned at the American concentration camp at Heart Mountain, Wyo. After World War II, he returned to California and eventually settled in South El Monte with his wife and two sons, where he became a gardener.
But Ishigaki longed for the desert to which he had grown accustomed during his incarceration, and his wife bought him a trailer home in Victorville, Calif., so that he could be closer to the hot sands and dry winds.
Din, a freshman at UCLA, feels “inspired by Maeda’s wholehearted efforts to establish the Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument. … On the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, [my great-grandfather] was arrested by the FBI, thrown into various Department of Justice camps and eventually placed behind barbed wire with the rest of his family.”
Din also wrote in her essay, “Maeda’s work shows the importance of teaching the wrongs endured … so it is never forgotten nor repeated … and reminds me of the importance of sharing connections between past and present … to inspire advocacy.”
Both Garcia and Din have incorporated their social justice perspectives into their art.
Din won the Bay Area’s “Growing Up Asian in America” art competition as a high school freshman in 2017.
Her winning poster shows San Francisco’s Peace Pagoda in Japantown, framed by branches of iconic Japanese cherry blossoms, in the background. In the foreground, an Immigration and Customs
Enforcement agent arrests and escorts a father away while two children wave goodbye from a train window. Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, gazes from the lower-left corner at the signs depicted in the center of Din’s poster. “No Ban, No Wall, Sanctuary for All” reads one sign, while the other is a copy of “Instructions to All Persons of Japanese Ancestry, and a small sign reads, “No DAPL.”
As a member of AYPAL, an Oakland-based Asian youth leadership and activist organization, Din and other artists completed a large-scale painting for the annual May Arts Festival “highlighting the various ways our families came to the U.S. and emphasizing the importance of knowing history in order to know oneself,” according to Din.
Din continues her activism as Cultural Awareness and Community Service Chair for the Nikkei Student Union at UCLA.
Garcia assists in teaching the Japanese American Landscape Architecture and Ethnic Studies class at Cal Poly Pomona. For one of her JusticeScapes assignments, Garcia identified historical examples of racial politics, laws and capitalism in the U.S., as well as post-Colonial examples of racist policies in the U.S.
She illustrated how “Race/Caste has led to Spaces of Incarceration” in a powerful collage listing the Indian Removal Act of 1830, Trail of Tears, Deputation of Negroes 1862, Alien Enemies Act 1917, Redlining National Housing Act 1934 and Executive Order 9066 — 1942.
The collage depicts Presidents Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well as maps of the U.S. showing Trails of Tears and American detention centers and concentration camps, plus photos of War Relocation Authority barracks and hands behind jail bars.
In the center is a silhouetted profile of former President Donald Trump. In an even more pointed criticism, Garcia composed a free-verse poem to “Mr. President,” juxtaposing “being polite” as a survival tactic with the words of Andrew Jackson from the Indian Removal Act for the assignment titled “Terror as Enforcement, Cruelty as a Means of Control.”
Garcia wrote that the VJAMM and the Manzanar National Historic Site, on the literal landscape, help us “remember past traumatic events to help us build better relationships with each other and our environment … to work toward social justice.”
Brian Maeda, filmmaker, VJAMM Committee member and brother of the late Arnold Maeda, said, “My brother would be elated that this new generation is passing on our history of unjust incarceration and violation of our civil rights. Keep the faith that this will never happen again to anyone.”
For more information about the Arnold Maeda Manzanar Pilgrimage Grant, please visit venicejamm.org, Facebook @VeniceJAMM or manzanarcommittee.org.