Honoring Japanese American History in Monrovia

The new Neighborhood Treasure. - Courtesy illustration
The new Neighborhood Treasure. – Courtesy illustration

By Susie Ling

The City of Monrovia is honoring its Japanese American history with a public art piece. Kerri Zessau of Monrovia said, “One of the key goals of our Neighborhood Treasures program is to affirm the importance and value of Monrovians in history. It also allows us to bring public art into different neighborhoods.” Maryrose Mendoza is the artist selected for this special project. She said, “I was born in Manila. Growing up in the San Gabriel Valley, my family would hang out in Little Tokyo and Chinatown. Just recently, I’ve been exploring my ethnic heritage through my art. Filipino American history – like that of other groups – is just invisible. This was a great opportunity for me to celebrate the diversity in Americana.” Maryrose Mendoza is professor of drawing at Pasadena City College.

On the right end of Maryrose Mendoza’s rendering are the four stars for the Tsuneishi family. While in concentration camp, the Tsuneishi’s had four sons serving in World War II as well as two daughters who served as civilian translators. On the bottom of the art piece is the Red Car that was a critical part of Monrovia life as well as the racial dividing line of its residential community. Keiko Sakatani of Monrovia said, “Most African Americans, Mexicans, and Japanese lived south of this line. The early Japanese pioneers were farmers, ran produce stands, and the like.” Keiko’s grandfather, Yutaro Uyeda, was known as Monrovia’s Strawberry King. On the left end is Sakae “Mary” Asano. She and her husband, Takumi “Tom,” ran a grocery story on Monrovia’s downtown on Myrtle Avenue. The Asano granddaughters still live in Monrovia. On the top of this art piece is the image of Heart Mountain concentration camp where most Monrovians were interned during World War II.

Mendoza has also lived in Monrovia for over a decade. She said, “I wanted to honor the Japanese American story of Monrovia. I love living here too. It has this hometown feel; everybody from all walks of life lives here.” The other Neighborhood Treasures installed in Monrovia include tributes to Lt. Col. Allen Allensworth of the Buffalo Soldiers and WASP test pilot Bettie Mae Scott. The Neighborhood Treasure featuring Japanese American pioneers will be revealed in a block party on 300 Cypress Ave. in Monrovia on Saturday, June 8, 2019 at 11 a.m.


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