It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
by Jennifer "Emiko" Kuida
Rafu Column April 29, 1998

After living most of my life in the San Fernando Valley, I moved to Los Angeles just over a year ago. I live in the area of Los Angeles that is west of Centinela, close to Venice High, the Marina Marketplace and the west end of Culver City.

I like taking walks in my neighborhood with my partner. You can always spot the J.A. houses with the beautifully manicured lawns, the gracefully shaped black pines, bonsai-style junipers, colorful flowers and zen-like rock formations in the yard.

We bought our house from a retired J.A. gardener and his wife who carefully tended the yard for over thirty years. A Sansei woman, I discovered last year that I am allergic to grass, weeds, seeds and trees. I worry that my inexperience may cause the azaleas to go into shock and that we won’t be able to keep the pine tree “candles” under control. And I worry about whether or not to use pesticides on what my neighbor tells me is a white ash fly problem on one of the bushes. But I also marvel at the beautiful flowers that blossom throughout the year, and seem to be coming back again this year.

Instead of going to the San Fernando Obon, which I had done for years, last summer I went to the Venice/Culver Japanese Community Center Carnival and the Venice Buddhist Temple Obon. I ate food, saw friends, marveled at the water color paintings, the ikebana, enjoyed watching Nisei friends line dancing, and did a little Tanko Bushi myself.

I’ve had breakfast at Kenny’s, lunch at the El Indio Mexican restaurant, dinner at Mago’s and picked up sweets from Angel Maid Bakery. I bought Christmas presents at Hakata Gift Shop, got my hair cut at Miko’s Beauty Salon and shopped at Aloha Grocery. I’ve enjoyed meeting and familiarizing myself with my new community, much of which is centered around Centinela Avenue.

Once a more thriving Japanese American hub, the neighborhood is mixed with Latino and Pilipino residents, J.A.’s and many older folks, who seem to take great pride in their neighborhood. I’ve recently joined with some people who are interested in creating a mural in the Centinela area at Aloha Grocery.

Aloha Grocery is a small, family-owned business on Centinela that was established in 1956 and has been in its present location since 1966. Once a storefront, the windows have since been covered by stucco, resulting in a 75 foot wall in three sections. Aloha has been rooted in the community for over four decades and continues to be a business serving the local community. Once known for making their own tofu, Aloha Grocery is planning to renovate the interior of the store. It is open 7 days a week.

Why a mural? A mural is a terrific way of creating cross-cultural and multi-generational unity between the local community, from youth groups to senior citizens, between Japanese Americans, Latinos and Pilipinos. A way to capture the area’s history, a mural is more than paint on a wall. Working together with people of different backgrounds and age groups is a process that is as important as the design and painting. A mural can help to revitalize the area, enhance the neighborhood and create pride in ourselves and the community. It is about creating and fostering relationships.

We have been meeting with Aloha owner, Wayne Uyehara, Great Leap artistic director Nobuko Miyamoto, muralist Tony Osumi, and have consulted with other community muralists. We are assembling a team of volunteers to help research, design and paint this mural.

We are applying for a grant from the LA City Neighborhood Matching Fund. If awarded, the grant offers between $250 to $5000 for city beautification projects. We have asked Operation Clean Sweep to provide anti-graffiti coating once the project is completed.

This column is an open invitation to individuals and groups who are interested in this concept and would like to get involved in this exciting new project. We hope to involve people from the Venice Japanese Community Center, basketball teams, boy scouts, girl scouts, taiko groups, student groups from locals schools or churches. Younger members can interview members from the J.A. community and local area churches and schools to learn about the neighborhood history in order to formulate design ideas.

We are seeking members of the community who have stories about the history of the Centinela/Culver/Venice area. Anyone with pre- or post-war memories, when there were celery farms instead of condos, when Hiroshi Uyehara sold fish and meat out of his Chevy truck in Honolulu, when the Venice Japanese Community Center and the Buddhist Church was built, when Mago’s was a hangout spot that stayed open all night, and before the Ballona Wetlands became targeted by zillionaire DreamWorks film moguls.

Our plan is to hold community and support meetings in the next few months, in the development of the mural, and hope to begin painting this summer. A planning meeting has been scheduled for this Sunday, May 3 at 11:00 am. Any individuals or groups who are interested in joining in this effort, are encouraged to contact me.

Let’s make this a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Jenni Emiko Kuida is lives in the Venice/Culver/Mar Vista/Centinela area of Los Angeles and is co-author of the “101 Ways to Tell if You’re Japanese American.”

Updated: 12/14/03

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