Cal Humanities

"The understanding of a culture comes from hearing the language, tasting the food, seeing personal interactions, experiencing the traditions, and so much more in context."

— Elizabeth Laval & Candice Pendergrass, Sikh Youth Public History Project

"The understanding of a culture comes from hearing the language, tasting the food, seeing personal interactions, experiencing the traditions, and so much more when it is in context."

— Elizabeth Laval & Candice Pendergrass, Sikh Youth Public History Project

California Humanities in LA: United We Stand, Exploring Little Tokyo and El Pueblo

In mid-September, California Humanities staff came together in Los Angeles for special partner programs and an in-person meeting with our board. Below are some highlights from our trip!

On September 13, Kristen Hayashi, Director of Collections Management & Access and Curator at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM), gave staff a special tour of this museum in the heart of Little Tokyo. As the national repository of Japanese American history and California Humanities’ grants recipients, JANM creates engaging public humanities exhibits and public programs, award-winning documentaries, and innovative curriculum that illuminate the stories and the rich cultural heritage of people of Japanese ancestry in the United States.

A group of people look at a large open book within an exhibit area.
Staff view the Ireichō, a sacred book that records the names of over 125,000 persons of Japanese ancestry who were unjustly imprisoned in US Army, Department of Justice, and War Relocation Authority camps during World War II. JANM invites visitors to use a special Japanese hanko (a stamp or seal) to leave a mark for each person in the Ireichō as a way to honor those incarcerated during World War II. Photo by Felicia Kelley.
A woman wearing a dark blue blouse and dark pencil skirt talks in front of paintings hanging on a wall.
Kristen Hayashi shows staff paintings within the Collections department from artist Henry Yuzuru Sugimoto, a Japanese American artist who is the focus on an online exhibition at JANM. The featured works survey JANM’s expansive collection of his paintings and lesser-known wood and linoleum cut prints, with subjects including scenes of the French countryside to striking depictions that narrate the Issei immigration experience as well as the challenges of the World War II incarceration. Photo by Felicia Kelley.

Hayashi leads staff on a tour the Common Ground exhibition at JANM, which chronicles Japanese American history beginning in the late 1800s and continuing through the World War II incarceration, post-war resettlement, and the redress movement. Photo by Felicia Kelley.

We were also treated to a walking tour of Little Tokyo by Michael Okamura, President of the Little Tokyo Historical Society. Okamura weaved the neighborhood’s rich history with family history, as well as future plans for the area.

People stand in front of a brick building and sculpture of an old camera on a tripod
Michael Okamura speaks about the history of the Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, the first Buddhist temple building constructed in Los Angeles in 1925 and today a part of the JANM campus. In front of the building is a sculpture of a camera used by Japanese American photographer Toyo Miyatake, who opened his Little Tokyo studio in 1923 and later smuggled a lens and a film holder into the Manzanar concentration camp where he and his family were forced to live during World War II. Artist Nobuho
Nagasawa created this larger-than-life bronze replica.
Text inscriptions etched on the sidewalk with historical information
The sidewalk in Little Tokyo is lined with an art installation that includes timeline information about previous locations of historic Japanese-owned businesses and historic facts about the neighborhood. One timeline is done in dark charcoal black and represents the 1940s when Japanese Americans were illegally forced from their homes and businesses by the US government and incarcerated in concentration camps during World War II.
People standing in front of a building with a green awning and Japanese lettering
Fugetsu-Do (315 1st Street), a family-owned-and-operated confectionery store open since 1903 and specializing in Japanese treats & mochi.
People walking across a crosswalk
Staff walking toward Bunkado (340 1st Street), another family-owned Japanese store that endures in the neighborhood selling gifts and home goods, open since 1945.

We closed out the night with a special partner event at JANM featuring trombonist and composer Jon Hatamiya, son of former California Humanities’ Board Chair Nancy Hatamiya. In a tribute to his mother, who passed away in 2012, Jon and his sextet presented a set of original music exploring his personal connection to the legacy of jazz and improvised music in the Little Tokyo area.

A man stands at a podium next to several jazz instruments sitting on the ground.
California Humanities President and CEO Rick Noguchi welcomes the audience at Jazz in Little Tokyo, a partner program between JANM and California Humanities. The event took place in JANM’s National Center for the Preservation of Democracy, completed in 2005 as an addition to the renovated Buddhist Temple buidling.
A man stands at a podium with black and white photo of jazz musicians on the screen behind him.
Robert Shoji discusses the history of jazz in Little Tokyo, including a magical night In 1946, where two jazz greats—sax virtuoso Charlie Parker and trumpeter extraordinaire Miles Davis—played at the Finale Club when Little Tokyo was called “Bronzeville.(the club was previously located at 230 1/2 East First Street, Los Angeles).” Shoji is the director of the documentary Finale Club, which covers the confluence of music, race, and politics led to this historic performance.
Watch Shoji’s Finale Club, a film was made as part of Visual Communications’ Digital Histories storytelling and video production program for older adults (designed for older generations to create and preserve visual stories to be passed down to younger generations).
A jazz sextet performs. Includes trombone, sax, bass, piano, drums, and guitar
The Jon Hatamiya Sextet performs. The Sextet includes: Jon Hatamiya (trombone), Ennis Harris (alto saxophone), Gabe Schnider (guitar), Jacob Mann (keys), Logan Kane (bass), and Colin McDaniel (drums).

Our special post-event reception celebrated the life and legacy of Nancy Hatamiya. In recognition of her extraordinary service to California Humanities, we created the Nancy Hatamiya Arts & Humanities Fund in support of project that promote the humanities through the visual and performing arts. As we approach October as National Arts and Humanities Month, we remember Nancy as a dedicated family and community member who dedicated her life to public service.

A man addresses an audience from a podium in a large open hall.
California Humanities’ Board Chair Oliver Rosales speaks at a post-performance reception honoring former California Humanities’ Board Chair Nancy Hatamiya.
A man in a dark suit stands at a clear podium on a stage.
Lon Hatamiya, husband of Nancy and father to Jon, welcomes guests at the reception. Photo by Thomas K. Arnold.

On September 14, we were also treated to a tour of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument by social and cultural historian Bill Estrada, Curator of California and American History and Chair of the History Department at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Located near the site of the early Los Angeles pueblo established in 1781, today El Pueblo is a living museum that serves a unique role as the historic and symbolic heart of the city.

A group of people look at a historic plaque.
Estrada, a specialist in 19th and early-20th century Los Angeles, brought this historic site to life for the group through stories and primary source materials.
Exterior of a 19th century red bring building, including a second floor balcony with chinese characters
In addition to housing the famous Olvera Street, many of El Pueblo’s historic buildings house free museums such as the Chinese American Museum of Los Angeles (above), Italian American Museum of Los Angeles, and Plaza Firehouse.
Exterior of three story white building with bottom row of arches
Exterior of Pico House in El Pueblo, constructed in 1869-1870 by the last governor of California under Mexican rule, Pío Pico. Built in the Italianate style, this was the first three story building and the first grand hotel in Los Angeles.
People stand inside a courtyard with brick floor, white bulb lamps hanging from the second floor
Inside the historic central courtyard of the Pico House.
A group of people stand in a red brick couryard and pose for the camera.
California Humanities staff and board members with Bill Estrada inside the Pico House courtyard.

We ended the day with our first co-presented program in our United We Stand initiative, Do We Need More Food Fights? Just steps away from El Pueblo, our partners Zócalo Public Square and LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes led a moving program at La Cocina de Gloria Molina exploring food and cooking as an act of resistance.

People sitting and watching two women behind a demonstration kitchen stove
Guests at Do We Need More Food Fights on September 14, 2023. The program took place at La Cocina de Gloria Molina, a demonstration kitchen and public program space run by La Plaza de Cultura y Artes.
A woman holding a queue card speaks into a micrphone.
Zócalo’s Director of Public Programs, Bianca Collins, introduces the program.

The night’s speakers, photographer Zahara Gómez Lucini and culinary historian Maite Gomez-Rejón (ArtBites), carried out an engaging discussion on food and memory. The kitchen filled with the smells of pozole, which they cooked from a recipe created by Blanca Soto, in memory of her husband Camilo. Camilo is one of the more than 90,000 husbands, sons, and fathers, wives, daughters, and mothers who have disappeared in Mexico—los desaparecidos—and family members like Blanca are banding together to fight back against government indifference and complicity.

Three women behind a stove stand in front of an audience
Blanca wears a t-shirt memorializing her husband, Camilo, who was disappeared in 2016. Blanca shares that pozole was her husband’s favorite dish.

Blanca was a special guest at the program, and spoke about how cooking has become a method of resistance; she and others are cooking missing family members’ favorite dishes as way to preserve their memories and remind the world of the void their absences create.

Three women during a program. Two women wear green tshirts, the other wears a yellow shirt.
Photo courtesy of Thomas K. Arnold.
A group of people getting food from a buffet station.
Guests of Do We Need More Food Fights? enjoyed a version of Blanca’s pozole cooked by Pez Cantina, as well as agua frescas and flan for dessert. Photo by Thomas K. Arnold.

Watch the program at the link, and stay tuned for more information on our next program in our series with Zócalo later this fall!


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