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“Day of Remembrance” of one of America’s most vile chapters

By Carlos Montes and Tamlyn Tomita |
February 19, 2021
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Los Angeles, CA - February 19 is known as the “Day of Remembrance” and 2021 marks its 79th anniversary. This day also commemorates the anniversary of Executive Order 9066, signed and issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942 - a day when the U.S. government executed a legal act of racism. Executive Order 9066 forced the removal and incarceration of over 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of who were born American citizens, to internment camps throughout the U.S. Half of them were children and many were from the Los Angeles community of Boyle Heights.

As a result of Executive Order 9066, which was both unconstitutional and executed without due process, entire families of Japanese Americans on the West Coast and in Hawaii were rounded up like criminals because of race prejudice, wartime hysteria and failure of political leadership. Their bank accounts and assets were frozen, and many farms, homes and businesses were stolen. These families were forcibly sent to prison camps where they endured nearly four years of living hell solely because of their Japanese heritage. Many had lived in the United States for decades, but were all, by law, denied citizenship. At the closing of these American concentration camps in 1945, most people rebuilt their lives with little to no resources, relying on the resilience of the individuals, family and the community.

Now, the few living survivors are once again being threatened with forced eviction from their homes at the Sakura Gardens in Boyle Heights. This intermediate care and assisted living/memory care facilities were created to provide culturally sensitive services for Japanese American elders and sits on the site of where the Jewish Home for the Aged once stood.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the international Pacifica Companies plans to turn Sakura Gardens into a 45-unit luxury apartment building, putting at risk the lives of 200 of its most vulnerable residents by forced eviction. Many of the residents are women in their eighties and nineties, and who, as children, grew up in the concentration camps in some of the harshest terrains in America -- all behind barbed wire and armed soldiers watching them from military towers with weapons ready and pointed at those inside the camps.

In 2018, when the Trump administration started to cage Central American refugees, families and children at the border, Japanese American concentration camp survivors and their descendants came out to protest this inhumane treatment and remind all Americans that we cannot “let it ever happen again” or repeat these acts that add to the long and shameful history of discrimination against people of color.

By ignoring these and other tragic American stories, we would be complicit in being silent and allowing racist behavior to continue and escalate in policies that treat people of color without any regard to human rights, without kindness, without compassion.

Japanese Americans and other Asian Americans and Latinos have a great deal in common. In America, beside our Native American communities, we are absolutely and undeniably, a nation of immigrants, no matter how many generations have been here. In fact, the first “DREAMer” was a Korean American student. Our respective languages, foods, traditions and cultures are vital to our self-preservation, enrichment and the bonds to where our ancestors came from. We can, and some do, serve as bridges to countries around the world, and are, at the same time, all-American.

Let’s all help protect our seniors at Sakura Gardens and stop this cultural interruption. Sakura Gardens is one of the last traces of the once-large Japanese American community that helped build and that thrived in Boyle Heights. Before 1942, over 35,000 Japanese Americans made the East LA area home due to segregation that prohibited Asian Americans from living in other communities because those communities were deemed white-only.

Displacing our seniors who have long contributed to the rich culture and history of Los Angeles during this time of the COVID -19 pandemic is unconscionable and cruel and would cause harm to residents and families for years. We need to hold Pacifica Companies accountable for its failure to adhere to its agreed-to sales conditions by retaining the bilingual and bicultural character promised to its facilities. We cannot allow profit and gentrification to dictate what goes into our neighborhoods without investigating the impact on our communities. We demand that the Pacifica Companies provide transparency of its plans to the residents of Sakura Gardens/Kei-Ai facilities and their families so they can determine what is best for these seniors who raised us all.

Join us for a Save Our Seniors (SOS) car caravan and media event at the Kei-Ai Los Angeles Healthcare Center on February 25 at 11 a.m. Let us extend the care given at Sakura Gardens so that these resilient residents may enjoy their golden years in comfort, safety and security, with familiar food, and with people who understand them. Let’s all ask ourselves, “How would you feel and what would you do if they were your parents?” Together, can move forward to SOS.

Strength in Unity! Pa’lante

Carlos Montes is co-founder of the Brown Berets, a Chicano self-help organization similar to the Black Panthers from the late 60s and 70s. Montes was one of the leaders of the Chicano Blowouts, a series of high school walkouts at East Los Angeles High School to protest racism and inequality in East LA schools. Montes also helped organize the largest anti-war protest, known as the Chicano Moratorium. Montes lives in Boyle Heights.

Tamlyn Tomita is a Japanese-Okinawan-Filipina-American actress. A native of Los Angeles, she can be seen reprising Kumiko in “Cobra Kai” (2021), the Netflix series based on the original “The Karate Kid” films. She is also well known for her role as Waverly in “The Joy Luck Club” (1993) and numerous other movies and TV shows. Her Japanese American father was incarcerated as a child with his family at Manzanar Internment Camp.