By Carlos Montes, Tamlyn Tomita, and Lane Nishikawa
**Carlos Montes is the founder of the Brown Berets, Tamlyn Tomita is an actor, and Lane Nishikawa is a filmmaker.
Feb. 19, 2021, marked the 79th 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, the forced removal of over 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were born American citizens, to internment camps where they were incarcerated throughout the U.S. Half of them were children and many were from the East L.A. community of Boyle Heights and across California.
As a result of Executive Order 9066, which was 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 a 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 Japanese Americans—our grandparents and great grandparents, who immigrated from Japan—had been denied citizenship. Their children were born here and were considered American citizens. The twofold problem in 1942 was that they interned the children and grandchildren, the families’ second and third generations, even though they were citizens, and the elders were not allowed to become citizens. 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 individuals, family and the community.
Now, some of the oldest living survivors are once again being threatened with forced eviction from their homes at the Sakura Gardens ICF in Boyle Heights. The intermediate care and assisted living/memory care facilities were created to provide culturally sensitive services for Japanese American elders. If these seniors are pushed out, many fear they will be placed at Kai-Ail Los Angeles, which has the highest death rate of COVID-19 at any senior living facility in Boyle Heights. Both of these facilities are owned by Pacifica Senior Living based in San Diego. (Keiro Los Angeles was sold off in 2016 to Pacifica for $41 million).
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pacifica Senior Living’s plans to turn Sakura Gardens ICF into a 45-unit luxury apartment building put the lives of 200 of its most vulnerable and cherished Japanese-American community members at risk. Many of the residents are women in their eighties, nineties and hundreds who, as children, grew up in the concentration camps in some of the harshest terrains in America—all behind barbed wire and with armed soldiers watching them from military towers, 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 southwest border, Japanese American concentration camp survivors and their children came out to protest this inhumane treatment and remind all Americans that we cannot “let it ever happen again” and repeat these acts that add to the long and shameful history of discrimination against people of color. This is especially pressing now, given a surge of violence and hate crimes against Asian Americans nationwide during the pandemic.
.Japanese Americans and other Asian Americans and Latinos have a great deal in common. In America, besides 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, our 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. Think of the potential opportunities we can have by working and organizing together—across cultures, across generations, across political party affiliations, across class lines! We are one nation, made by and built by those from many nations! There is the power of allyship in action! There is strength in numbers and unity!
Let’s all help protect our seniors at Sakura Gardens and stop this dangerous “cultural interruption.” Sakura Gardens is one of the last traces of the once-large Japanese American community that helped build and thrived in Boyle Heights. Prior to 1942, over 35,000 Japanese Americans made the East L.A. area home due to segregation that prohibited Asian Americans from living in other communities because they were deemed white-only.
In San Diego, an estimated 306 families, 1,150 men, women, grandparents, children, and babies, were interned. There were 306 family groups in the exodus, and one of them took up a whole car on one of those trains. The San Diego Union-Tribune‘s predecessors supported the internment of the Japanese during World War II.
Displacing our Japanese American seniors who have long contributed to the rich culture and history of Los Angeles during the COVID -19 pandemic is unconscionable and cruel and would cause harm to its residents and families for years. We need to hold Pacifica Senior Living 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. Just like the community of Linda Vista stopped Pacifica Companies from destroying a community treasure, SkateWord, we too demand that Pacifica Living not demolish this iconic place. We also demand that the Pacifica Companies 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 care for them.
Let’s all ask ourselves, “How would you feel and what would you do if they were your parents?”
By ignoring this tragic American story, 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.