By MIA NAKAJI MONNIER and NAO NAKANISHI, Rafu Staff Writers
The march began outside the Aiso garage in Little Tokyo, with a handful of protesters, mostly seniors, wearing the red strips of fabric that in the past few months, in this community, have become symbolic of the fight to “save Keiro.”
The group moved slowly, splitting up in the Japanese Village Plaza to hand out flyers to the few people outside at 10 in the morning: a family of four outside Café Dulce, a man carrying an armload of bread out of Yamazaki Bakery.
“Not too many people here,” commented one protester.
“I have to go otearai,” said the protester beside him.
Mo Nishida watched the small demonstration unfold with a grin. “Ninety percent of the people who are here today have never done anything like this before,” he said. Nishida, co-chair of the Ad Hoc Committee to Save Keiro and longtime activist, has always taken a different tactic than the rest of the committee’s leaders, who are mainly doctors and other professionals.
“I don’t understand that legal stuff,” he said. “People are the most important.”
As the protest group left the borders of Little Tokyo, it suddenly looked more impressive, its reds standing out against pale concrete buildings of Third Street, its senior faces in contrast with the glass pipes and “Adult DVD” signs in the windows of wholesale shops.
At the front of the group walked Miyako Kadogawa, the red fabric tied across her white hair, giving her the look of an aged flower child. She held a handmade sign aloft. “Save Keiro for us — next generations” read one side, and the other, “Sansei, Yonsei need Keiro homes.”
Kadogawa is an active member of the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, and this was her first time coming out to support the Ad Hoc Committee to Save Keiro. “This is personal,” she said. “It’s about me now.”
Recently, other communities have allied themselves with the Ad Hoc Committee. On Tuesday, the Gardena City Council unanimously passed a resolution opposing Keiro’s sale of its facilities to Pacifica Companies. The motion was brought forward by Councilmember Dan Medina, who said that he felt compelled to get involved in the issue out of a sense of fairness.
“It was unfair what the [Keiro] establishment tried to do, without any formal hearing or notice to the patients,” he said. “We can’t stop someone from selling, but we can state the city fathers are opposed to it.”
Gardena’s involvement is particularly significant because of its Japanese American population, some of which lives at the South Bay Keiro Nursing Home.
Activist groups from other minority communities are lending their support as well. Kenwood Jung, a member of the Chinatown Council for Equitable Development (CCED), said that he learned about Keiro from Nishida and passed the information onto his group. About two months ago, CCED passed a resolution in support of the Ad Hoc Committee.
Whether or not Keiro should sell its facilities is not the issue for him, said Jung. He just believes that the attorney general should have held a hearing before approving the sale in order to give the public a chance to weigh in on the decision.
Kwazi Nkrumah, from the Martin Luther King Coalition of Greater Los Angeles, heard about the “Save Keiro” protests from Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who has been a public ally of the Ad Hoc Committee since November. Nkumah sees an overlap in interests between Little Tokyo and South Los Angeles in terms of privatization and the voices of individual citizens being lost beneath those of powerful administrators and politicians.
“Attorney General Kamala Harris needs to know that it’s not just Japanese Americans who are paying attention to this issue,” he said.
The marchers reached their destination around 12:30 p.m. In front of the Reagan Building, home to the L.A. office of the attorney general. A few California Highway Patrol officers were already waiting. Protest leaders had notified the office in advance of the demonstration, and they planned to meet Senior Assistant Attorney General Tania Ibanez outside.
As they waited, the group started a chant. “Don’t sell Keiro! Don’t sell Keiro!” The chant died down and picked back up a few times, carried mostly by Kadogawa and Hideki Obayashi.
When Ibanez arrived, she accepted a stack of documents from Nishida: petitions collected since the last batch was delivered and comments collected at Saturday’s public “speak out” at Centenary United Methodist Church.
Ibanez told The Rafu Shimpo that she was moved by the community’s stories. The Attorney General’s Office thought the five-year sale conditions were enough, but the response has shown them that there is still room for learning and growth.
As for Nishida, he feels encouraged to have made face-to-face contact with a representative from the Attorney General’s Office. Of Ibanez, he said, “That baby was a cold fish but not she’s talking to us.” For him, though, the real accomplishment was the demonstration itself.
Gwen Muranaka also contributed to this report.