Ai Means Love

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There was an Asian American Movement in the ’60s and ’70s.

Activists protest evictions from the Sun Building and Sun Hotel in Little Tokyo, which were demolished to make way for Weller Court and the New Otani Hotel.

By MIYA IWATAKI

A program highlighting JACS-Asian Involvement (AI) and the cultural explosion it brought to Little Tokyo and the Asian American community in the 1960s-’70s will be presented Saturday, Sept. 9, beginning 11 a.m. at the Japanese American National Museum. Asian Movement panels, performances, archival photographs and Shonien Powerpoint will be featured.

Japanese Americans and Asian Americans put their own unique signature on these turbulent decades by speaking out on key issues and building services to address the basic needs of those with no voice in our community. “Serve the People” programs created services for and exposed issues that the JA community did not speak openly about.

The deadly drug epidemic taking lives of Sansei, neglected Issei in need of healthcare and basic services, and other issues were finally brought out in the open with programs run by those being helped, with a philosophy of “Self-Reliance, Self Determination and Human Need over Monetary Greed.” There was no federal funding in those days. These Serve the People programs would shape and lay the foundation for the API social and human service programs of today.

JACS-AI burst on the scene in 1971, working with the two most neglected segments of our community, the Issei living in Little Tokyo hotels and Asian American Hardcore (AAHC), an organization of ex-addicts and ex-felons.

“Helping the Issei was helping ourselves giving back and getting back into the community. We were making social change by building a community that took care of each other,” says Richard Toguchi, founding member of AAHC, who will be on a panel.

Most social service programs today can trace their roots back to the JACS-AI Serve the People programs. For example, AAHC led to Asian Joint Communications, organized by AAHC member Tommy Chung to promote correspondence between brothers and sisters doing time in prison, and to inform them of community programs they could join upon their release. He then became the first director of Asian American Drug Abuse Program, with its “People Need People” slogan. Today, AADAP programs continue to grow, with several outpatient units and therapeutic centers.

Another example with roots in JACS-AI work is Little Tokyo Service Center, today a community development organization (Casa Heiwa, Budokan, etc.) serving the community.

“Most people, even our staff, may not realize that Little Tokyo Service Center has its roots in the many Issei Pioneer Projects, and early Issei programs of JACS-AI,” notes Bill Watanabe, founder and former director of LTSC.

An active, spirited Asian Women’s movement arose with programs, an Asian Women’s Center and many Asian women’s groups.

“We fought for women’s liberation, as well as struggled with the Asian men within our own movement,” says Miya Iwataki, of JACS-AI, and a panelist. “We created our own programs because we found that the white feminist movement did not address many of the issues faced by women of color.”

Asian Americans opposed to the Vietnam War marched in Little Tokyo during Nisei Week.

JAs and Asian Americans were very active in raising their voices against the Vietnam War, against overproduction of drugs by pharmaceutical companies, and later against unjust evictions in Little Tokyo. We were visible in national anti-war demonstrations, but also brought controversial issues home — e.g. the Van Troi Anti-Imperialist Youth Brigade in the Nisei Week Parade, and the Drug Offensive contingent in the Nisei Week Ondo.

JACS-AI is rooted in the legacy of Shonien Orphanage, the first Japanese children’s home, which was started in 1914 in Los Angeles by the JA community. An archival photo/Powerpoint chronology will be presented by Japanese author Mikko Arimoto Henson. By the late 1950s, Shonien was in need of financial assistance, but was denied membership in Community Chest due to racial discrimination.

Dr. Ford Kuramoto will provide the story of how Shonien in the 1960s became Japanese American Community Services (JACS), which would eventually provide initial resources to establish the Asian Involvement office in Little Tokyo.

The program will highlight the ongoing connection between the social justice programs, needs, and issues of the ’60s-’70s and the current issues faced by the JA community and those fighting to preserve and protect Little Tokyo today; and the rights of the larger community with a rousing closing call to action and a performance by Nobuko Miyamoto with Benny Yee on keyboards.

JANM is located at 100 N. Central Ave. (at First Street) in Little Tokyo. The program is free with an RSVP at janm.org. The attendees are invited to bring their own ’60s-’70s Asian Movement memorabilia to be displayed on a carefully guarded table.

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