Community Spirit Sweeps Through Little Tokyo

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Volunteers gathered for a group photo in JACCC Plaza before the clean-up.

RAFU STAFF REPORT

“Let’s let the volunteer cleaning begin!” said George Tanaka of the Rotary Club of Little Tokyo.

A tenacious group of men and women gathered on Saturday in Little Tokyo for a cleanup and beautification event being held concurrently in five other ethnic communities in observance of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and National Public Works Week.

George Tanaka of the Little Tokyo Rotary Club announced that the group would resume monthly cleanings of Frances Hashimoto Plaza.

Community volunteers, city officials, and international envoys were among those who took to the streets to pick up trash and sweep debris during the citywide Community Day of Service. Besides Little Tokyo, similar events were organized in Chinatown, Thai Town, Historic Filipino Town, Koreatown, and Little Bangladesh.

Consul General Akira Muto of Japan and Ambassador Gunther Sleeuwagen, consul general of Belgium, were among the volunteers who pitched in to help beautify Little Tokyo.

Muto said, “Today we join with other AAPI neighborhoods in Los Angeles — Chinatown, Thai Town, Historic Filipino Town, Koreatown, and Little Bangladesh — in this clean-up event. In light of the distressing anti-Asian incidents, today’s clean-up provides us with a chance to unite in pride for our communities in solidarity and friendship. One of L.A.’s great assests is its vibrant AAPI community. During my time as CG, I have enjoyed engaging in collaborative activities with AAPI communities.”

Councilmember Kevin de Leon of the 14th District, which includes Little Tokyo, commended the volunteers and stressed the importance of “coming together, cleaning our community, and (showing) that sense of pride in our community.”

He noted that Little Tokyo and Council District 14 overall are particularly impacted by the city’s homeless crisis. The councilmember said that CD14 has more unhoused individuals than the cities of Chicago and Houston.

Greg Good, Board of Public Works president, shovels trash along San Pedro Street.

“There is only one way out, one way forward, and that is through collective effort,” de Leon said. “Putting a roof over their heads, providing a modicum of dignity and respect to those who need it the most. The work we’re doing today is a reminder of that collective effort.”

He hailed the city’s efforts last week to find housing for individuals who have created an encampment at Toriumi Plaza at First and Aiso streets, through Project Roomkey, which was launched in March 2020 as part of the State of California and L.A. County’s effort to protect vulnerable residents from COVID-19. The program uses hotels and motels as short-term shelters for homeless residents over 65 or with serious health conditions.

“Earlier this week we actually housed dozens of unhoused folks in this very community. Not too far from here at First and San Pedro street, right at the square we dedicated 2-3 weeks ago for an incredible pioneer, a woman who is a civil right pioneers, born and raised in Boyle Heights,” the councilmember said, paying tribute to the late Rose Ochi.

About 40 volunteers with gloves, brooms and shovels worked through the morning collecting trash. As the COVID-19 pandemic eases, Little Tokyo volunteers said they would be resuming clean-up efforts that had been halted.

According to Mark Pampanin, director of communications for the city’s Civil + Human Rights and Equity Department, a total of more than 400 volunteers were at all of the sites, each of which targeted six to eight city blocks. Over 300 bags of trash were removed, including 15 to 18 in Little Tokyo and over 300 in Koreatown/Little Bangladesh.

City Councilmember Kevin de Leon speaks before the clean-up.

Tanaka, immediate past president of the Rotary Club of Little Tokyo, took the occasion to announce that monthly cleanings of Frances Hashimoto Plaza by Rotarians will officially resume. Steve Nagano, chair of Little Tokyo Sparkle, said he too will be restarting his community clean-up and unity event on Oct. 2.

Greg Good, Board of Public Works president, kicked off the Day of Service, which was organized by An Tran of the Mayor’s Office and Public Works Commissioner Jessica Caloza with support from the Little Tokyo Business Improvement District, Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, Café Dulce, and Kajima International.

“Even as we are emerging from the existential crisis of this pandemic, Asian Americans are suffering incidents of hate all over this nation. We want to uplift and elevate the mantra of love, the mantra of service,” Good said.

Photos by MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo

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