THROUGH THE FIRE: pedestals in J-Town

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By traci kato-kiriyama

four old women with fluffy cauliflower-top hair sit on stools
against a wall of windows inside Café Dulce on a regular
Saturday afternoon and watch with soft yet bright eyes the
action happening on the other side, which these days mean

schools of people weaving in and out of each other through
the J.V.P. in our beloved Little Tokyo that we rather and
more often refer to as J-Town partly out of habit,
partly as a nod to a bit of pride that we are insiders

connected to a past that had better parking and old meters that
were the only ones who knew the sound of exact change

they are too interesting a set of ladies to pass by even on a
busy day, so my friends and I strike up a way toward ‘Hello’
and ‘Did you all just come from the Museum?’ pointing
to the stickers they forgot to remove from their blouses

the youngest and natural narrator of the four relays to us they
are sisters, all in their nineties, from Seattle, visiting for the
first time in at least 10 or 12 or maybe even 15 years,
no one is sure, but things look a lot different now

my mind turns them into my grandmothers, and I can not
take my eyes off of theirs that marvel at these crowds

the eldest sister barely looks at us and keeps her steady eye
on the constant stream of folks, perhaps placing herself
in a path of fast walkers and loud out-loud laughers,
perhaps caught in a pace that matches her whirlwind decades

perhaps she is still lost in the exhibit at the Museum, where
they mentioned seeing barracks from Heart Mountain for the
first time since leaving Heart Mountain at the end of the war,
so perhaps she is there, trying to make her way back out

our connectedness become projections in my head so I pinch
myself a reminder I know nothing beyond the past 2 minutes

perhaps she is simply thinking of how it is getting hot
outside and she’d like to leave soon and turn in for
the day back at their granddaughter-in-law’s home in the
Valley where it’s even warmer but there’s air conditioning

even more likely, they do not intend on sitting here for
another hour with an eager younger lady who can’t seem to
get enough of smiling at their seeming good health and old
age, as if they are historic artifacts propped up on caffeine

attachments are what I maintain, nonetheless, to give my
memory permission to record this exchange, however brief

we agree that for all the traffic, it is a thing of wonder, such
vibrancy, as I give a silent set of thanks to J-Town for being
a destination to old and young and new alike, where I might
run into them again, sitting back here in this cafe

where we sit spry in the moment and I merely wish for the
crowds to consider the stories these ladies carry on their
collective back, some I can imagine, most I will never know,
but to appreciate their place here on these stools

to make something out of nothing more than
a beautiful picture of a generation that will leave us soon

References:
Café Dulce—a cool café in middle of the J.V.P.
J.V.P.—Japanese Village Plaza in J-Town
J-Town—also known as Little Tokyo
the Museum—aka JANM aka the Japanese American National Museum
Heart Mountain—one of the 11 American Concentration Camps for
Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans during WWII.

traci kato-kiriyama is Sansei writer who writes often from Gardena, J-Town, her car, and pockets & gems all over L.A. and Orange counties. Opinion expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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