EAST WIND: Save Keiro!



I went to the Save Keiro Town Hall meeting at the Aratani (Japan America) Theatre Monday night (11/23). It was practically filled to capacity with people who had braved the evening chill to get an update on the proposed sale of our cherished institution, and to give voice to Save Keiro.

And I felt like I had come home. Not since the early community movement of the ’60s and ’70s and the Japanese American Community Services JACS Asian Involvement Office, not since the strong Asian presence in anti-Vietnam War protests and mass marches, and not since the victorious struggle for JA redress/reparations had we seen a compelling issue – not a concert or theater piece – bring out so many. For an activist, it was coming home again, to a place called Little Tokyo.

Most of the time went to presentations of support and solidarity from Congressmembers Judy Chu (D-Alhambra), Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), and Assemblyman David Hadley (R-Torrance). The Ad Hoc Executive Committee statements by Drs. Kenji Irie and Takeshi Matsumoto, and by Jon Kaji were brief and to the point. Not enough time for Q&A, but it was okay in this time. The audience was quite expressive throughout the presentations.

Dr. Kenji Irie of the Ad Hoc Committee to Save Keiro speaks at the Nov. 23 meeting at the Aratani Theatre. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Dr. Kenji Irie of the Ad Hoc Committee to Save Keiro speaks at the Nov. 23 meeting at the Aratani Theatre. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Maxine Waters itches for a good fight. Always liked that about her. When she heard about the sale of Keiro and the impact on our seniors, she took off the gloves. She met with Save Keiro doctors Matsumoto, Irie and Keiko Ikeda; at that meeting she got Attorney General Kamala Harris on the phone. She told Harris she was “extremely unhappy with her decision” to waive the public hearing; and she was displeased with the five-year plan offering no real protection for seniors in the future, and what she saw as callous/careless treatment of Japanese American seniors and their families.

All three legislators noted that the justification provided by Keiro’s board, including the building appraisal and claims that 62 “community meetings” were held, were not quite accurate. Save Keiro committee research revealed that the appraisal was at least two years old, and even I know that with the current gentrification of Boyle Heights, an appraisal that old would not reflect current market value.

Plus, it turns out the 62 so-called community meetings cited took place before Pacifica was even in the picture. (Who in the AG’s office vetted the Keiro package?) After Maxine’s phone call, the AG committed her staff to meet with the Save Keiro representatives (scheduled for Nov. 25).

Maxine was one of the 16 members of Congress to sign on to the letter to the AG written by Rep. Chu, calling for postponement of the sale and a public hearing. She told the audience she got a call from Pacifica saying they were disappointed that she signed the letter without talking to them first. Maxine’s response to Pacifica: “Not only am I not going to talk to you, I’m going to fight you!” She got a standing ovation from the audience.

All three legislators called on the AG to postpone the sale of Keiro, and demanded a public hearing — with Assemblyman Hadley, who happens to be vice chair of the Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care, publicly committing to rally state legislators to express those demands to the AG as the congressmembers had done.

Now when was the last time you came out of a meeting feeling empowered and invigorated? If you were one of the over 500 who came out for the Save Keiro meeting Monday night, you probably left feeling “we can kick butt.” Just like during the redress struggle when you could taste victory. Heads up! When someone tries to mess with our people, especially our elders and those needing support, our community stands together.

To use Yogi Berra’s words again, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

I was highly energized Monday night, so I wrote the following poem.

=  * =

I Came Home Last Night to a Place Called Little Tokyo

I came home last night

To a place called Little Tokyo

To the spirit of JACS Asian Involvement on old Weller Street

Birthplace of our grassroots community movement in the ’60s and ’70s

And our commitment to Serve the People

Like those at Keiro today.


I came home last night

To a place called Little Tokyo

Where we built programs for, visited, and field tripped with Issei

Who were not fortunate enough to live in a place like Keiro.

Where we rallied and marched against the war in Vietnam

And protested the killing of Asian people on the other side of the world

Yet treated our own Asian American military with racist disregard.

Little Tokyo, where we declared war on drugs in our community

That terrible summer of 1971

Where 31 of our own youth were overtaken by pills and heroin

And we marched against drugs in the Nisei Week Parade.


I came home last night

To a place called Little Tokyo

I remembered those who broke a 40-year silence

Of loss and imprisonment in armed guard concentration camps

Who stood up united and fought for Justice

Filling the seats of Japan America Theatre throughout the ’80s

To protest, organize, rally and at last Celebrate

Our hard fought victory for Justice and Redress!


I came home last night

To a place called Little Tokyo

To the Aratani Auditorium packed with a robust crowd

Who were Standing up for Justice

Who would no longer be silenced.

I came home to a growing community movement that again

Delivered Members of Congress and State Legislators

To this Town Hall meeting and to our side,

This time to demand the State Attorney General

Postpone the sale of Keiro against the wishes

And well-being of the community.


I came home last night

To a place called Little Tokyo

To help Save Keiro!

Written the evening of Nov. 23 in the throes of exhilaration after the raucous Save Keiro Town Hall meeting at the Aratani (Japan America) Theatre.

Miya Iwataki has been an advocate for communities of color for many years, from the JACS Asian Involvement Office in Little Tokyo in the ’70s, through the JA redress/reparations struggle with NCRR while working for Rep. Mervyn Dymally, to statewide health rights advocacy. She also worked in public media at KCET-TV, then KPFK Pacifica Radio as host for weekly radio program, “East Wind.” She can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.





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