February 2021 Issue
(Photo of Angelina Preschool students celebrating Valentine’s Day 2018)
At LTSC, we always try to approach our work with heart, respect and care. This month’s newsletter highlights issues close to LTSC’s heart and heart-warming client stories.
By Tenaya Senzaki
This Black History Month, LTSC is reflecting on Black activism and movements that paved the way for communities of color to fight for racial justice. In Little Tokyo, our battle for racial justice is enmeshed in issues of land ownership and the erasure of community assets. Many tools that LTSC and the Little Tokyo community use to resist this gentrification and displacement stem from the strategies of Black freedom movements – most notably the concept of community control and self-determination. ¹
Models of community control and self-determination date back to the Civil War, when Black communities created cooperative organizations to address needs that were denied by racist institutions. Membership dues funded their own schools, communal farms, health benefits and social services. Similar efforts developed in other communities of color, including Chinese and Mexican immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries. ²
In the 1960s and 70s, the Black Power movement fought for community control and self-determination by providing direct services to their community, creating their own health clinics and businesses, and advocating for fair housing and employment. The movement also uplifted Black culture and emphasized concepts such as Black pride and cultural preservation.
The Black Power model inspired the Asian American Movement of the 1970s to similarly address their community’s needs through community control and self-determination. Asian American communities began creating service centers, community programs, translation services, tutoring and college prep, affordable housing, job training, health care advice, access to government services, fighting against displacement, land ownership, small business support, food security, legal support, and more. ³
Over the past 40 years, LTSC has continued this ‘serve the people’ approach by bringing much needed resources and services to communities of color. “We don’t do it in isolation or as an alternative to public services. We do it to supplement deficiencies of government services while at the same time demanding that mainstream political and economic structures live up to democratic ideals,” said Mike Murase, former Director of Service Programs at LTSC. “I think LTSC’s strategy of providing social services, resident services and afterschool programs, to name a few, are good examples of building community control. Also rehabilitating old buildings into affordable housing in Little Tokyo, like the San Pedro Firm Building, Far East Building and Daimaru Apartments, and creating community spaces like Far East Lounge and Budokan – this array of initiatives matter because they have a positive impact on real people.”
In the last decade, LTSC and the Little Tokyo community have also used community control and self determination as strategies to combat threats of redevelopment in order to preserve our historic neighborhood and build a sustainable future for our community. Recently, these strategies have been used to lay claim to First Street North (a publicly owned parcel of land that was historically part of Little Tokyo and is now slated for redevelopment) and to protect Little Tokyo’s assets as the Metro Regional Connector project threatens gentrification and displacement of legacy small businesses and low-income residents.
The concepts of community control and self-determination buttress much of LTSC’s work in Little Tokyo (and with other communities of color) as we strive to build inclusive, sustainable and equitable communities that meet the needs of stakeholders and residents while preserving unique cultural heritage. So, this month, and every month, LTSC celebrates the impact of Black movements and changemakers that continue to break down barriers for all communities of color.
Join us in celebrating Black History Month by checking out the resources below and supporting Black organizations and small businesses:
Kenji Suzuki, owner of Suehiro Cafe (a Little Tokyo legacy business) has been working closely with LTSC to weather the pandemic’s devastation on his personal and professional life. “Mariko (LTSC Small Business Counselor) matched me with volunteers, gave me Little Tokyo Eats orders to help with revenue, and helped me apply for business loans. Mariko and [LTSC volunteers] even helped me create an online memorial to honor my late mother, who recently passed away due to complications from COVID-19. I can’t thank Mariko enough for all that she’s helped me with. She’s our beacon of light. She’s always accessible and always there. She’s been a huge help. I think she’s kept the whole small business community together as far as I’m concerned,” said Suzuki.
What has LTSC been able to assist Suehiro with?
LTSC’s volunteers Jason and Kathy help run my social media accounts and make updates to my website, since I know very little about that. It’s wonderful that they can help us, so we can stay in touch with our customers and let them know we’re still here and in business. The Little Tokyo Eats program also had a big impact. Our landlord isn’t giving us a break on rent. But with LT Eats, if we got four Mondays of meals through the program, it was enough money to cover rent. So that was a big deal for us at the time. LTSC also helped me apply for loans. I was hesitant to look for loans because I heard of a lot of scams going around. I only applied to loans that Mariko had linked to my email, so I knew they were legitimate. She alerted me about new opportunities and would actually help fill out some of the applications, which really helped me out right after my mother died.
I’m so sorry to hear that your mother passed away from complications due to COVID-19. Tell me about this memorial project that LTSC volunteers helped create on social media?
Mariko, Jason and Kathy created a mini series of stories of how people remembered my mother. We talked about my mother and how she got started in the States, how she built Suehiro, and how I got involved in the business. It’s a series of posts on Suehiro’s opens in a new windowInstagram and opens in a new windowFacebook pages.
Because of the pandemic, you couldn’t hold a public service for your mother.. How has this memorial project helped you and your family process Junko’s passing and honor her memory?
My mother has been in this community for so long. Everybody knew her – especially the older generation. They wanted to come pay their respects, but we didn’t want to be responsible for a super-spreader event, so we kept the service just within the family. It was sad that she passed away and no one could go see her. The last time I saw her in person was back in March when the nursing home went into lockdown. We would FaceTime, but it’s not the same. This online series was a nice way to bring her back and show everybody that she lived a good life and left a nice place for everybody to gather. This is a way for everyone to pay their respects and honor her.
How will your mother’s memory and legacy live on in Suehiro?
I was very proud of her. Growing up, all the other stores were owned by men and my mother was the only woman that was running a business. Even as a child I could see how other people viewed her and how everybody talked to her. They talked to her with a lot of respect. Running a restaurant isn’t easy and Suehiro was not a very popular place in the earlier days. She would try to save money for her employees by eating over ripe bananas. That’s what she ate to keep the business going. That experience really toughened her up, so when the business got off the ground and was doing well, people had a lot of respect for her because they knew all the hardships that she went through and didn’t give up. When I took over, I made a promise to myself that I’d keep the business going while she was alive. When she passed away, it was bittersweet. I felt like I accomplished my mission of keeping the business afloat, but it was sad because I lost her.
For new customers or people that didn’t have the chance to know your mom, what’s something you’d want them to know about her?
She always told me, “the customer is God”. She had the best service of any person alive, because of the hardships she went through. Every customer that came through the door was a make or break moment. If that customer didn’t come back, it would lead to her downfall. So she treated every single customer well and made sure they came back again. Always talking to them, thanking them. And it’s not the same now – when she said it, you felt something from that. You knew that you had to come back because there was something in the way she looked at you or the tone of her voice or her gestures – it made you want to come back. If you didn’t know my mom but you came to the restaurant, you would definitely come again.
What was your mom’s favorite dish on the menu?
The house special. It’s a stir-fry bell pepper, eggplant and beef dish braised in miso sauce. There’s no real name for the dish, so we called it the house special. When my mother was in Japan, the cafeteria at her first job served this dish. She liked it so much she asked the cafeteria lady for the recipe. So that became our house special.
What does it mean to you to have the support of LTSC and the Little Tokyo community?
Without LTSC, I wouldn’t be here. My restaurant probably wouldn’t be here. The impact that they had on me is total. After experiencing such devastating news one after the other, your will to keep going and keep the business alive starts to evaporate. And in those times, Mariko, Jason and Kathy (LTSC volunteers) really helped me. Just to have someone to talk to that helped me keep going. It’s still not easy – every day it’s hard to wake up in the morning, but having meetings with them keeps me accountable and gets me out of bed. They’ve helped me more than they probably know.”
LA County is working with 51 community-based organizations to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in communities hit hard by the pandemic. LTSC is proud to be a part of this newly launched County COVID-19 Community Equity Fund. With this funding, LTSC will provide outreach and education about the virus to communities in central Los Angeles and in the South Bay. In addition, LTSC is partnering with Southeast Asian Community Alliance (SEACA) and Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN) to reach communities in Chinatown and Skid Row. Together the three agencies will provide outreach and education, connect people to services they need and dispel myths surrounding the virus and the vaccine.
“LTSC, SEAC and LACAN are trusted by their respective communities to provide accurate, and culturally and linguistically appropriate information about issues that impact their lives and their health,” said Ayumi Nagata, Program Manager at LTSC overseeing the project. “Our collective experience will allow us to reach those in our community being disproportionately impacted by this terrible virus,” she concluded.
LTSC would like to thank the L.A. County Department of Health Services, the L.A. County Department of Public Health and Community Partners for this opportunity to serve our neighborhoods.
Weathering the Storm Together
by Kenji Liu
After Gov. Newsom issued a statewide shutdown due to COVID-19 on March 19 of last year, everyone was scared. In Little Tokyo, social and economic life was shrinking, residents and businesses were losing jobs and income. As a result, three urgent concerns came to the forefront: social isolation, food insecurity, and financial instability.
Even a few days before the shutdown, Little Tokyo’s community organizations were starting to regroup. Phone, Slack, and WhatsApp networks were on fire. Discussions began about a new program to support local restaurants by buying meals and delivering them to seniors and low-income families. Another thread explored how to remotely continue programming to fight social isolation for residents, especially seniors.
At Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC), supporting clients and affordable housing residents has been the top priority. At the pandemic’s start, staff made hundreds of wellness-check phone calls, and as a result, developed initiatives to address food insecurity and financial instability in particular. Since March, LTSC has made 516 deliveries from its food pantry, 2,432 bags of fresh produce and eggs have been delivered to 76 households, and 75 households have received $75,549 in emergency cash assistance, including $10,325 in grocery gift cards. This has been a lifesaver for residents unable to access federal CARES Act stimulus checks or unemployment benefits.
“We’ve received economic help, as well as food. Each week we receive some food from the pantry. We’re so thankful,” says Brenda, a resident and Zumba teacher. “We are going through a very sad and painful situation. [LTSC has] helped lift our spirits and made us feel that we aren’t alone.”
The pandemic has left so many vulnerable. LTSC has been meeting this challenge by also offering small group activities for seniors, free childcare for essential workers, and tax services to help low-income families qualify for stimulus payments.
Through its Small Business Assistance (SBA) program, LTSC has also supported hundreds of small businesses to adapt to the pandemic. SBA’s small business counselors have assisted 135 small businesses county-wide, 60 of them in Little Tokyo, helping them secure EIDL and PPP loans, and apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance—with a total impact of over $5 million in loans, grants, and relief payments received. SBA has also kept 320 small businesses informed with weekly email updates, and matched over 40 volunteers with small businesses to assist them with online marketing and e-commerce.
A crucial community-wide effort has been Little Tokyo Eats, a partnership between Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC), Little Tokyo Community Council (LTCC), and Keiro. Since March 2020, Little Tokyo Eats has supported fourteen legacy Little Tokyo restaurants, volunteers have spent 78 hours translating menus and flyers, and worked 2,730 hours delivering over 11,000 subsidized meals to predominantly Japanese, Korean, and Spanish-speaking seniors living in six affordable housing buildings. This has brought $113,000 in revenue to struggling restaurants.
Kenji Suzuki, owner of local restaurant Suehiro (which is over 48 years old), is grateful: “I would say that right now LTSC is single-handedly keeping little Tokyo alive, kind of like a support system. We have seriously considered closing, but with their help, we are able to stay open.”
To combat social isolation among seniors, LTSC has provided 16 different bilingual (Japanese, Spanish, and Korean) senior activities in four different locations in Little Tokyo and Gardena. Activities include arts and crafts, gardening, macramé́, coloring, origami, letter writing, creating ribbon leis, chair exercises, Zumba, and fumanet.
In the middle of everything in 2020, LTSC also took time to celebrate its 40th anniversary. “For forty years, LTSC has strived to meet the unmet needs of people in our community,” says Erich Nakano, Executive Director. “So many people are hurting from this crisis. But like every other challenge we have tackled, we were able to create positive change.” Through its COVID-relief work, LTSC still operates with the same values that inspired its founding.
The community has lost people to the virus, essential workers still have to go out and work each day, and residents continue to face financial and food insecurity. But Little Tokyo seems to have hit a certain rhythm—organizations, small businesses, and residents are supporting each other as much as possible, creating a community safety net. LTSC is grateful to its partners and community members, who time and time again have stepped up to take care of each other throughout Little Tokyo’s history. As the world approaches the one year mark of the pandemic, and so much is still so uncertain, LTSC remains firmly committed to our community’s well-being. We will weather this storm together.
Bunkado, a three-generation women-owned business in Little Tokyo, is celebrating 75 years! They’re kicking off a year-long celebration on March 1st to coincide with Women’s History Month. In partnership with We Are Uprisers, another Japanese woman-owned business by Michelle Hanabusa, Bunkado will release their FIRST EVER original merchandising – a Bunkado t-shirt. Pre-order this limited release item to receive access to a digital zine chronicling the history of the women behind Bunkado.
“Bunkado was started by Tokio and Suye Ueyama in 1946. Suye took over full operational duties when Tokio passed away in 1954 until 1969. Suye eventually invited her brother Masao and sister-in-law Kayoko Tsukada to merge businesses under the Bunkado umbrella. Suye passed away in 1969 and left Bunkado to Masao and Kayoko.
When Masao passed away in 1989, Kayoko ran Bunkado on her own until Irene came to help manage the store for her in 1991. Kayako passed away in 2005 and Irene officially became the sole owner/proprietor of Bunkado in 2006.”
-Dane Ishibashi, nephew of Bunkado owner Irene Simonian
Empowering Residents to Engage in Community Planning
Inventions for Little Tokyo is a project by opens in a new windowLittle Tokyo Service Center‘s 2019-2021 artist-in-residence opens in a new windowCarol Zou to showcase the artwork and drawings of Aileen Omura, a longtime resident in one of LTSC’s affordable housing buildings in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, California.
Aileen’s inventions speak to her experiences as a senior citizen navigating the streets of Los Angeles, with proposals for everyday household items, public transportation, and other forms of infrastructure for sustainable living. Her drawings resonate deeply with LTSC’s urban planning, community development, and community advocacy work towards equitable urban development in Little Tokyo.
Terasaki Budokan will be hosting two series of Outdoor Movement classes in the plaza: yoga classes by instructor Riki Aihara. and fitness classes by instructor Cameron Lew. Riki and Cameron both come to us with a wealth of knowledge and experience and are excited to bring movement to Budokan! Classes start March 20, 2021. Register for a single class or a series! These outdoor classes will follow CDC guidelines.
Changing Tides is partnering with Project Return (PR) to offer a Peer Specialist Training Program in Spring 2021. The trainings will cover topics such as Trauma Informed Care, Mental Health First Aid, Motivational Interviewing, Suicide Prevention, that “support the recovery of others and transform our mental health systems through the skillful use of lived experience.”
January 2021 Donors
Thank you to all our supporters for your contributions last month!
Add your name to the list by making a DONATION today.
Mitzi and George Akamine
Combined Federal Campaign
Samantha de Castro
Jeffrey and Lorraine Dohzen
Warren and Lisa Furutani
Bryan and Kathryn Hori
Sheldon and Naomi Kawahara
Norman and Mardy Maehara
Jerry and Maria Matsukuma
Robert and Teresa Matsushima
Ken and Priscilla Mui
Mike Murase and June Hibino
Michael and Margie Odanaka
John Okita and Michiko Yamamoto
PayPal Giving Fund
Luca Pietrosanti and The Shohara Family via +With Friends
Masashi and Yuriko Shikai
Margaret and Ken Shimada
Grant Sunoo and Emily Mayeda
Kelly and Rintaro Takasu
Jeannie and Ron Toshima
Yuri Uehara and Steven Jabami
Marsha and Gary Watanabe
Lesley and Russell Wong
Janice Harumi and Chao M. Yen
In Honor of Kevin Nakano
In Memory of Tomi Akahori
In Memory of Emiko Higashi
Komako and Bradley Leland
In Memory of Robin Montgomery Kay
In Memory of Nancy Kikuchi
In Memory of Dean Matsubayashi
In Memory of Mitsue Nishio
Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress
In Memory of Judy Ota
In Memory of Jeannette Kyoko Sanderson
Emily and Dan Weaver
In Memory of Mitsuko Yamamoto
Cheyrl, Carole, Norman, Richard, Thea, Dylan and Sher Ling
Akemi Arakaki and Takao Suzuki
Norman and Mardy Maehara
Jason and Rachelle Samson
Terasaki Budokan Tribute Gifts
In Honor of Dave Yanai
Art and Margie Mio
Terasaki Budokan Memorial Gifts
In Memory of Frank Soracco
Eugene and Joanne Masuda
In Memory of Ryoichi Kosaka
Eunice and Benedicto Tanga
Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches (A3M)
Mr. and Mrs. Sadao Mochidome
Mark and Ailene Yamaka
Chris and Doug Aihara
B & B Toy Maker Inc.
David and Debbie Endo
Mickie Okamoto-Tsudama and Geoff Tsudama