Toji Rafu Essay
The Thoughts of a Family Member Whose Mother Resides at Sakura ICF
by Michael Toji
As a member of the community whose lone parent resides at the Sakura ICF, I am deeply concerned about the fate of the residents of this once venerable institution in the Japanese / Japanese American community. The pending expiration on February 5th 2021 of the conditions set forth upon the sale to Pacifica and the recently revealed plans to convert the ICF facility into multi-family housing and parking structure threaten both the emotional and physical security of the residents, all of whom had believed that they would live out the rest of their days in a familiar, culturally sensitive environment. Now their future is under direct and imminent threat.
My mother first moved into what was then Keiro Retirement Home 15 years ago after my father passed away and subsequently moved into the ICF 8 years ago after surgery. At that time, what was then called Keiro was considered an institution in the Japanese / Japanese American community, having been financed, built and maintained by donations and countless hours of volunteer work. Monetary profit was not the goal. It was community built for the benefit and care of the elderly. There is a phrase in Japanese, oyakou-kou meaning “being dutiful towards one’s parents.” It was in this spirit of oyakou-kou that Keiro was founded and thus a covenant was established by its founders and the elderly community for whom it was created. It has been the dream of my mother to stay there knowing that she would be cared for in a familiar and comfortable environment. Being a first generation immigrant from Japan and speaking no English, these factors made Keiro her one and only choice.
Now, the current owners, Pacifica, have submitted plans to the City of Los Angeles to convert the existing ICF tower from a 48 unit, 90 bed intermediate care facility to a 45 unit multi-family tower and parking garage, as well as constructing a new 40,000 sq. ft., 50 unit multi-family housing complex at the site. Pacifica did not inform or consult with the Japanese American community nor with the family members of the ICF residents about their proposal. Furthermore, in two public hearings, both the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council Planning and Land Use Committee and Neighborhood Council as a whole have voted unanimously against the proposed project filed by Pacifica
Both my mother and I are extremely troubled by the potential displacement of the current residents. Where will they, many of whom are in their 80s, 90s and even in their 100s, go? If they are forced to move, I am concerned about having them relocate during a pandemic, given that they are the most vulnerable among us for infection. And even after the pandemic settles with the upcoming vaccinations, there is no facility that she can afford to move into, not to mention a place where she can communicate her basic needs in Japanese to bilingual doctors and staff. My only wish is that I can care for her but with great regret, I do not have the capability or the skills to give her the round-the-clock care that she needs. The option of my mother returning to a home that is long gone is not there for her. The thought of moving out of her beloved home, a home in which she thought she would live out the rest of her days, brings her to tears. She does not deserve this sort of stress in her advanced age. It breaks my heart.
A native Angelino, Michael Toji currently resides in the San Fernando Valley.