Obon dancers form a circle at the Kansha Obon held on Saturday at Rissho Kosei Kai in Boyle Heights.

By ELLEN ENDO, Rafu Shimpo

Despite a looming eviction deadline for Sakura Gardens Intermediate Care Facility (ICF) seniors, supporters are preparing for a new round of challenges, it was learned during Saturday’s Kansha (Gratitude) Obon.

Rev. Ray Fukumoto

Mike Dark, staff attorney for the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR), outlined a plan of action to fight the evictions. “Sakura is not a facility, it’s a neighborhood. It’s a community, and a community is always worth fighting for,” he said, pointing out that “although July 20 has been set as the date for closure by Pacifica, that date will not stick because the people here have the power to prevent it.”

Dark subsequently outlined steps that could be taken, such as appealing the eviction, that will suspend any closure, and participating in a temporary restraining order. “There are still things you can do to prevent this from happening,” he urged.

East L.A. Taiko performs at the gathering.

On May 18, Pacifica Senior Living announced that the ICF in Boyle Heights will close on July 20, citing “continued operating losses year over year.” The neighboring Sakura Gardens Assisted Living Community, however, will remain open.

“We are shocked that Pacifica continues to kick out seniors and now has set (a date) to attempt to clear out the building,” Save Our Seniors (SOS) Network spokesperson Mitchell Matsumura noted.

Individuals who worked on efforts to stop the closure of Sakura Gardens ICF were given commendations from City Councilmember Kevin de Leon.

The gathering, held at the Rissho Kosei-Kai Buddhist Church in Boyle Heights, provided an opportunity to “show appreciation to those who continue to provide inspiration for our seniors, especially the residents themselves and other families who have not given,” emphasized Matsumura.

Actor and activist Tamlyn Tomita served as emcee.

About 60 people attended, including State Assemblymembers Al Muratsuchi and Miguel Santiago. For many, Saturday’s event was also the first non-virtual Obon gathering since the pandemic began a year and a half ago. Azay chef Akira Hirose’s specially prepared bento was served, and East L.A. Taiko opened the program.

Warren Furutani, senior advisor to Councilmember Kevin de Leon.

Actress and activist Tamlyn Tomita guided the program as emcee. Along with former Assemblymember Warren Furutani, senior advisor representing Los Angeles City Councilmember Kevin de Leon, Tomita presented certificates of commendation from Council District 14 to stalwarts who have been involved in the SOS fight from its earliest days.

Among the certificate recipients were Francine Imai, Michael Toji, Ken Nakayama, Karie Horie Addison, Margaret Miyauchi Leong, Shoko Koshikawa, Dr. Takeshi Matsumoto, and Maceo Hernandez. From the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council, David Silvas, Vivian Escalante, and Carlos Montes were recognized.

Furutani pointed out, “This organization, Save Our Seniors, has been on the front lines of fighting this battle, not only for Sakura ICF but a lot of different issues in the community. When we talk about saving our seniors, we’re not talking about a different group of people, we’re talking about ourselves. We’re talking about saving our community.”

Rev. Ray Fukumoto said, “We are here to show our solidarity as regular folks who cannot tolerate injustice. So, with that in mind, please gather your happi (coats), if you have them…and when the time comes to show our solidarity, remember, just dance.”

And with that, the taiko drum summoned the dancers, and the Bon odori began.

Photos by MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo

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