Members of J-Town Action and Solidarity hand out supplies in Toriumi Plaza on Saturday. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

By ANA IWATAKI

This week, residents of Little Tokyo will be forced from their homes. They will lose any of their belongings they are unable to carry with them. They will say goodbye to their friends, neighbors, and community.

This should be chillingly familiar and thus unbearable for our community. If we as Japanese Americans will each year claim a Day of Remembrance, or declare that Never Again Is Now, we cannot turn our backs on our unhoused neighbors.

I want to believe that fear will not cause us to forget the pain of evacuation and of incarceration, of our history. 

On March 17, the unhoused residents at Toriumi Plaza will be subject to a sweep, which the American Civil Liberties Union describes as follows:

“A homeless sweep or ‘clean-up’ is the forced disbanding of homeless encampments on public property and the removal of both homeless individuals and their property from that area. Practices may vary between cities as to how much advance notice encampments are given before a sweep and what the city does with property collected during a sweep. Homeless sweeps are costly and ineffective and make homelessness worse, not better.”

We’ve seen all over the city that sweeps are traumatic to those who experience them. Their homes are utterly destroyed.  People lose everything: clothes, blankets, IDs and other essential documents, medicine, wheelchairs, and more. If temporary shelter is offered, it is offered conditionally, on a timeline and under the threat of displacement. Permanently ending someone’s homelessness takes time, trust, and consent. A sweep offers none of those things, because its aim is not to end human suffering, but to hide it.

At this point, it is unlikely that this sweep can be stopped. But, our community can choose to actively make the sweep marginally less traumatic. 

Remember the friends and neighbors who offered to store items for Japanese American families. Remember the practical and financial impact of these gestures, but especially their emotional and psychological impact. Remember what it meant to receive a show of sympathy, of care, of friendship. 

Remember what it was like to be treated not as an enemy, but as a fellow human.

Our community cannot let the painful lessons of our history be forgotten. Our trauma cannot be in vain. Let us be those friends and neighbors to the unhoused residents of Toriumi Plaza.

Ana Iwataki is a curator, writer, translator, and organizer from and based in Los Angeles. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in comparative media and culture at the University of Southern California. She is writing as an individual and not as a representative of an organization. Opinions expressed in Vox Populi are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo. 

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