EAST WIND: They Say Gentrify — We Must Unify!

“It is ironic that on the 75th anniversary of the Japanese American concentration camps, we are once again being evicted from the same community, Little Tokyo.”  — Multimedia Artist Bruce Yonemoto

On Saturday, July 29, I was part of a lively coalition of Little Tokyo and Arts District stakeholders that held a spirited rally to bring attention to, and gain support for eight artists facing eviction from their homes at 800 Traction St. in the Arts District.

Many of the Traction artists are Japanese and Japanese American seniors, longtime community artists who have enriched the cultural life of Little Tokyo. Some are family friends that I have known for decades. But I only just learned that their early presence here from the 1980s was fundamental to the creation of what is now known as “The Arts District.”

Now in their senior years, they face the threat of eviction in one month by DLJ Real Estate Capital Partners (managed by Credit Suisse), who recently purchased the building.

Bolstered by a rousing taiko performance by Maceo and friends, followed by an old-school rendition of “Wake Up Everybody” by Asian Persuasion, 110 supporters gathered at 800 Traction Street to demonstrate their solidarity with the artists. We were there to expose the underside of gentrification as a continued destruction of the dwindling number of historic cultural centers.

Gentrification has eliminated most of the working artists who gave the Arts District its name and identity as a creative, cultural enclave. In their place are upscale apartments, offices, retail shops, galleries, restaurants and bars…leaving an Arts District with no artists.

In 1983, Nancy Uyemura, a mixed-media artist, and Mike Kanemitsu, an abstract expressionist, moved into a loft at 800 Traction St. in what was then still part of Little Tokyo. Back then it was an old warehouse. They built it out — putting in walls, and a kitchen, bath, electrical, plumbing.