Letter from an Older Adult Teacher: Sakura Kai Older Adult Program Support for Survivors of Japanese Internment During World War II

The following letter from a teacher for the Sakura Kai Older Adult program in El Cerrito explains the role of the adult school program in supporting Japanese families who endured imprisonment in concentration camps during the Second World War. Current students in the program were in the concentration camps when they were very young; they are the ones who struggled to support their families after the war while Sakura Kai offered a place where their elderly parents could gather two days a month to socialize and receive  some services.  If SB 173, currently under consideration by the California legislature, passes as written, the current students at Sakura Kai could lose their program.  SB 173 would eliminate state funding for adult school and community college Older Adult programs.

Here is the letter:

Our affiliation with adult education as an older adult class in El Cerrito 40 years ago helped our largely Japanese American students who were forced to move from the West coast and put into concentration camps during World War II.  After they were allowed to return, they faced poverty with many needs and very little support.  Through the older adult class partnership with the El Cerrito, their elderly parents had a place to go on first and third Saturdays of each month while their adult children struggled to maintain a living after their unjust removal from jobs and homes.  This generation now in their 80s and 90s look forward to lifelong learning activities, health education, and a place to socialize and a nutritious lunch with others at our older adult class.

West Contra Costa Adult Ed has a memorandum of understanding with the City of El Cerrito that provides for rent-free use of their senior center at no cost.  Like other senior centers in the district, our class has part-time credentialed instructors for over 100 students and coordinates classes in computer/WiFi, English as a second language, performance classes who perform for the community when requested.  Students learn about health, safety, consumer fraud, ways to recycle to save the environment, civic responsibilities, and volunteer actively in the community.

 Please keep older adult classes in adult education.


2 Responses

  1. While this is a wonderful letter, the service to communities of poverty and color are ther exception to most older adult programs in the state. Older adult programs around the state are disproportionately white and serve many students who may have the resources and cultural capital to find other services. Our school has 20% of its program as fee-based community ed which are almost entirely older students. Our state funding is focused lazer-like on immigrant intergration, English and Spanish literacy, and high school diploma/GED. 24% of the adult residents of our county have low English literacy skills…and there are waiting lists for adult school classes. Our country’s future – the rapidly increasing division between the affluent and those are are economically, linguistically and culturally opressed – depends on adult education challenging the status quo. Some of us who are ready for changes to adult schools (like happened in 1919, 1932, 1958, 1979) see directing of the very limited resources of public adult schools to marginalized immigrants and low literacy adults as a matter of social justice. What happened at Manzanar is a national shame. What is happening NOW in our communities of color and immigrant adults is a crisis. When we are divided as adult educators, and disagree, there are strong reasons for this disagreement. I respect the advocates for older adult classes (I used to teach older adults); I hope the respect is reciprocated for those of us who disagree..

    • While Sakura Kai is an exception among West Contra Costa Older Adult programs in that it is tailored to the needs of Japanese-American seniors, it is typical of our state funded programs in that it serves a population that could not easily find comparable services elsewhere or pay for them. West Contra Costa Adult Education has fee-based classes that are used by people of all ages, including seniors, and a series of fee-based classes specifically for adults 55 and above. The fee-based classes for seniors include low-impact exercise and computer classes. The state funded programs are our programs at senior centers like Sakura Kai. The centers are day-long programs, which are best for meeting the social and educational needs of seniors who have mobility and health issues. Many can’t drive around to a series of activities, but they can, with support, get out for one day of education and social connection. These programs are low cost; they are held in space donated by churches and cities, so overhead is minimal. The adult school only pays for the teacher. But, because they last several hours, they would be too costly for many seniors if students had to pay for them on an hourly basis, even if the hourly rate was fairly low. Many seniors live in poverty, or near it. A 2010 AARP study found that, using measurements that adjust for medical expenses, people over 65 have the highest rate of poverty of any age group.
      At West Contra Costa Adult Education, the majority of students in the Older Adult program are white women. Since we don’t collect statistics on income, we don’t have figures about poverty rates, but the fact that participants are white does not mean that they are necessarily well off. And women are also an economically disadvantaged group. Even now they don’t make as much as men, and this was even more true when the women currently using the Older Adult programs were in their earning years. That said, the fact that communities of color don’t use Older Adult programs much is a failure of outreach. Culturally appropriate Older Adult programs for communities of color are much needed, and cannot be created without more resources.
      I wish I knew more about Sakura Kai. It is certainly unique among West Contra Costa’s programs, but I wonder if there are others like it in other parts of the state with significant Japanese American populations. The letter states that Sakura Kai was started about 30 years ago, which would mean it began in the early 1980s, around the time the country was finally recognizing that the internment of the Japanese had been a terrible injustice. At that time, the adult school Older Adult program was used to create a program that, while it could not right the wrong, could at least mitigate some of its effects. One unfortunate feature of SB 173 is that, by strictly limiting what programs adult schools can fund with state money, it would restrict the ability of adult schools to respond to changing community concerns in this flexible and innovative way.
      Older Adult programs may actually save the state money. Research is showing that social and intellectual stimulation such as Older Adult programs at senior centers provide may reduce rates of dementia by 18%, thus reducing related costs of care, some of which are borne by the state.

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