Among those in Our Community who have been a longstanding part of Keiro’s history are Sakaye Aratani and Linda Aratani. As the wife and daughter of the late George Aratani, one of Keiro’s founders, Sakaye and Linda were alongside George from Keiro’s early days, and have witnessed its evolution over the decades. Sixty years after its founding, the two met with us to talk about George’s inspiration and vision when starting Keiro, and how they see George’s legacy being carried on today.
Inspiration From Home and Abroad
Revisiting Keiro’s beginnings, Sakaye shared that the idea for the organization initially came from a discovery Fred Wada, another one of Keiro’s founders, made on a trip to South America. There, Fred toured a nursing home for Japanese older adults and was struck with inspiration. “Fred called George after he returned,” Sakaye said. “And they both thought that it was a great idea to bring back to Los Angeles.” From there, the two, along with the other founders, began fundraising and gathering community support to establish what would become Keiro.
Sakaye also noted that the memory of George’s parents motivated him to start Keiro. “His parents died when he was young, and I remember him mentioning that he always wanted to do something special for them,” she said. “Having heard about the many Japanese people here in Los Angeles, when Fred approached George, George felt that this was exactly something he wanted to do for the community.” With his parents in mind, George began the journey with the other founders to create Keiro and support older adults in the community for generations to come.
Growing With the Generations
Linda remembers learning about her father’s vision for Keiro while growing up at home. “I was in junior high or high school,” she recalled. “My dad was talking at the dinner table about something he felt was important: That the Nisei were pretty melded into society, but the Issei really embraced their culture in terms of food and activity.” Noticing this culture within the Issei generation, George saw a culturally-sensitive nursing home as the solution to this generation’s needs. Linda said, “I think that was definitely on his plate, changing needs when Isseis were getting old and needed institutional care. He stepped right up to address that issue, and hence Keiro started.”
While following this vision for the community needs he saw at the time, George nevertheless knew that the needs of the older adult population would transform over the generations. Linda shared, “I remember having some conversations with my dad where I said, ‘If you’re doing this for the Issei, what’s going to happen when I get older, or my children, which is generations later?’ And he always said that’s out of his hands, and that was something that the organization would have to face when it got there. He was always good at looking things realistically. But at that time, his take was just to get this thing started.”
Continuing George’s Legacy
Having witnessed Keiro’s evolution to address changes in the community over the years, both Sakaye and Linda agreed that they see George’s vision for Keiro living on today. “I think Keiro has done an amazing job over the decades in fulfilling the hopes and dreams of the founders, I really do,” Linda said, as Sakaye nodded her head. “I think if my dad were here today, he would say Keiro ultimately did everything we hoped they would.”
Pondering where these changes will take Keiro next, Linda shared some of her thoughts about the future of supporting older adults in our community. “I’d love to see Keiro continue to do what it does today, because they do it so well,” she said. “And they may have to change to fit who they serve more. For example, the Yonsei, they’re so diversified as a generation. Going forward, it’s a different time, a different mix of people—so it’s another chapter, really.” With these hopes in mind, Linda and Sakaye look forward to seeing what each new chapter will add to George’s founding legacy.