Students write letters to remain engaged during social distancing order

On April 15, Cal Poly Pomona students gathered for the virtual event, “Tea and Letter Writing: To Our Elders,” which was organized by the Japanese American National Museum (JANM).

The program invited participants to write letters intended for the elderly of the Little Tokyo community in Los Angeles through the Little Tokyo Service Center and also detainees in the Otay Mesa Detention Center located in San Diego. 

Associated Students, Inc.’s (ASI) Bronco Events and Activities Team (BEAT) promoted this external event to CPP students as a way for them to engage with others during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Associate Director of Programs of ASI Sharon Rocacorba explained in an interview how BEAT created a survey for students to voice their interests in potential virtual events after ASI announced the cancellation of several events planned for this semester.

“Many students wanted live events that are related to self-care, art, entertainment and personal or career development,” Rocacorba said. “So we started to create and curate events related to those topics.”

Normally, the Tea and Letter Writing event is hosted at the Japanese American National Museum (pictured in 2019).
COURTESY OF TRACI KATO-KIRIYAMA

In “Tea and Letter Writing: To Our Elders,” Traci Kato-Kiriyama, former “+LAB artist-in-residence” for the Little Tokyo Service Center at JANM, and tea enthusiast Linda Wei led a discussion on topics of letter writing ideas and taking health precautions into consideration when sending mail during the COVID-19 pandemic. They also discussed different tea practices that participants can utilize in the comfort of their own homes. 

Samuel Orndorff, a representative from Allies to End Detention, shared how the mission of the organization during the COVID-19 pandemic is to provide support to detainees during this stressful time and encouraged participants to send letters to detainees in the Otay Mesa Detention Center — a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility that holds immigrant detainees. 

“What I hope that students took away is to not see this as just a program, but as an opportunity to connect with a community,” Kato-Kiriyama said. “Even if this was not done in person, I want all of the participants to have the chance to feel present in our space and look up at the other people sharing their letters.”

First-year psychology student Daelynn Soto said this event inspired her to think more about the elders in her life, especially her grandmother. With many elders avoiding the risks of COVID-19, Soto explained how she feels sending letters to them lessens the stress and anxiety of isolation.

“I really liked the intent behind this event because we are given a chance to give back to others that are not with their family,” Soto said. 

After attending the virtual event, third-year electrical engineering student Dominic Sanqui said he took more away from the event than he thought he would. He initially thought the event would primarily feature Japanese culture and tea practices. 

“I learned from this experience that I should try to appreciate the time that I spend with my friends and family by showing my appreciation for them,” Sanqui said.

To receive more information about sending letters, contact Joy Yamaguchi through publicprograms@janm.org and visit http://www.janm.org/ to learn more about JANM, along with upcoming events.

For more information about future ASI events this semester, visit https://asi.cpp.edu/asi-event-updates/.

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