As I began to write about my experience at the JACL National Convention, I remember thinking about the words sung by Whitney Houston … “I believe that children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside. Give them a sense of pride to make it easier …
The young leaders who are rising through the JACL organization are no longer children, but they are our children who are making things happen. I see them as wise souls who are taking their personal experiences and using their voices to lift the level of dialogue about issues that are important to them, JACL and the broader community.
One group of young leaders organized a resolution on transgender and nonbinary equality with the help of Joshua Kaizuka — Tara Umemoto (Berkeley JACL), Vini Taguchi (Twin Cities JACL) and Michelle Huey (Florin JACL).
“The best part was working with younger colleagues who had great ideas, knew a lot more, were inspiring and thought that JACL should take a first step to lead, instead of follow,” said Kaizuka. What he was talking about was a transgender/nonbinary equality resolution that took on a call to action, so it was not just a statement of support, but it also talked about what JACL could do to move the needle forward.
Another place I saw young people taking the lead was a workshop that the NY/SC organized and asked Okaeri to be a part of. This workshop was brought together by KC Mukai and Cameron Sueoka and featured a discussion about “Queer Mental Health, Allyship & Activism.”
We had over 40 people in attendance. The majority were young people, but also there in support were individuals like former Congressman Mike Honda, Naoko Fujii and Jim Oshima. Honda, who is the grandfather of a transgender child, came specifically to support these transgender discussions.
I was honored to be a part of this workshop because they wanted a parent’s voice, so I became the moderator. The panel included Kyle Yasui and Remy Kageyama from NY/SC, plus Eric Arimoto and Aiden Aizumi from Okaeri. The panel talked about the difficulties in having intergenerational conversations, the stigma of mental health and how they find joy in a world targeting the LGBTQ+ community.
The presentation ended with what people can do to be better allies to LGBTQ+ individuals and their families. It was an emotional session.
KC Mukai shared that “being able to bring Okaeri and the NY/SC together affirmed how important safe spaces for conversation and partnerships with established organizations like Okaeri and JACL are.” She also “walked away as an ally understanding how critical it is to bring intergenerational and diverse LGBTQ+ voices together, so perspectives from different lenses are present.”
To keep this discussion going about transgender and nonbinary equality, 12 people will be meeting at the end of this month to discuss ideas on how to move actions into the future.
I know this is a hard thing for many of us to do, since we were raised not to stand out on controversial issues, such as LGBTQ+. That invisibility is part of the intergenerational trauma that exists in our community due to discrimination against the API community and incarceration in camps that so many families experienced.
But today’s young people want to break out of this silence and raise their voices to affect change. It makes me feel so proud of their courage and determination.
I firmly believe that children are our future if we allow them to lead with their voices and ideas. For older individuals like myself, in order for this to happen, we need to listen to their thoughts and allow them to guide the discussion, believe in their leadership, then step back to give them space to feel the pride in what they are creating.
I love how JACL is looking both to the past and focusing on the present to inform future needs and actions. And I love how the young people are stepping into the spotlight, often unsure, but not allowing their fear to quiet their voices. I am so grateful for the vision they hold for our community and the actions they are taking to make their visions a reality.
Marsha Aizumi is an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and author of the book “Two Spirits, One Heart: A Mother, Her Transgender Son and Their Journey to Love and Acceptance.”