By Kota Mizutani, NY/SC chair
Happy New Year!
As we all delve into 2018, it’s been helpful for me to reflect on my goals, challenges and achievements with the NY/SC. In particular, an idea that you might’ve heard me espouse (maybe too many times) if you’ve been to a few JACL National Conventions is this: Youth are not only the leaders of tomorrow, but also the leaders of right now.
Over the past few years, I’ve observed that youth leadership in the JACL and beyond is propelled not by the desire to one day start a campaign, eventually organize around a cause or even — in time — lead the oldest Asian American civil rights group. Rather, it is driven by the recognition that social justice means representing the underrepresented and addressing the unaddressed now.
To that end, 2017 saw the NY/SC adopt new strategies to confront issues that neither we nor the JACL at-large often consider. Under the leadership of Eastern District Council Youth Representative Mieko Kuramoto, we took on Asian American feminism through a Youth Leadership Summit for the very first time. Hosted at Smith College in Massachusetts last April, “Asian American Feminism: Not Your Asian Sidekick” saw about 45 students, faculty and visiting attendees converge for a day of keynote addresses, plenary sessions and workshops. Led by a new on-campus organization, Pan Asian in Action, participants discussed the concept of Asian American feminism and its place in modern-day activism.
In May, with the astounding skill of former Pacific North West District Council Youth Representative Sarah Baker, we took a much deeper look at LGBTQ experiences, specifically in the Asian Pacific Islander community, and its intersections with race, Islamophobia, self-care and gender nonconformity. Hosted at North Seattle College in Washington, “Family 2.0: An Asian Pacific Islander LGBTQ Gathering” saw 150 participants from six different states engage in multitiered workshops, keynote addresses and even a community resource fair. Instead of completely dispersing after the gathering, the summit concluded with the formation of a long-term, monthly support group for LGBTQ Asian Pacific Islanders.
Finally, in November, Midwest District Council Youth Representative Eric Langowski and EDC Youth Representative Kuramoto directed us toward the power of film in documenting the intergenerational trauma associated with the incarceration experience. Hosted in partnership with the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival, the Youth Leadership Summit brought together 25 Japanese and Asian American youth from the New England, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., chapters to watch and discuss a slate of films and performances on the Japanese American incarceration. The summit concluded with the kickoff of an EDC youth network for participants and future JACL youth members to exchange information, ideas and campaigns across EDC chapters.
During the latter half of the year, we also developed new strategies to more effectively share our activities with the rest of the JACL and outreach to JACL youth members. Specifically, the NY/SC launched a digital newsletter, “Nikkei-mashou,” of which two editions have been published since the 2017 National Convention.
These newsletters, which include recaps and reflections of convention programs, Youth Leadership Summits, Kakehashi trips and other NY/SC initiatives, provide a more substantial way for us to share NY/SC news beyond our social accounts and reports to the National Council. If you want to subscribe and read our latest, light-hearted edition of “Nikkei-mashou,” visit http://mailchi.mp/9be313de700f/nikkei-mashou-issue-no-2-dec-20-2017 or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
At other times in 2017, however, the NY/SC took on crucial issues beyond those we envisioned for our planned programming. Most notably, when news reports and additional evidence surfaced of alleged sexual assault committed by George Takei — arguably the most widely known Japanese American alive — we decisively formulated a response to both Takei as well as sexual assault and violence in our community.
Writing a formal statement to our youth members, we urged “the Nikkei and AAPI community at-large to take a hard look at sexual assault in our communities and how these issues are treated.” Perhaps more importantly, we recognized that “our community’s disturbing silence on this issue directly contributes to a toxic environment in which [sexual assault] survivors must silently bear the weight of advocating against sexual violence.”
While there is clearly still much for the NY/SC and JACL to do to fight sexual violence, I am personally proud that the NY/SC has so steadfastly taken on this issue. Looking ahead, I am thrilled that NY/SC leaders, our outstanding JACL fellows and Executive Director David Inoue (who has tirelessly worked to revitalize the National JACL’s energy and advocacy in Washington, D.C.) are collaborating to further address sexual violence in our community.
Yes, 2017 was certainly a whirlwind of a year. And while the NY/SC spent much of it focusing on an array of issues, one thing remained true. By working closely together and forming strong bonds, the NY/SC continued to push the JACL toward new issues and strategies.
We fought complacency and purposefully looked to places where we, as an organization and a community, could be more and could be better. The NY/SC was — and continues to be — the leaders, not of tomorrow, but of today.
With roughly seven months left of my term as, I look forward to continuing this effort and working with the truly outstanding group of NY/SC members whom I am blessed to call friends, colleagues and family.