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The Next Generation of JACL Leadership Gives Me Hope

By July 29, 2016October 19th, 2016No Comments

Gil AsakawaBy Gil Asakawa

I arrived in Las Vegas for the JACL convention with low expectations. I’d been asked to speak on a plenary session about the Pacific Citizen’s future and the sorry state of the newspaper industry. And, I’d been asked to represent the Mile High Chapter in the week’s voting. I worried that the print version of the P.C. might not survive the week, and I worried about JACL’s future.

I’m happy to report that the P.C. will continue a printed version for at least the next two years.

It’s a breather, not a solution. I hope the P.C. — and JACL members who want a print edition — can brace for the inevitable switch to digital-only, because it’s simply the way of the future. Maybe technology will make it easier to custom-print copies, or maybe technology will become easier for all members to see the P.C. in a digital form, like a cheap, easy-to-use tablet or smartphone edition.

That wouldn’t be ideal, but it would accept the march of progress. We’ll have this discussion again, and next time, I don’t know that the “print” P.C. can continue much longer.

I also left Vegas feeling much better about the future of JACL because I’ve seen the future of the organization’s leadership, in the passion and energy of the National Youth/Student Council.

I’ve written before that I feel JACL has been too focused on our shared community’s past — in particular, of course, the WWII incarceration and concentration camps. That’s an important part of our identity, but I have long felt that the organization’s priorities weren’t inviting to young people. I was always jealous of the West Coast chapters, which have always had a lot of youth participation. In Denver, a younger generation took over leadership of the Mile High chapter about six years ago, but we haven’t been able to draw in youth since then.

But at the National Convention, the embrace of the next generation of JACLers was palpable, and the influence of their contemporary issues and values were refreshing.

The members of the NY/SC were everywhere during the convention, active in their chapters and districts and connecting in groups with other youth. The Youth are the only part of JACL that is increasing membership — a remarkable achievement that bodes well for the future of the organization. The NY/SC is also the most diverse in the history of JACL, which also bodes well for the future.

Their presence at the convention was on full glorious view during the NY/SC luncheon, when they gave their Vision Award to Black Lives Matter L.A. The warm, full-throated support for the Black Lives Matter movement was heartwarming for many in the room — I for one believe AAPIs must continue to build bridges with the African-American community — but I could sense some members were uncomfortable.

When the Black Lives Matter representatives had the audience stand and chant with them, some people followed along sheepishly. One member left the room.

On the final day, Kota Mizutani, the newly elected National Youth Representative, moderated a plenary session panel during the National Council Session that focused on a topic that the NY/SC is keenly focused on: multiracial Asian Americans and Shin-Nikkei, or recent Japanese immigrants.

The panel included Desun Oka, whose master’s thesis was on the subject of Korean comfort women and who is active in Asian justice issues; Curtiss Takada Rooks, a mixed-race professor of AAPI history; Jennifer Kaku, who’s lived both in the U.S. and Japan; and Sarah Baker, who proudly calls herself a “Hapa Shin Sansei.”

The panel discussed the “otherness” of being more Japanese than many Japanese Americans, of “fitting in” as mixed-race Asian Americans. It was a refreshing conversation about the reality of the Japanese American community today: We’re not one homogenous population like we were when JACL was founded.

For this organization to grow, it needs to reach out to new people. Looking at the diversity of the NY/SC’s membership and their obvious commitment to JACL, and the energy that binds them together, I left Vegas feeling hopeful about the future of JACL.

Gil Asakawa is a former P.C. Editorial Board Member and Board Chair.