By Brandon Yee
I am truly grateful to have been selected as a youth representative of the Philadelphia Chapter to attend the 2015 Las Vegas National Convention from July 13-15. The experience was both eye-opening and inspirational.
As a youth representative, I met future leaders of the JACL, the youth delegates and representatives, in various stages of development. With youth members as accomplished as Kota Mizutani in proposing and passing HR 40 to youth members just beginning to understand their role, I now realized how important gaining youth membership and strong youth involvement are for the JACL. We are the generation of the future, and we can help change the world to be a better place.
Since being introduced to the JACL at a very young age, I admired the numerous contributions of my aunts and uncles, who have all been very active members of the JACL’s New Jersey and Philadelphia chapters. As a first-time attendee of the National Convention this year, I was impressed by how many youth participated at the national level, and I know that they are well on their way to carrying on the mission and vision of this organization.
The youth mixer was great for understanding how the JACL functions from the youth level and who it was that I will be working alongside in future years. The civic engagement presentations presented very well-thought-out solutions on current issues and made me realize the diversity of issues tackled by the JACL. The National Board meetings were run very productively as I witnessed the best minds of the JACL — young and old — contributing their ideas.
After observing how much influence the JACL has on the nation, attending the convention made me realize that I would like to be a more active part of this powerful organization. For me, meeting the youth and spending time with them was the No. 1 reason why I became inspired to join the JACL in the first place. Every one of them was so friendly, inviting and helpful; I really felt at home there! They did a great job explaining how they got involved and what they have learned from their experience. I was surprised to find that the newest youth delegates with the ability to vote were reading up on the issues and getting their bearings within the group, just as I was. But I know that everyone must start somewhere.
Just two summers ago in 2013, I was sponsored by the Japanese government to participate in the Japanese American Invitation Program for High School Students, a nine-day trip to Japan. The trip was absolutely amazing and life-changing, and it set me on the path to pursue a major in East Asian language and culture at the University of Pittsburgh, starting next month. This new interest was also a reason why I wanted to attend the JACL Convention.
I wanted to gain a new perspective on the world, and by attending the convention, I would get to see the viewpoint of a group of dedicated Japanese Americans who address modern societal issues. I also wanted to see how I could connect studying abroad in Japan with Japanese American civil rights.
Growing up, my involvement in the JACL was mostly a cultural and social experience, such as going to the Obon festival, experiencing taiko drum performances, learning origami and eating traditional Japanese foods. I did hear a few stories about the internment camps, but what happened to my Baachan and aunts and uncles seems so distant to me. In a way, I was shielded from all the negative racial injustice my family encountered in their lives.
During the convention, I learned more about social justice, racial equality and current political issues. It really surprised me that JACL was so involved in so many current civil rights activities. I always thought from growing up that the organization was now more for maintaining our civil liberties and the group was most active during the time of internment and terrible segregation. That turned out to definitely not be the case.
It also surprised me that the JACL not only tackled political and social problems regarding Japanese Americans but also has recently expanded its influence to other minority groups such as African Americans and the LGBTQQIAAP community. It was extremely thought-provoking and valuable to hear first-hand stories from LGBT members about their hardships and struggles growing up.
Now that I’m of voting age, learning about political issues such as these is becoming more important for my development as a Japanese American citizen. I now see the JACL as an invaluable organization for me to be a part of. There, I can build up my political awareness and views in hopes to contribute to the JACL and the world.
All in all, I really enjoyed my experience as a youth representative in the 2015 National Convention, and I wish to spread awareness of our existence to many more people. I have learned so much about the goals of the JACL as well as its legacy from the past. Seeing how the JACL functions first-hand, I am certain that I would like to become a more active member and participate in fighting whatever social or political issue that may arise.
From what I saw during the convention, the JACL will only grow larger and widen its powerful, positive influence to minority groups around the globe. We are living in a rapidly evolving world, and the issues of today can only be solved through the dedicated, strategic approach of experienced, informed civil rights advocates.
I have high hopes that the JACL will continue its strong influence and aim to make the world a better place.
Brandon Yee is the JACL Philadelphia Chapter Youth Representative.