From July 23 to 28 I had the distinct pleasure of escorting 10 members of Unite People to the National JACL Convention in Washington D.C. For many of this was there first trip to the nations capitol and their first national convention. The group raised the money for this trip through fundraisers like the chili feed and wreath sales and generous donations from people in the community like Jim Kennedy, Nobi Masuoka, Sumi and Ben Ishida, Alice Sumida, Lil Kiyokawa and many others. The group also received grants from the JACL Legacy Foundation and National JACL. Thank you for supporting the development of leadership in the youth community.
The following piece was written by Unite People member, Mika Sakai who graduated this June and will be attending the Art Institute of Chicago.
The 2013 Washington DC JACL National Convention was my very first JACL Convention. Going in to an event like this, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I asked myself questions like: What do you even do at a convention? Will our youth group be the only youth there? What is our presence even going to do for JACL?
As the youth of JACL we were slightly less involved with the actual discussions and activities of the convention. I feel like it was important however, that we were actually there. Just showing JACL that their youth is ready to be active. The part I liked best about the convention was at the very end at the youth discussion and reflection. Unite People was not the only youth at the convention, but we were by far the youngest and largest group from one area. It was nice to hear that next year in San Diego they are really pushing to incorporate the youth into activities. I think JACL is beginning its transition into letting the next generation take over, but there still is a big gap between the adults of JACL and the youth of JACL.
At one point I think that there was a communal realization that we are JACL and we are the ones who are going to be recruiting people into JACL. For us to be able to do that though, JACL will have to really move on incorporating younger people and addressing more publicly the issues that we as youth see the most, like gay marriage rights. JACL may be well known for fighting for Japanese American rights, but to encourage more membership and support I think it would be helpful to also share who else we have fought for. Tell people what JACL did to make sure the same ostracizing that took place against Japanese Americans did not happen to Arabic Americans after 9/11. Or make the immigration injustices better known. Perhaps it is just at the youth level, but for us, it is hard to recruit people who are not Japanese American. They get intimidated with the thought that JACL is just for Japanese Americans when in actuality we want civil equality for all people.
I am not sure if all JACL Conventions are so political or if it was just more so because we were in our nation’s Capital. Nonetheless, I did learn how formal and organized issues are addressed not only in the convention, but also in our own government. Lobbying for immigrant rights was a completely new and interesting experience for me. I am no fan of politics and legislation, but I will say that lobbying was a good experience to have. Not many people (especially my age) get to have that sort of opportunity. Even if I may never pursue a career in politics, I can at least now fully appreciate the work of the people who do.
Participating in the larger scale of the JACL scheme was a very eye opening experience. I feel like being so young, I have an inevitable view that the city I live in is the only place that matters. Quite honestly, it is so easy to forget that there is a whole world out there with people just like us. They experience the same human injustices and as we do, but they also experience the same accomplishments as we do.
Seeing the JACL community all gathered in one place reminded me that this organization is much bigger than just the people I see in Portland. There were people from every region, and all of them united with the goal to make this world a better place by fighting for civil equality. This common goal has made the expanse from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic coast seem small. Although JACL’s web may be large, the community feels tight knit. More than once I heard people talking about their friends from JACL not only as friends, but as family. I find this characteristic very encouraging. If we are to defend all people for their rights, why not do it as one great big family? Who fights more fiercely and with more passion than those who are protecting their own? After all, as humans we are one as a people, and an offense against one is like an offense against all. The purpose of JACL was made much clearer to me after visiting the DC Convention. Hopefully the youth of JACL will gradually become a bigger more essential part of getting people involved in years to come.