Reflection from Brandon Marc Higa (ELP 2014)
The Okinawan proverb ichariba-chode (lit. once we have met, we are like brothers and sisters) holds true for my experience as a 2014 ELP delegate. I felt a distinct connection with my ELP cohort during our first exchanges, which took place weeks prior to the USJC Annual Conference. By the time we finally met one another over dinner it felt as though we knew each other from a past life. The more I listened to everyone’s stories it became obvious how our shared heritage as Japanese-Americans gave us purpose to dedicate our professional and personal lives to building bridges between the United States and Japan. Words cannot describe the surreal feeling of meeting complete strangers who share the same passion and commitment to a cause you feel strongly about.
The underlying theme of the TOMODACHI Initiative is that relationships matter. To that end, I wholeheartedly believe the TOMODACHI Emerging Leaders Program sets the standard. The people-to-people connections I made with my cohort and USJC Members brought the richest times of my young adult life. Fond memories I had of living in Tokyo while working at the U.S. Embassy and the National Diet of Japan once again had significance. I have not felt this connected to my Japanese-American heritage and passions for U.S.-Japan foreign relations since transitioning from my career in diplomacy to return to the islands. The USJC Annual Conference provided the opportunity for me to revisit my research interests in U.S.-Japan security relations, as well as international exchanges between U.S. and Japan.
So what happens next? Immediately following the conference, I did two things: reach out and thank the USJC regional membership for hosting the conference; and reach out to friends and colleagues who I will mentor to apply for the 2015 ELP cohort in Tokyo.
As a personal takeaway from the conference, I haven’t decided whether to challenge or accept Mr. George Takei’s advice for fellow actors to abstain from running for office. Personally, I think he would have made a fine Councilmember, although not holding office has not held him back from successfully advocating for progress and social change for Japanese-Americans and LGBTIQ individuals. He clearly garners the followers, fan base and adoration so many dream of.