Reflection from Christine Kitano (ELP ’16)
Though I now live in Ithaca, NY, I was born in Los Angeles, CA, where my father (the late Harry Kitano) taught and helped to found the Asian American Studies Center at the University of California, Los Angeles. Growing up in Los Angeles and having a close relationship to the university and surrounding community instilled in me a strong sense of identity as a sansei. However, after leaving California for graduate school in New York and then Texas, I lost contact with the Japanese American community.
I first learned about USJC’s TOMODACHI Emerging Leaders Program when I attended the 2014 USJC Annual Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii. At the time, I was in the final year of my PhD, and had spent the past five years in Lubbock, Texas working solely on my research. Apart from my time teaching summers at the University of Hawaii, I had virtually no contact with anyone of Japanese descent. Attending the USJC conference was an eye-opening experience; never before had I been surrounded by other young Japanese American professionals. I knew that such an organization would push me to excel, not only as a poet and scholar, but as a global citizen. It would also allow me to reconnect with a wider Japanese American community.
Therefore, I was thrilled when I was accepted into the 2016 class of the Emerging Leaders Program. Though it has only been one year, I am immensely grateful for the mentorship and support I’ve received through USJC. Academia offers a space to focus and think, but it is also isolated. Through USJC and ELP, I’ve met people working in fields vastly different from my own, but who share the same goal of building a globally aware and connected society. Through participation in USJC events, from casual outings with fellow ELP members to more formal functions like the U40 conference, I gain a deeper understanding of the types of learning and engagement I want to foster in my classroom. And on a personal level, it is simply gratifying to have the support of such an ambitious and accomplished group of friends. When my second collection of poetry, Sky Country, was published earlier this month, I received congratulatory messages from all over the country, including ELP connections in Honolulu, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, DC and New York. I am thankful to be a part of the USJC and ELP family, and look forward to fostering our friendships in the years to come.