Reflection from Danielle Higa (ELP ’17)
As we approach a year since the 2017 class gathered in Washington, DC, I am thrilled to welcome and meet the 2018 class in Tokyo. I remember last November’s Annual Conference as though it was yesterday. Participating in USJC’s TOMODACHI Emerging Leaders Program was a truly unforgettable experience, and it opened a door to an entire network I never thought existed. I feel a very strong bond with my ELP classmates and still stay in touch with them and the other alumni almost daily. Our class is looking forward to reuniting in Tokyo and continuing to build relationships with the strong network of leaders.
My favorite part of last year’s conference was the day devoted to ELP. I was amazed to meet our sponsors because it gave us the opportunity to ask questions, learn the reasons they invest in ELP and their expectations for future leaders, and gain any advice or guidance they could offer.
In my role at Densho, I help build relationships with the community and our supporters, so I am always curious about people and what keeps them engaged. Like many others, my connection to Densho is through family and personal history. Our stories as Japanese Americans are brought to life through the Densho archives, photographs, documents and oral histories. For me, Densho provides a sense of belonging.
Because life is all about building meaningful relationships, I feel that USJC also provides a similar place of belonging. Through USJC, I have found an even deeper connection to a community that spans beyond the region I live in, and gained a network of mentors and friends who I can learn and grow with.
I never understood until the conference many aspects of what it means to grow up Japanese American. I have parents with deep roots in Seattle and Hawaii, and was fortunate to grow up within the Seattle Japanese American community. But with every generation, we take it all for granted, no matter how connected or in tune we may think we are. I have worked in the community, met many people, attended events and continue to create and cultivate relationships from childhood, but have never taken enough time to deeply examine on my own what it means to be Japanese American. At last year’s conference, we had the opportunity to do this with each other during our ELP class session. Council Leader Britt Yamamoto guided us in the discussion on how our cultural values play a huge part in our lives, decisions, careers and social interactions. I’ve realized as I’ve grown up that these values are most important, and USJC, specifically ELP, has brought this precious aspect into my life. I have learned that no matter where I go or what I may be doing, it is important to connect back to my culture.
Learning from history can heal and empower future generations, as our past offers vital lessons for our present. USJC and ELP are indispensable support systems, and I am committed to staying engaged and helping so that other young professionals can experience what I was so fortunate to be a part of last November. This has truly been one of the most memorable experiences I will carry with me throughout my life, and I am so grateful. See you in Tokyo!!!