Reflection from Kyla Kitamura (ELP ’17)
When I applied for the Emerging Leaders Program just about a year ago, I had no idea that I was embarking on a life-changing journey. Through ELP, I have forged enduring friendships and found a new community of people who believe in the importance of U.S.-Japan relations as passionately – and as personally – as I do.
I am the Manager of Government Affairs for the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) in Washington, DC, and U.S.-Japan trade relations are a central focus of my professional life. Our office works to educate stakeholders on Japanese-brand automakers’ contributions, both economic and social, to local communities throughout the United States. The more I learn, the more I am convinced that the people-to-people ties, cultivated over decades through business relationships and organizations like USJC, act as crucial bridges connecting our two nations.
Being a part of USJC as an ELP participant, an Associate, and now as a Regional Co-Vice Chair has given me valuable opportunities to broaden my engagement with others in the tight-knit U.S.-Japan community in DC, who also value international collaboration and partnership. Yet the most eye-opening aspect of my USJC journey has been intensely personal. For much of my adult life, I have felt as though I were between two identities – “Japanese” and “American” – without fully fitting within the boundaries of either label. Meeting other ELP participants, I began to understand what it is to be “Japanese American,” and for the first time, I felt completely at home. As individuals, we each have our own experiences and stories, but as Japanese Americans invested in the U.S.-Japan relationship, we are bound by something deeper. I am now learning to draw upon the multiple facets of my identity as a source of strength and pride in both my professional and private life.
I am truly grateful to our generous ELP sponsors for believing in us and providing this wonderful opportunity. I also thank Irene Hirano Inouye, Kaz Maniwa, Allison Murata and all of the USJC staff for their leadership and enthusiasm. I continue to be inspired and humbled by the accomplishments of my fellow ELP alumni and the USJC family as a whole. I look forward to contributing in my own way to this community that has already given me so much.