Reflection from Michael Sueoka (ELP ’17)
The 2017 USJC Annual Conference in Washington, DC ended just a couple weeks ago, and I can still feel the excitement!
I was born and raised in a homogeneous suburb outside Los Angeles with no Japanese American community or Japanese culture in sight. I did not grow up playing in a JA basketball league, go to Japanese school, make mochi or attend any festivals of any kind. However, shortly after college, an ELP alumnus introduced me to Little Tokyo in Los Angeles. This is where I started learning, and found a Japanese American community that’s proud of its culture and its part in American history.
After a few years volunteering at the Japanese American National Museum, I heard about the Emerging Leaders Program. I applied and was fortunately accepted.
As I prepared for the USJC Annual Conference, I thought it was going to be like any other conference – a place to make business connections. But I walked away with much more. I walked away with a community of fellow Japanese Americans across the world, many having gone through the same identity evolution and cultural discovery as me. I walked away with an extended family in the incredibly welcoming ELP alumni. I walked away with new friends, with whom I share unique experiences. I walked away with personal stories from world leaders who are active in this community. I walked away with inspiration and a sense of pride.
Since being back home, I have already made plans to meet with Kenta Takamori, the Executive Director of the Silicon Valley Japan Platform. I met with all the Los Angeles ELP participants the weekend after Thanksgiving. I’ve already created a list of who I want to invite to the ELP program from my current tech network. I can’t wait to get them involved!
This experience was not just a conference or just about business. This was about building real relationships with other people who share an affinity for the Japanese American community and strong U.S.-Japan relations.
I cannot express how grateful I am for those leaders before me who gave me this opportunity. Without them, this would not be possible. It is their stories, their struggles, and their love for this community that gives me that inspiration and pride.
I am incredibly excited to continue growing with my ELP class, participate in the upcoming ELP programs and activities, continue to strengthen friendships, and forge new ones.